Recently on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister (the Kingslayer) sought to capture Riverrun, a castle commanded by Brynden Tully (the Blackfish). Sir Jaime headed a large force, but Riverrun boasted a deep moat and high walls making a head-on attack foolhardy. What to do?
Sir Jaime laid siege, a tactic as old as warfare. Alas, the Blackfish had accumulated two years of food. Sir Jaime could have launched large rocks to chip away at Riverrun’s walls, but that would take time he didn’t have. Or he could have launched flaming arrows and burning objects, ultimately destroying Riverrun. He’d end up with a ruin.
I think of Riverrun’s walls in regard to the recent murders of four Israelis in Tel Aviv. Last September, a number of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs began waging the Knife Intifada augmented by shootings, as in Tel Aviv, and vehicles. Tel Aviv is an open city and thus vulnerable. But Tel Avivis refuse to bow to fear. Of course, parts of Israel are walled off from the West Bank. I’ve been there. Those walls, along with checkpoints, have reduced attacks against Israel. Still, the Knife Intifada points out their limits. Only a meaningful peace agreement will offer protection from violence. That’s not imminent. Both sides seek to dictate the terms of a two-state solution. Peace requires their coming together, not standing apart.
The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, has walls. They can keep out heat and cold, rain and wind but not hatred. The ISIS-inspired gunman who murdered 49 innocent people and wounded 53 last Saturday night might have been kept out of the United States if higher walls were built around our immigration policy as well as our borders. But the murderer was born in New York City long predating the Islamic State and even 9/11. The battle against Islamist extremism (President Obama won’t say it; I will) will be long, difficult and bloody. Nonetheless, we will not protect America by destroying its cherished values.
What then of Sir Jaime and Riverrun? Faced with those high, thick walls, he developed a brilliant, if cruel, solution. He held prisoner Riverrun’s legitimate lord Edmuir Tully and Edmuir’s young son. Sir Jaime offered Edmuir his freedom if Edmuir would order the troops in Riverrun to stand down and open the gate. Otherwise, he’d catapult Edmuir’s son over the walls. Fire a single shot as it were. Edmuir relented.
A walled fortress, Fort Point, sits under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge not far from my home. The first cannon was mounted there in 1861 to protect San Francisco Bay. Attacks by Confederate ships never came. Walled fortresses soon became obsolete thanks to powerful artillery and larger ship-based guns even before the advent of air power. There’s a lesson here.
Donald Trump wants to build walls to limit what people and goods can enter the United States. Some Americans respond enthusiastically. A changing society frightens them. In truth, our post-industrial economy has left many behind. But fear and frustration offer no solutions. They only drive people to vilify other religions, races and nationalities. Moreover, the walls that keep others out would imprison us. Still, they cling to the mantra, “Things were better in the past.”
Interestingly, that’s the mantra of ISIS.
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