Op-Ed

If there were no borders, we would create them

The U.S. Mexico border fence cuts through the two downtowns of Nogales.
The U.S. Mexico border fence cuts through the two downtowns of Nogales. Associated Press

A small, but fierce, nation known for taking territory from larger neighbors had its heyday in the 17th century, when a teenage boy became king and proved so brilliant in battle that he was later called the father of modern warfare. Because its aggression dates back hundreds of years, this now-peaceful country still inspires fear and distrust on the political left.

Just kidding. It’s Sweden, America’s honorary blue state. Liberals love the land of Ikea, Volvo and paid parental leave and don’t know or care about its violent past.

Even less cuddly countries don’t get much heat from the left about their past military adventures. If MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow regrets how today’s Egyptians or Filipinos or Belarusians came by their shares of the Earth’s real estate, she hasn’t let on.

Moral blinders? Not at all. Every society occupies space that once belonged to others, and the title transfers seldom happened over brandy and cigars. We all live inside lines drawn at one time or another by war.

Liberals seem comfortable with that fact, except in the case of America. The least comfortable go so far as to declare U.S. sovereignty illegitimate because our ancestors “stole” the country from peace-loving natives. In reality. American Indians had fought over territory for ages before the Europeans arrived.

As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: “One of the things we take for granted today is that it is wrong to take other people's land by force. Neither American Indians nor the European invaders believed that. Both took other people's land by force — as did Asians, Africans and others. The Indians no doubt regretted losing so many battles. But that is wholly different from saying that they thought battles were the wrong way to settle ownership of land.”

Historically inclined lefties point to the Mexican-American War as another reason to question U.S. sovereignty. Some Americans saw that war as a land grab even before it started in 1846. Many did not, but either way there’s no serious case for calling Texas and its western neighbors “stolen land” 170 years after the fact. The fact is, a war was fought and won.

Today’s Monday-morning quarterbacks can debate the merits of long-ago conflicts but can’t escape their artifacts, which are borders. Our instinctive acceptance of borders and the authority they convey makes sense, considering that the only thing likely to change them is more conflict.

The liberal impulse to find injustice under every rock and demand corrective action gets silly fast when applied retroactively.

Imagine sifting through centuries’ worth of territorial struggles in search of those we moderns might consider justified. The “correct” owners of the planet’s 36.8 billion acres could wait a very long time to be identified and vindicated.

If your head is high enough in the clouds, you might dream of abolishing borders altogether. Some imagine a borderless world as a futuristic ideal, the ultimate expression of the brotherhood of man. They have it backward: A borderless world is exactly what man started with. We arrived at our present arrangement of nation-states only after thousands of years of bloody chaos.

Borders are the principal means of keeping that chaos at bay. If they were to disappear tomorrow, they would have to be redrawn — and would be, by much the same method as before. Creatures who can’t sit on school boards or church committees without forming alliances and competing for power aren’t about to amicably share whole continents.

Idealists who would abolish borders will first need to find a way to abolish human nature.

Reach Michael Smith, a Lexington office worker, at mwestsmith4@gmail.com

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