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Wire of Death (wikipedia.org)
158 points by curtis on April 9, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments

"To the German authorities it was officially known as the Grenzhochspannungshindernis ("High Voltage Frontier Barrier")."

How German. And by that I don't just mean that it's a long word per se, but also the bureaucratic, almost euphemistic, but also overly precise wording. Informally, people would simply call this an "Elektrozaun" (electric fence).

Bureaucratic German is very ... special. In cases like this one, it is cynical in covering up or disregarding human suffering and death. As Thomas Pynchon says, "a million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it".

In some cases, Bureaucratese can be quite funny (but never intentionally), and mocking it can be very enjoyable. At work, we call our trouble ticket system the "Störungsmeldevorrichtung". ;-)

There's a general tendency to treat large-scale violence and force in bureaucratic language. Nobody would call a bunch of thugs who ride into a village and murder all the people they don't like something other than a bunch of murderers. But once they claim authority and do it in large numbers or in a somewhat legitimized ("legitimization by procedure") way, those murders are being called 'executions' like in the area under control of the IS.

If you want to do the proper way, call it "StöMeVo".

And only use the abbreviation, never call it "Störungsmeldevorrichtung" so people will forget what it stands for.

To be fair, extraordinary rendition has some striking similarities with Sonderbehandlung (though the latter was even more sinister).

If elected I promise to hire Hugo Boss to do the new Homeland Security uniforms.

This is why I love the German language.


For its associations with bureaucracy and death?

Never heard of this before! Thank you for posting this link.

OT: Historians deem it unprofessionial to ask this question, which always comes to mind: what's the moral of this story?

Should it remind us about the contradiction of "what is right" and "what is necessary"? Should we take lessons from it at all?

For me it's exactly this what makes history interesting. We may never get rid of atrocities but we'll get to know a lot about human nature, about what our actions will lead to over the long term and what delusions we can entangle ourselves in. For Germans this fence made a lot of sense. And who is to say that if Germany didn't erect it, the Netherlands wouldn't have done so at some point.

Like a financial bubble that inevitably will pop, we will repeatedly live in these scenarios that seem to be outrageously unsustainable afterwards.

"All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."

Maybe the question of moral is unprofessional for the historians, but I think it is crucial to consider it. Humans have very short memory as a civilization - we lose the collective memory of things that happened before oldest of us were born. II World War is hitting this border right now, and you can notice all kinds of things happening that two decades ago would be unthinkable - like rising popularity of neo-nazi movements, or regular people suggesting methods to deal with immigrant crisis in Europe that would make the continent look pretty much like 1938 Germany.

This is a big problem, because we've wasted thousands of years of collective experience this way. Knowing what king ruled where at what year (which is what we're being taught in schools) is of very little value for most people. But the moral coming from their mistakes and successes is actually helpful. It's funny that people do study the Bible this way, but not history. It's also sad.

That said, the problem nowadays is that any attempt on trying to preserve collective memory of lessons coming from past events will be criticized as propaganda and brainwashing.

"we've wasted thousands of years of collective experience" - nicely put.

It's exactly this what good education of history should counter - the waste of collective experiences. It is very inefficient to go through the same cycles over and over again.

Short term memory, like "beware of the German ambitions" would be also important.

You might not be able to make predictions for Brazil and Argentina in 2500 from the story, but as a Belgian or Dutch, e.g., knowing that this happened you'd know not to trust Germany very much around 1933...

In other words, it's important to know one's local and recent history at least (recent being even 50-200 years ago, since those events can still influence current events -- e.g. the fact that blacks came in the US not as immigrant citizens like others, but as slaves is important to understand their subsequent history and today's treatment, especially in the South, etc).

It's not much different than personal history. Knowing that Joe has been a jerk to you in high school, or Alex has a tendency to borrow home tools and never return them, makes you more informed in dealing with them, trusting them, etc.

More graphic:

http://imgur.com/gallery/zzSmB (NSFW)

A striking caption from one of the images in this gallery

> This monastery was occupied by the Germans, most monks escaped to the Netherlands. The wire was build right through the monastery's yard, all 2.5 km of it. The monastery had to pay for the expenses.

The parallels to someone yelling about building a wall and having Mexico pay for it is chilling.

No it doesn't

Comparing a wall and a wire that electrocutes you is ridiculous.

It really isn't so ridiculous. Walls are often topped with razor wire or electrified wire. Even if "Trump's Wall" isn't planned to have that now, it may have it after a few escalations.

If there were a catalog, they'd be on facing pages.

edit: Why am I trying to be pithy here? If you need to think a wall is so different from a fence is so different from an electric fence, you're rationalizing something.

Damn right.

I'd imagine you'd need to relentlessly patrol the wire for it to be effective. The barrel method, as seen in the pictures you linked to, seems to be an easy way to defeat the wire.

|In 1918 only 10% of Dutch and Belgian households had electricity. Most people didn't know the dangers of electricity at all which meant for a lot of people their first contact with electricity was also their last." - I wonder to ask how many volts are they using during that time?

Voltage does nothing. It is the current that kills you.

2000 Volts / 1000 ohm (resistance of human skin) is 2 amps if you close the circuit. That is deadly with a healthy margin.

But put on a insulator shoes and you can hold (the same) wire with 2 dry hands and nothing will happen - the same way birds can rest on wire and live. Of course holding 2 different wires will be bad idea.

Btw - a basic safety precaution in engineering school - always plug and unplug stuff with one hand.


>Voltage does nothing. It is the current that kills you.

Yes, but... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xONZcBJh5A

No. Because breach your skin on the thumbs with the needles of the oscilloscope and 9v battery will easily stop your heart.

The current that passes trough your body is determined by the properties of the whole circuit. And it is ultimately the current that kills you.

Actually it's the energy - think of a static shock, which is similarly in the kV range (or higher) and thus the instantaneous current and power is also very high; but it doesn't last long enough to cause any real damage (i.e. the amount of energy imparted is tiny.)

Voltage and current are just different ways to measure the same phenomenon. Both happen at the same time. The reason that we talk about the hazard of voltage rather than current is that most sources of electrical energy in our world have a particular voltage (voltage source) rather than a particular current (current source).

Also, very low currents can be hazardous but skin resistance is relatively high. Most of the voltage sources we are exposed to are fairly low. There is no point in putting a warning about the 1 Amp of current a power adapter can produce if that adapter is limited to producing 5 Volts. In a world where all power sources were producing thousands of volts the opposite would be true, an example warning would be "Danger, 200 mA".

In general we have to worry about the exception, not the rule.

V = IR. For a given resistance (your body!) V and I are interconvertible.

Article says 2000 Volts. Very lethal.

Most people didn't know the dangers of electricity at all

If anyone tried doing this today in a similar environment and succeeded, I think there would be be plenty of people trying to tap electricity from it.

Time domain reflectometry would find you in no time.

Furthermore, the power supply doesn't need to have high current capacity. 1A is plenty enough for the intended purpose and this works out to 2kW - good for one electric kettle.

From the article, 2000 volts.

It's the amps that kill.

That phrase is a lot like, "It's not the gun that kills you, it's the bullet". Yeah, technically true but it really is the volts that drive current through you.

High voltage doesn't kill. It does provide the electromotive force to move current.

Death by electricity is largely a function of the current that flows through the body, though in some cases the frequency also matters. Case of a researcher who was working with millivolt and/or milliamp currents (I forget the specifics) but at frequencies which disrupted his heart rythms. Was working alone late at night in the lab until he wasn't. Died from stopping his heart.

A Van de Graaff generator will kick out 100,000 - 5,000,000 volts, but can be contacted directly. Holding a conductive rod (so that current flows through a large skin area on the hand) allows sparks to be discharged through the body without harm. It's a common science lab trick for children.

It's not the fall; it's the landing!

I had the privilege in 1979 of traveling in Eastern Europe and crossing the border in a rural area between DDR (East Germany) and BRD (West Germany) with my US passport.

The East's border was two 3m (10ft) fences topped with razor wire, with a 10m (30ft) gap of ploughed land between them. I assume the ploughed land was a minefield, but I didn't ask. There were towers with fixed machine guns and searchlights positioned closely enough together to allow the soldiers in them to monitor everything.

Inside the border was a 5km exclusion zone.

The West German boder? A small guard post, with a passport control officer dressed in blue jeans, and a sign saying Wilkommen in BRD. (Welcome to the German Federal Republic). 5k inside the western border was a sign in English saying "no US military personnel beyond this point." (At that time the post-WWII Allied occupation forces were still in place.)

What does a border look like that prevents the passage of determined people? It looks like that, or like the Wire of Death. It's doggone ugly.

Within 100–500 meters of the wire anyone who was not able to officially explain their presence was summarily executed. The youngest person to be executed was a four year old.

Not true. The four year old died accidentally by touching the wire while playing. Still tragic but not as depraved as made out.

OK thanks. It was almost sounding like they executed a four-year old because he was not able to officially explain his presence…

Yeah, the article makes it sound like a sapient fence or something.

You should fix that, then. 'Executed' is very different from 'accidentally electrocuted'.

... ? I'm neither the author nor the submitter.

part of the 'doodendraad' was reconstructed in 2015 near Zundert. along it, people planted 24000 crocus bulbs as part of an art project called 'de dodendraad leeft!' (the wire of death lives!). this march, they bloomed for the first time.

a short video here : http://nos.nl/artikel/2095442-video-dodendraad-zundert-komt-...

Why not just break it with rope and a hook? Were the wires to thick to break by pulling?

At 200km of length you could break it faster than they repair it. Also repair would cause downtime that could allow for people to slip through.

Or how about short-circuiting it?

I think one of the other linked articles said that only 10% of the Dutch population at the time had an understanding of electricity (I would guess the people close to the fence were rural population, because most of the cities are in the west at the sea). Which makes the whole thing so dangerous.

What made you want to post this? Something in the news or current events reminded you? Interesting. Didn't know this existed.

It really hits home how much effort and ingenuity can go into a terrible thing.

A few years back I watched a lot of videos on nuclear tests (one can find them at archive.org - the video and audio quality is terrible, and the resolution is tiny, but it is well worth the time), and I was struck by the same thought - if only we could spend that much effort, money, time and creativity into building a better society, ending hunger and disease, what would the world look like today?

It is really depressing to think about this for too long.

Don't be too down on society. Humans are doing a lot of horrible things but we're also doing some wonderful things too.

Just look at the many billionaires who are doing amazing things with their wealth http://givingpledge.org/

Yes. And we are still on a massive, unprecedented progress run that has created abundance.

I just hope we stay on that path.

This must surely be a joke.

Well, if your stance is that war is a part of human nature and nuclear weapons prevent it (MAD), then nuclear weapons actually make human existence better.

I still want to believe that we can do better.

In 1914 one million Belgian refugees were already in the Netherlands

This is often forgotten. And instead Belgians I know are now complaining about, what, some tens of thousands?, Syrian (and other) refugees entering the country. And yes, some of these Belgians even want to build fences to keep them out. Hmm, where did I hear this story before..

Pretty lame. If you live close to the border, Flemings and Dutch are intermarried, they speak the same dialect and all. Refugees were close to home and actually went home after the Germans left.

Refugees of Syria (and Iraq and Afghanistan and also all of Africa etc) have been flooding Belgium for 20-30 years now. Somehow they never depart in any of the other 360 degrees surrounding their countries. Or choose to stay in one of the many countries they pass through on their way. Only North West Europe will do: Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden.

On the plus side, last year Saudi Arabia did offer to help Belgium, not by taking up refugees until the war is over but by funding construction of more mosques.

This is incredibly misinformed. First of all, the majority of refugees are staying in the middle east zone. See UN data [1]: ~4 million Turkey, Lebanon and others. Estimates round ~1 million for all of Europe.

Regarding that they only "flood North West Europe": in Spain, for example, the ~4 % of the population is Muslim (not all of them are immigrants but it's a decent indicator). In Sweden, it is ~5%, ~5-7% in Belgium, ~5% in Germany.

1: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

"Incredibly" misinformed? Not really. How many in Saudi Arabia? Gulf states? Iran? The *stans? North Africa? Georgia? In China or Japan or Russia or Kenya or New Zealand for that matter?

How many would be in NW Europe without the spreading plan? How do the ones that weren't even registered, or the ones that went missing move around the Schengen zone?

About the second set of figures. Total immigration is much higher than 7%, because not all immigrants are muslims. Even then, I’d say these numbers confirm that migration is much higher in NW Europe.

But you know, 7% of Belgium being muslim is not even the problem. The problem is that this is happening in a few decades time. In countries that have never seen immigration and were screwing it up big time long before the Syrian refugee crisis. Culturally and economically.

Au fond, immigration policy in Europe is completely reckless. There is no vision, just passively reacting to whatever happens and calling that being compassionate. And to go back to the original reason for my post: I’m especially sick of hearing specious, patronizing arguments like ”but 100 years ago Belgians fled to the Netherlands". We need to move beyond that sophistry. Especially if you live in Brussels.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugees_of_the_Syrian_Civil_W.... Saudi Arabia is the 6th country. UAE 10th, Kuwait 11th, Egypt 12th. Sweden is 13th. Germany is the only rich european country in higher positions, and it's the fourth one.

Why don't they go to China, Japan, Russia, Kenya or New Zealand? Well, just look at a map. Syria -> Greece can be a long but doable journey. Except Russia (and that would be entering via Georgia, which doesn't seem to be like an easy route) all of those are pretty unfeasible.

About the figures, yes, they're not the best but they're an indicator and probably useful for comparison. And they do not confirm that immigration is higher in NWE. Sweden and Belgium have far less population than Spain (~10 vs 45 millions). If you add immigration percentages in France, Portugal and Italy, I'm pretty sure that it's not higher, and even if it is, it wouldn't be by much.

> The problem is that this is happening in a few decades time. In countries that have never seen immigration and were screwing it up big time long before the Syrian refugee crisis.

So what's the solution? Sweeping the problem under the rug? Because it's not an impossible task. It can be done. Spain has received a huge amount of immigrants in the last decade (2000 it was 2%, 2010 was 12%). The fact that a lot of them were spanish-speakers helped a lot, but you don't either see problems with the muslim population (12% of the foreign population is Moroccan, for example).

Hi julian. We're looking at the exact same page and we're seeing different things. That happens sometimes.

I see NW EU doing way too much. I see countries on the way to Europe (Greece, Macedonia, Serbia) doing even more. Btw as far as I’m concerned, that includes Turkey. I see other countries who are much closer culturally and/or geographically quite simply not doing that much.

You could say that a number of them do almost nothing. Or maybe a lot of the refugees actually choose to travel into specific directions. I.e. they want to use their refugee status for migration purposes into Europe.

About intra-European Syrian refugee numbers. You mention Spain a lot: 8,365 refugees on 46.5 million. Italy has 2,451 refugees on some 60 million people. Belgium has 14,850 on 11 million.

About intra-European muslim numbers. (You started mentioning those. They seem like a bad proxy for total immigration but anyways.) 7% (or 7+%) in Belgium. 10% in France. 5% for Spain.

About dealing with total immigration, beyond the Syrian refugee crisis. For the past 2-3 decades, Belgian society has been sweeping it all under the rug. That includes minimising and censoring events, coming up with dubious comparisons (like the WW1 canard), campaigns focusing on the racism of Belgians. There’s been a lot of social engineering and it’s not working well for anybody, immigrants included. Enough with the sweeping already. Let’s start with regaining control over the borders.

This is probably not a great discussion for HN due to where it will inevitably go.

I read your comment when you first posted it, and nodded in agreement. But 8 hours later I gotta say: the sibling threads to this have actually been surprisingly civil.

The discussion looks "surprisingly civil" probably because admins were removing comments and threatening users with bans.

Because it is different to help a cousin and a stranger.

If the refugees were culturally similar - the attitude in Europe would be different.

Yeah, it's very important to have the right culture fit...

If they don't share basic cultural values our society is built upon, I think that matters a ton. People who 'mistreat' or even just disapprove of how women in our society live their lives, how we treat gays, non-believers, have nothing to add to our society or this world.

"We" started treating gay people and women and nonbelievers well to some extent in the past decades. And disagreement over such rights are not the only cause of anti-refugee sentiment. In Sweden, extremist arsonists light refugee housing on fire. That's sheer hatred, not liberal concern.

Yep. They don't want them there. But there is a world of difference between hatred towards non EU people and towards EU citizens. The only people that have a right to be in EU are the citizens of EU. For everyone else it is a privilege.

Well, that's an interesting question from a human rights perspective. Hannah Arendt among many others have written about human rights and people who are displaced by war, deportation, lack of citizenship, etc. The view that the European borders legitimately forbid people in need from entering is inhumane as far as I can tell—and not really supported by the constitutions either.

The European borders prevent everyone from enetering. Whether humane or not is irrelevant.

There are few placec in which you are allowed to cross. You can be in need and cross there.

Disapproval of modern women, gays and non-believers... Sorry I stepped out for a minute, are we talking about fundamentalist Christians? Orthodox Jews?

These populations are not common in Europe. And I would love to stay that way. People that take their religion too seriously should stay out of EU.

Religious flamewars are not allowed on Hacker News. We've warned you about this before. Please don't do it again.

What about poland ?

> Sorry I stepped out for a minute, are we talking about fundamentalist Christians? Orthodox Jews?

Well, in few years/decades you may have one more significantly influential group for your list :)

>The youngest person to be executed was a four year old.

German efficiency eh?

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