LONDON -- 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.
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. The people who organized the bombs wanted Britain out of World War II, or British troops out of Northern Ireland, or the British Army out of the Middle East (or maybe the whole G-8 to leave the rest of the world alone). Nasty things, bombs, but those who send them your way are usually rational people with rational goals, and they almost never care about your values or your way of life.
Londoners understand that, and it has a calming effect, because once you have grasped that basic fact you are no longer dealing with some faceless, formless, terrifying unknown, but just a bunch of people who are willing to kill at random in order to get your government to change its policies. We don't even know for certain which bunch yet. It could've been Islamist terrorists, or some breakaway IRA faction, or even some anarchist group trying to make a point about the G-8. But that doesn't matter, really.
The point is that they are only terrorists, and they can't hurt all that many people. In a large city the odds are very much in your favor: It will almost always be somebody else who gets unlucky.
This knowledge breeds a fairly blasť attitude to bombs, which was much in evidence Thursday morning when I had to go in to Harley Street to pick up my daughter from school. The buses and the underground weren't running and a lot of streets were blocked off by the police, but everybody was finding ways round them, on foot and in cars. You pull over to let the emergency vehicles pass, and then you carry on.
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.
Gwynne Dyer's new books are: "War: The Lethal Custom" and "Future: Tense -- The Coming World Order."
© 2005 Star Tribune