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8 July, 2005

National perspective

First: I want to stress that the following in no way diminishes my sympathy for those people directly affected by yesterday's bombs in London.

Overnight, I've received a surprising number of e-mails from near-total strangers, almost all from the USA, expressing support in my time of national distress.  Er, thanks (really; the thought is appreciated), but what?

One has to remember that the United Kingdom, despite the name, isn't one homogenous culture; events occuring in London have a somewhat limited impact elsewhere. Personally, I've been to London about five times in 33 years, and regard it with no especial affection. It's obvious that the London-based mass media gave the bombings saturation coverage, but I doubt that there'd be quite so much attention paid if the same events had occurred in Leeds or Belfast.
So, whilst my thoughts are with the individuals affected, it'd be overstatement to call it a national tragedy. We're not 'all in this together' – that's just a media myth. We're not indifferent either, of course; all I'm saying is that this isn't something that paralyses the entire country.

Another consideration is that this isn't so far outside the usual British experience as, say, the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The UK has lived with terrorist incidents for decades. This isn't the first major attack in London (though it's certainly caused the greatest loss of life). Unlike New York's Wall Street, the City of London (i.e. London's financial district) is permanently protected by roadblocks, as a response to a major bomb on 24 April, 1993, and nationwide, it's only fairly recently that litter bins were returned to public spaces like railway stations and shopping centres, almost a decade after the Warrington bombing, near Manchester. The risk of terrorist action has been a rarely-considered background to everyday life for as long as I've lived.

Just within my lifetime, and just within London itself, there have been terrorist bombings in 1971 (the Post Office Tower, 1973 (King's Cross Station, as was attacked again yesterday), four in 1974 (Parliament, Tower of London, a club, and the Prime Minister's private home), 1975 (the Hilton hotel), 1976 (a theatre), 1982 (Hyde Park & Regents Park), 1983 (Harrods), 1990 (Stock Exchange), 1992 (Baltic Exchange), 1993 (City of London), two in 1996 (Docklands and a West End bus) and three in 2001 (BBC Television Centre, a post office, and West London). A mortar round has even exploded in the Prime Minister's garden in Downing Street!
Admittedly, yesterday's bombings were of an entirely different type, as the IRA tended to issue warnings, and the indiscriminate murder of civilians rarely seemed to be their active intent.

Finally, please, please don't you ****ing dare to say the UK and USA 'stand shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror'. I'm sure it's well-intended, but it comes across as offensive. Blair's compliance in Bush's illegal and unjustifiable foreign adventure is what got us into this situation in the first place.


You missed that Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, and a 2lb Semtex bomb was found in a suitcase outside Downing Street.

You're right, you wouldn't have heard much about the Omagh Bomb, for example, in the USA, even though it killed 29 – and by targetting a church, the IRA very much were targetting civilians.

I think that most Americans forget that London has been under terrorist attack for decades, bombed to bits by the Germans, burnt down, depopulated by plague - and is still there.

Posted by Andy B at July 10, 2005 11:06 PM

Er, Mountbatten wasn't assassinated in London.

Posted by NRT at July 11, 2005 04:11 PM
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