Having always heard about the British behavior during the German bombing of London, the so-called “blitz,” I wondered what would happen today after news broke of the four bombs in the London subway and buses. Sure enough, there was no panic. There was even some stoic humor from the thousands who had to walk as public transportation ground to a halt.
Of course, this was not the World Trade Center in scale, in scope, or in the horror. But still, it would have been easy for people to panic or evacuate the city. Instead just a mile from the bomb sites, normal life went on. Workmen continued to repair houses. Kids stayed in school. People lined up for buses, borrowed bicycles, shared taxis. Sure this normal life was punctuated by expressions of concern and phone calls to family and friends and fear that someone they knew might have been among those dozen tragically killed or wounded. But I sensed for the first time the unique national qualities that led to the legendary British stoicism during World War II.
But most important of all, this attack on London was a reminder of what it was that united the civilized world after 9/11. It’s hard to remember now that the war in Afghanistan was supported by all of the major powers in the world and the vast majority of the world’s population.
The G-8 summit underway in Scotland was transformed in seconds. Yesterday, Tony Blair was on a high after London won the Olympics and Jacques Chirac was uncharacteristically subdued after his crass remarks about the British and the Norwegians probably cost Paris the Olympics. The two leaders have been feuding for weeks but I suspect that feud was buried right away. In fact, a top Paris officials who just lost the Olympic bid had the grace to recall Le Monde’s famous headline after 9-11 by saying “We are all Londoners.”
Ironically, I suspect this tragedy had a silver lining. I sense that these leaders restored a bond today, a bond that was lost as a result of the war in Iraq. In the days ahead, I feel sure that the kind of top to bottom commitment from all major countries to cooperate in the fight against al-qaeda that we have lost over the last two years will be restored. I feel sure that better and stronger efforts will be made to fight al-qaeda, to destroy their cells, dry up their financing, and use all means available to crack down on the Islamic extremists who kill innocent people for their perverted ideology.
And despite the disillusionment in Europe and around the world with the United States – a disillusionment directly traceable to the policies and practices of the Bush administration – I think today’s events will renew the solidarity between the British, and Europeans in general, and the American people. We are in this together. And after today, we will be stronger.
After 9-11 so many Londoners approached me to express their horror and share their support. I only hope my fellow Americans do the same to the British in the days ahead.