A Day of Infamy
We [Democratic nations] must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.
Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain, in speech July 15, 1985
Edgware Road. Liverpool Street. King’s Cross. Tavistock Place. My own London.
The British Army patrolling Covent Garden. Londoners walking warily home across the Bridge in the twilight, as the Tube was no longer available.
“Everyone, long story short, thought they were going to die.” Speaking in subdued tones, the archetypal man of the City – blue suit and tie in place, with only hair askew to show how close he had come to meeting his Maker - spoke quietly of how he was trapped, in a burning metal carriage under the ground. Other survivors described bodies on the tracks, pools of blood everywhere, soot and smoke choking off rational action and thought. Timed to coincide with the Thursday morning rush hour, the attacks killed and maimed over 700 – a month of fatalities and casualties in the Iraq war in a single day. The London Tube was built in 1863, about 30 years after my time, but by attacking it the terrorists struck at the true circulatory system of London, usually filled with schoolchildren as well as businessmen and housewives.
Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke, with Presidents Bush and Chirac at his side, about how the group calling itself ‘Al-Quida in Europe’, the 'Emigrants' terrorists were trying to ‘cow us’, to prevent good Britons from ‘going about our business as normal as we are entitled to do’. Mr. Blair cannot help but remember that a similar attack in Spain changed the course of an election, putting an anti-American candidate into office. I do not think, however, that Britons will react in a similar fashion. When Blair calls the attack barbaric, he is speaking the language of his fellow Londoners. While he has returned from the G-8 summit briefly, he intends to return and take his place again to discuss African poverty and global warming. Business as usual, carry on, Jack.
There will be some critics. George Galloway, leader of the protestors at the G-8 summit said that the event was caused by British support for the United States, and that Britain should abandon the Iraq war. But so far, the Briton on the street has been too horrified at this attack, so reminiscent of the bombings in WWII, to think about political ramifications. Suicide bombers on double decker buses will only stiffen resolve, however, not cause us to change course. When asked by reporters about the psychological impact of their ordeal, the Londoners on CNN and MSNBC look blank, as if hearing a foreign language.
America has offered its empathy and condolences. While Rudy Giuliani, in London to address a government group, condemned the attacks, and spoke highly of the caliber of the quality of the emergency response, it is worth noting that New York City subway workers intercepted a member of the Emigrants Group in that city, preventing what had happened in my poor London from happening there. Secretary of State Rice gave her formal condolences at the Embassy, speaking quietly and firmly of the support that America offers.
More will come out as the days and weeks go by. Prime Minister Blair said that this is not an attack on one nation, but an attack on all nations. Londoners will realize that 9/11 was a catastrophe literally ten times larger in a similar geographic area. They will realize that terrorism is a psychological war as much as a corporeal one, and will stiffen their resolve and screw their courage to the sticking place.
All we can offer for now are our prayers.