After London

Posted: Jan 01, 2000 12:00 AM
After London

On vacation this week and finally relaxed, I was suddenly awakened by my wife telling me that London had been attacked.

 She knew why this news would be particularly noteworthy to me. Years ago, I lived in England while earning a graduate degree in international relations. Readers of this column may be surprised to learn this -- they know I am hardly the diplomat my fellow Cambridge graduates became.

 Instead, I chose the rough-and-tumble path of American politics and then the business of interpreting American public opinion.

 But all day Thursday on a beautiful island just north of Jacksonville, Fla., my mind was focused on the British nation, where 20 years ago I had encountered some of the warmest, most genuine people I've ever known.

 Kind though they are, however, I know them well enough to venture a guess as to how British public opinion will turn out in reaction to the events of this week.

 England -- as opposed to the whole island of Great Britain, and the even larger United Kingdom -- is a relatively small territory packed with densely populated cities and an increasingly diminished countryside. Because of the nation's limited geographical extent, most in England have at some time arrived at or departed from one or more of the subway "tube" stations where lives were lost Thursday. So, for most of the people there, the bombings quite literally struck close to home.

 Prior public opinion surveys have shown that the younger generation of English often has less regard for the nation's sometimes deluded devotion to royal and other longstanding traditions, including the commitment to global militarism that has found the British military in Iraq. This encroaching modern liberalism aside, there remain millions in that country who will see the train bombings as a turning point for England in the war on terror.

 The truth is that the terrorists proved in London that they aren't the savvy manipulators of world opinion they have been characterized to be.

 Throughout the United Kingdom just a day before these attacks, there was great pride when it was announced that London would host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. To the north in Scotland, there was additional chest-puffing over the meeting of top world leaders at this year's G-8 conference.

 Clearly, these savage terrorists have no political sense. One only needs to know the character of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom to know that the train and bus bombings will be received as both a challenge and as the ultimate act of disrespect. Some of the shine may be off many British traditions, but that sense of order and history still survives in working order.

 Certainly enough remains to provide vital support and allegiance to Prime Minister Tony Blair as he stands firm in the needed resolve to win this long and bizarre war on terror.

 One tangible manifestation of that resolve will likely be an extraordinarily strict personal identification process that up to now has lacked general support.

 But the terrorists lost more than they won in London. Within hours of the bombings, the world's financial markets poked a finger in the eye of Islamic extremists by actually rising. If this attack was indeed the work of Al Qaeda, it illustrated that diabolical movement's inability to cripple the world's economy, as it has said it wants to.

 Now as the G-8 conference comes to an end, even the Anglophobe and somewhat anti-American French President Jacques Chirac will have to reassess his views on these issues of war and peace.

 While he's at it, he might want to reconsider his insulting opinions about English cuisine, which embarrassed him when they inadvertently became public just days before his trip to Scotland.

 Perhaps this taste of terror, certain to bring the English to a common table, might also be a meal Chirac will long remember.