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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


Finding Meaning in a Cloud of Smoke
The Unusual Opportunities Presented by California’s Fires
[Carol Platt Liebau] 11/03/03   

Something about the coverage of the devastating fires ravaging our state is reminiscent of the days immediately following September 11, 2001. Television anchormen are crying on the air; between songs dedicated to the firefighters, radio stations are providing information about how to send help to those most in need; and a sense of crisis and deep sadness permeates the smoke-filled air.

Like the events of September 11 themselves, the scope and seeming capriciousness of the fire’s path reinforce a sense of vulnerability. Just as many people knew someone who had died on 9/11 (or knew someone who knew someone, or worked for the same company, or had attended the same school), we all seem to know someone or something that is threatened by this fire.

For our part, my husband and I spent last week watching the San Diego fires, which have been as close to a mile away from a family horse farm full of thoroughbred race horses. No vans are permitted into the area to transport the horses to a safer location; so, incredibly, we have been learning of the kind of contingency plans that are formulated for dire situations like these. Should the fire approach, the three brave, devoted men who have refused to leave have been advised to take the horses to dirt areas, away from water or foliage. And were the unthinkable imminent, all the horses would be released to maximize their chances for survival.

I first visited the farm and met the men who have remained there in the days when I was getting to know my husband – long before we were engaged. It is surreal, inconceivable even, that a place so deeply anchored to my personal history could be under threat – and that all of us are completely unable to do anything about it, except pray (which, in the end, may be the most valuable act of all).

In a world where we are capable of reaching the moon, of defeating polio, and of creating smart bombs, it is profoundly humbling to be reminded of just how much in the natural world is beyond our control. But in the wake of all the devastation that the fire will leave, there is one powerful thing that all of us can do: Make sure that something good ultimately comes of it. And there is much potential good here that can be extracted.

As a domestic policy matter, the fires may lead to a re-examination of the feckless, radical environmentalist policies that have allowed the conditions to develop that turn California from a state where fire is always an acknowledged threat into a virtual fire-trap. Land use and environmental experts – including Hugh Hewitt and others – will have suggestions of substance on this matter, and they must be heard. As a start, California would certainly benefit from the sorts of legislative exemptions that Tom Daschle obtained for South Dakota in the summer of 2002 – which permitted logging in the forests of South Dakota in order to diminish the fuel supply, and extinguished the environmental lawsuits that have obstructed timber projects for the past two decades.

On a deeper level, even amid the heartache and destruction that is so obvious, this can also be an occasion for gratitude on many levels. Gratitude on the part of those of us who have not been personally affected by the fires. Gratitude for the valiant men and women who step forward voluntarily to protect as many of us and as much as they can from the flames. Gratitude of the kind so magnificently expressed by a woman interviewed by television news – she had lost her home and all her belongings, but placing her hands on the heads of her two small children, she said that she had “everything that really matters right here.” And gratitude for the generosity and compassion California’s people have demonstrated for one another – along with heartfelt appreciation for those from other states who have come to help us beat back the fires.

Finally, I am grateful for those leading the fight against terrorism in Washington, D.C. I am grateful for a President who has resolved to use all means within his power to protect us from terrorist attack. I am grateful for an Attorney General who has the conviction and the fortitude to withstand the dishonest and unwarranted vilification of himself and of the Patriot Act, which has done so much to prevent another 9/11. And I am grateful for every American of good will and courage who understands what is at stake in Iraq, and more generally in the world-wide struggle against the terrorist menace.

Three years ago, it would have been inconceivable to react to a disaster of this magnitude with an expression of gratitude that (at least as of now) no terrorism was apparently involved in the creation of these fires. But perhaps September 11, 2001 really did change everything. Although much of what’s happening now may remind us of the dark days of September 2001, they do offer us an opportunity: We can rededicate ourselves to the fight against terror, and then pause for a moment of thanksgiving – honoring those at home and abroad who put everything on the line to hold danger at bay for the rest of us, and everyone who works to ensure that, if tragedy must strike, it will at least be a natural disaster, not one manufactured by hate-filled terrorists.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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