It was just so refreshing to watch people recover from hardship without the attendant flag-waving, patriotic songs and war-mongering that goes on here. I happened to catch Blair's post-G8 press conference on C-Span yesterday, and what can I tell you, I was impressed. John Tierney thought so, too.
Tony Blair was as eloquent as ever when he faced the press at the G-8 summit meeting yesterday, but what was most impressive was what he didn't say. After uttering three sentences of gratitude to the other leaders for their support after the London attacks, he dropped the subject of terror.This speaks to something Kyle mentioned in a comment yesterday. I wish more Americans would get hip to this. But of course, if they did, how would their government sell the war?
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Television and print editors rushed to assign what is known in the business as the "Fear Stalks" story, as in, "We need a 'Fear Stalks Suburban Bus Riders.' " The commuters' alarm was shared by local experts. South Dakota's homeland security officials were reported to be "monitoring the situation closely."
I don't mean to minimize the bloodshed in London. I lived in New York in 2001 and later in Baghdad during months of car bombings. But I got the most useful lessons about terrorism when I moved to suburban Maryland just in time for the snipers to begin their famous spree near my home in 2002.
I could have written a "Fear Stalks" story about myself as I walked home from the subway the evening after the spree began. I was more tense than I had ever been in New York or Baghdad.
The assurances that the police were on the case meant nothing because there was obviously no way to stop one guy with a rifle from shooting me that evening.
That's the same situation we're in after the London attacks: it's clear that no one can stop terrorists from killing. Spending billions on airport security has simply diverted them to transit systems, and spending billions on transit systems could at best divert them somewhere else: stores, restaurants, sidewalks. Terrorists don't even need bombs. They could simply adopt the snipers' technique for spreading fear.
President Bush briefly admitted last summer to Matt Lauer that the war on terror couldn't ever be won, but he got so much criticism that he promptly backtracked. It was a textbook Washington gaffe: perfectly true but terribly inconvenient.
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But I think that we'd be better off reconsidering our definition of victory in the war on terror. Calling it a war makes it sound like a national fight against a mighty enemy threatening our society... [Column here.]
Gwynne Dyer, a writer from London - who I am now told is really Canadian! my goodness - had a similar perspective, though he was less impressed with Blair.
Tony Blair flew down from the G-8 summit in Scotland to be with Londoners in their time of trial, and you can hardly blame him. It's not that we needed him -- it was only four smallish bombs, and the emergency services were doing their job just fine -- but the tabloid newspapers would have crucified him if he hadn't shown up and looked sympathetic in public.Dyer's very good column is here.
No doubt he was feeling sympathetic, too, but his words rang false. The accent was British, but the words were the sort that come from President Bush -- all about defending British values and the British way of life. He didn't mention God, so he's still British, but I'm pretty sure I even heard him use Bush's favorite words, "freedom" and "resolve." I'm also pretty certain that this cut very little ice with most Londoners .
This town has been dealing with bombs for a long time. German bombs during the Blitz in September-December 1940 killed 13,339 Londoners and seriously injured 17,939 more. In 1944 this city was the first in the world to be hit by pilotless cruise missiles (the V-1s or "buzz-bombs"), and later that year it was the first to be struck by long-range ballistic missiles (the V-2s).
During the whole of World War II, about 30,000 Londoners were killed by German bombs and three-quarters of a million lost their homes. Then, between 1971 and 2001, London was the target of 116 bombs set by various factions of the Irish Republican Army, although they only killed 50 people and injured around 1,000. And not once during all those bombs did people in London think that they were being attacked because of their values and their way of life.
It was clear to them that they were being attacked because of British policies abroad, or the policies of Britain's friends and allies.
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I do recall thinking, however, that it was a good thing the bombs had gone off here, not in some American city. Even in London, terrorist bombs will be used by the Bush administration as an argument for locking people up, taking away civil liberties, even for invading some other country. One bomb in an American city, and it would have a free run down to 2008.
Whereas in London, it doesn't work like that.