California Burning: the Sad Reality of a Dry State

California has a lot of fires; it’s a pretty dry state. The increasing frequency of devastating blazes such as those currently raging to the north of Los Angeles is leading to unsurpassed human and economic loss.

Climate change proponents are quick to identify California’s prolonged droughts and wildfires as direct evidence that they are right. They may have an argument. But the destruction and fatalities caused by natural disasters across the world today are just as much about population growth and poor planning as they are about environmental factors, not to mention things beyond human control.

Prior to this week’s Camp Fire, which has so far resulted in at least 42 fatalities, the deadliest inferno in California’s history started at Griffith Park, Los Angeles in October 1933.

Scarred hillsides after the Griffith Park fire

A particularly barren summer had led to an excess of dry brush in the park, which gangs of workers from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation were hired to clear. On the 3rd October a small fire broke out in the park and quickly spread, with the inexperienced workers press-ganged into acting as emergency firemen.

Poorly planned backfires and inadequate firebreaks effectively trapped dozens of men in a swirling torrent of flame that was worsened by strong winds. Despite being brought under control relatively quickly by the emergency services, the Griffith Park inferno had claimed at least 29 lives.

Strong winds are currently hampering rescue efforts in California. No matter what the firefighting technology, the federal aid granted and the pre-emptive mitigation measures, a stiff breeze will exacerbate catastrophe.

The bodies were laid in a row on a concrete floor under a huge canvas shroud. Most were so badly burned that they could not be identified, except by their belongings, which were kept in an old apple crate.

As in 1933, macabre tales are being told today, with people found burnt to cinders in their cars or trapped in the rubble of their incinerated homes. When nature ‘wins’ the consequences are never pretty.

A body is recovered after the Griffith Park fire

It is unfortunate that the California fires are being used for political point-scoring and ‘I told you so’ jibes when all that should have been considered from the outset was a unified and comprehensive response to an inordinately difficult situation. Repercussions and recrimination can wait.

These things happen – as pointedly obvious as it seems to say – and the exact circumstances of such a disaster will never be the same and can never be predicted. A dose of realism is required; we are not all-conquering and we will never know the future.

Advertisements

Trump’s Folly: the Delusion of a Working Wall

Despite the Democrat inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad and one sided, I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL

Just a typical Donald Trump tweet, filled with hyperbole and random capitalisations. The threat of invasion looms ever closer, it seems. The President’s obsession with building a country-wide wall along the Mexican border to ‘stop immigrants’ has not diminished since he ascended to the highest seat of power.

His plan is not a novel one; Hungary and its Eastern European neighbours have erected barriers topped with razor wire to stem the tide of refugees arriving from the Middle East for instance. But the idea sits uneasily with what America is supposed to be: the land of the free, the land of immigrants?

There is symbolic potency in Trump’s grand vision – however muddled – but what will it actually achieve? Looking at history, the omens are not promising for the President and his chest-thumping brethren.

Trump inspecting prototypes for his wall

The East-West Divide

Never has a physical barrier carried such ideological weight as the Berlin Wall. Constructed almost overnight in 1961 by the Soviet-backed East German government, it became the defining symbol of the Cold War: Capitalism vs Communism. Good vs Evil.

It was perhaps also the greatest propaganda misfire of the Soviet regime. As soon as the Wall went up those yet to decide on their allegiance in the Cold War – and you had to pick a side – veered towards the West. How could you physically separate a people? It looked like a horrible retribution for World War Two (WWII).

That more than 5,000 defectors successfully crossed into West Berlin during the existence of the Wall also speaks to its strategic failure. When the first boulders were hauled down in 1989, the world rejoiced.

The ultimate symbol of division: the Berlin Wall

One can imagine parallels with a Trumpian wall; the brutal eyesore, the separation of families, the ideological statement of exclusivity and isolation. One can also imagine it being hauled down; ad hoc, with ropes…Saddam Hussein in Texas. 28 years is a long lifespan to emulate.

If Trump really is seeking to avoid the ideological and symbolic connotations – and it’s difficult to see how he can – then what of the practical elements? Will his wall dam the flow of illegal immigrants, of drug traffickers and fugitives from justice?

The Chinese Experiment 

From the 7th century BC until the heady days of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese embarked on an engineering marvel that continues to wow visitors to this day. The Great Wall of China stretches some 13,000 miles, specifically built to prevent invasion from the windy steppes to the north.

It was not built as a single entity, rather in stages and as it was required. In addition to its primary purpose of defence, the Great Wall helped control the flow of trade, administer taxes, emigration and immigration. Trump must be an admirer.

But policing a 13,000 mile stretch of property had its obvious logistical difficulties, even for a country as populous as China. The invaders were not repulsed – indeed the Mongols would conquer China and create a dynasty – and as sections of the Great Wall fell into disrepair and the costs of reconstruction became increasingly prohibitive, the border pores opened up.

The beauty of China’s Great Wall draws 70,000 visitors per day. How many will visit the ruined facade of Trump’s monstrosity in 50 years’ time?

Trump’s Wall

Trump’s wall will be a tenth of the size and, if he gets his way, he’ll have the money and manpower to ensure that its construction is sturdy and its posts constantly manned.

But so what? Border guards can be bought, as they are now. Who can truly stop corruption when the riches of the Cartels are in play? The costs of loyalty will be astronomically high, the endemic paranoia of Trump’s administration always likely to fear betrayal.

Trump sees his wall as a symbol of American power and prestige. Some would argue that China’s Great Wall demonstrated a civilisation of incomparable strength, at its zenith, with the resources and the tenacity to engage in such an undertaking.

But a wall is essentially a defensive measure. It is a sign of weakness, particularly where America is concerned. There are no armed invaders lurking on the borders. Should such an unlikely scenario ever occur than the US military could destroy it without even having to travel to the national boundary.

Trump’s proposed wall is far from unanimously popular: protests of sprung up across the country

Ultimately it is a move of insanity; an expensive, divisive, symbolically damaging and egocentric waste. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem to be tackled, as is the trafficking of narcotics. But this should never happen. It makes no sense. History should warn him. His wall will be torn asunder by the next generation. It is not America. It is foolish and angering and it will fail in every sense of the word.

I leave you with Luc Besson:

It’s always the small people who change things. It’s never the politicians or the big guys. I mean, who pulled down the Berlin wall? It was all the people in the streets. The specialists didn’t have a clue the day before.