The Wall

Lindsey Brambles: The Wall (1979)

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, there were a lot of walls separating people and things. There was the Berlin wall, the Iron Curtain of which it was a part, there was Pink Floyd’s great album - as I recall, even the flat in Helsinki that I lived in had a wall.
At the time, the Canadian author, Lindsey Brambles (b. 1959), wrote a short story called just that - The Wall.

The kingdom of Cysteria has two walls at its borders, in the north and in the south. Generation after generation, the élite of its soldiers are guardians of these walls, the oldest son following in his father’s footsteps. These men are well payed for their half-year stints in the desert and return with stories of danger and heroism that give them appreciation and high status.
The truth is, however, that nothing ever happens, except the desert, the sun, and the wind. There are no battles, no skirmishes, no enemy even.
The veterans settle down to an existence of eating, drinking, and sloth, while the new recruits take up their positions on the wall, marching up and down in the hot sun, until they, too, realise the futility of it and settle down with the others.

Why, then, is this being done? Sartas, the recruit, and Tavarius, the veteran, thresh it out. The kings need an outer threat to motivate their power and the oppressive taxation of the people. The people need the nonexistent enemy to give zest to their meagre existence. The guardians of the wall quite simply need their pay to support their families. And so, in spite of the fact that no-one actually knows what lies beyond the wall, the charade continues, century after century.
For, as Tavarius realises, the greatest threat is not an outside one, but one from within: apathy.

At the time of publication, the threat to the Western world was Communism - a great monolithic enemy called “the Evil Empire” by one of the less acute thinkers among the world leaders. Now, the threat is less visible and even more frightening - terrorism. Communism threatened the Western way of life, terrorism threatens life itself. Communism came from without, while the terrorist threat can strike from anywhere, anytime.
But there is still a wall. It is ineffectual and even harmful - but it is needed for the people’s peace of mind. The leaders must be seen to do something, anything, or the people will lose faith in them and change their leadership.
The question remains, however, now as then: is this really the best way of doing things? 

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