Monday, July 02, 2007

Stiff Upper Lips

I happened to have been on the particular block of Haymarket Street several hours before the first of the three (so far) attempted car bombings were discovered, which while wholly unremarkable in and of itself, puts the events in an almost surreal perspective.

For a number of reasons, it was fascinating to be in London in the aftermath of the discoveries and watch as the investigations unfolded. From what I can tell, while the U.S. press gave a lot of coverage to the plots, there are a couple of things which they did not, or could not, convey.

The first is just how close London and Glasgow found themselves to massive carnage. Both of the London car bombs were in place at their intended targets, packed with gasoline, gas canisters and nails. Both were set to be detonated via cell phones. The bombers called the phone in the car outside the nightclub (filled with about 500 revelers) twice, and the one in the other car four times. But for supposedly avoidable technical mistakes made by the bombers, both bombs would have gone off, killing hundreds. The attempted Glasgow Airport bombing failed to do its intended damage for similar technical reasons.

In fact, the only reason the first bomb was even detected was that an ambulance crew that just happened to be driving by the car noticed some smoke and fumes coming from the vehicle and alerted the police. It was that close of a call for the city.

It was reported as we left London that the men who drove the car into the airport terminal were the same two men who placed the other two car bombs. Even more striking was that they were both doctors, one a highly respected neurologist with the National Health Service.

The fact that these men, and the other six (so far) accomplices, were able to plan and all but execute this plan wholly undetected is chilling. It has come out that there were reported links to Ansar al-Islam, a group with ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by the U.S. last year. If these men could blend in so seamlessly in the towns in which they lived around London, to do so in America’s cities and suburbs would seem to be a no-brainer.

The second thing that the American press couldn’t capture is the steely resolve of the British population. Perhaps having been hardened by the Blitzkrieg and IRA Troubles, as well as the 7/7 bus bombing, the ease with which everyday life in and about London goes on is really quite remarkable.

Of course there is the argument that if you let the terrorists affect your daily lives, then they’ve won. But try telling yourself that when you are riding the Tube or walking along streets crowded with tourists and people going out about their business in high profile areas.

Security was obviously stepped up, with very visible contingents of police walking about with laser-scoped Heckler and Koch G36 semi-automatic assault rifles. It is a very different picture then when I lived here twenty years ago, when even seeing a policeman with a sidearm was a rare sight.

But through it all is a sense in the local population of a refusal to be deterred or paralyzed by these types of events. I‘m just not sure that the same sense would exist at home in a similar set of circumstances. I certainly hope that it would. More so, I hope that we never have to find out.


At July 2, 2007 at 7:25 PM, Anonymous Lainer said...

All I can say is... wow. You gotta hand it to the Brits both for stopping the attack and for not letting it disrupt their daily lives. Contrast that with the high anxiety our media and government generate regarding terrorism, natural disasters, etc. That's to be expected, I suppose; I've always understood that Americans exaggerate while Brits understate.

At July 8, 2007 at 1:10 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

There are other key differences that I hope you noticed on your visit. Chief among them is that when the ruling majority loses faith in the ability of their elected leader, they replace him/her. With Bush/Blago/Stoger and the American public, (myself included), having little faith in our leaders OR our legislatures at all levels of government, I envy so much of the rest of the world were politics attracts the best among us who work to solve problems, rather than the few born into the right families who spend nearly all their time campaigning to stay in a position were they are not addressing issues that truly concern us.

I also hope that you took notice of how seriously Britain and much of Europe have taken the threat of terrorism, particularly to their public infrastructure. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to see how vulnerable our Metra/CTA transit infrastructure truly is, not to mention our water supply and denigrating first responder capabilities are. I am not just speaking of the recent scandals of the CPD, but of the state of FEMA, Cook County health care agencies, and a host of other institutions that are being decimated while your fellow politicians do little to address a growing crime problem, let alone preparation for terrorist threats while bidding for the Olympics.

With so many returning veterans who already possess the basic first responder training, I would hope that you will work toward integrating them into these institutions. This state has a sorry record of living up to honoring our returning Vets, it wouldn't take much to improve such a dismal record.

Hope you enjoyed your trip. I am sure that I would prefer London to the farcical drama occurring in Springfield, and I wish luck in enduring it over the next few months.


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