“A Fence to Keep Us In”: You Think It’s Crazy?

berlin wall

The people that want big fences and guns, sure, we could secure the border. A barbed wire fence with machine guns, that would do the trick. I don’t believe that is what America is all about.

Every time you think about this toughness on the border and ID cards and REAL IDs, think it’s a penalty against the American people too. I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. In economic turmoil, the people want to leave with their capital and there’s capital controls and there’s people controls. Every time you think about the fence, think about the fences being used against us, keeping us in.

When Ron Paul said these words at the Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate, many were quick to dismiss him with laughter. Is this guy crazy? Does he know what he is talking about? It surely can’t happen here!

It surely can’t happen here.

The generation of my grandfather back in the 1920s and 1930s in Bulgaria thought the same. “Communism? It can’t happen here.” The nation, joining the wrong side in the World War, severely weakened by the military defeat and the reparations, was recovering with quick steps. Even during the War, the small nation had fought on two fronts, pinning down in the South the allied armies of Yugoslavia and Greece, aided by a significant British and French expeditionary corps, and in the North, pushing the Romanian and Russian front all the way up to the Danube Delta; and this was achieved without any major tax raise. (There were tax revolts when the taxes were raised to 10% during the war.) There was every reason for national pride and self-confidence, and after the war Bulgarians set out to recover economically with the same zeal they fought against multiple enemies.

By the mid-1930s, the results were obvious: The GDP per capita of the nation reached 46% of the GDP per capita of the United States, leaving Bulgaria only a little behind Germany and Austria. (The data are quoted from Adam Tooze, Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Penguin Books, 2008, pp. 136-7.) The victors of the war, Romania (21%), Greece (38%), Poland (20%), and Czechoslovakia (39%) were lagging behind. Due to the low government regulations and low taxes, the nation wasn’t even affected by the Great Depression; in fact, if anything, the traditional focus on agriculture and food production strengthened Bulgaria’s economic position in the Depression.

The economy was growing, people were getting wealthier, the nation was rebuilding and recovering. No one believed anything like Communism was possible in Bulgaria. “Communism?” a newspaper editorial said at the time, “It’s for the Russians. It surely can’t happen here.”

Even when in 1945 it was obvious that the small minority of Communists were using the presence of the Red Army to rig the elections, most people were sure Communism couldn’t win, and if it did, it won’t survive for long. Many wealthy and able people stayed in the country instead of leaving while there was still time.

It surely can’t happen here.

And if in 1959 you told a citizen of Berlin that within two years there would be a wall separating the city in two parts, and Germans who tried to cross it would be shot by other Germans, you would probably hear the same thing:

It surely can’t happen here.

And if in 1929 you told the average American that in a few years Executive Order 6102 would be signed, criminalizing all possession of gold by private persons, all export of gold assets by private persons, and all transactions in gold by American citizens anywhere in the world, you would hear the same thing:

It surely can’t happen here.

But it did happen. And it happened exactly because no one believed it could happen, and no one was prepared to resist it. It happened because people dismissed the possibility of it happening, and didn’t put up any fight. Tyrants love the words: It surely can’t happen here. A gullible, clueless population is easier to control; when the thing does happen, no one knows what to do, and tyranny wins.

So we better listen to Ron Paul about that one. There must be better ways to deal with illegal immigration than building fences and positioning machine guns. An immigration policy that forces law-abiding citizens to register with the state and be placed under constant supervision by government agents (“Your papers, citizen!”) will eventually make the citizens immigrants in their own country. Just like TSA and the airport screening, at the end the victims will be the American people, while the true criminals will remain at large. I have seen it, and I have lived through it. It’s not fun at all.

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