• Mon
  • Jul 14, 2014
  • Updated: 10:15am

Bloodied, but unbowed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2005, 12:00am

Don't expect Britain to decide to pull its troops out of Iraq just because of the slaughter of more than 50 people by suicide bombers.


No doubt many Britons, like Americans, oppose involvement in Iraq. But there has been no response similar to that after the bombings in Madrid, more than a year ago, when the Spanish changed governments and then revoked their commitment to the coalition in Iraq.


Granted, the death toll in London is considerably lower than that in the Madrid bombings. Had the toll been higher, however, there is still no way that the government would have responded with a sudden rush to give up its military support of the fledgling Iraqi government.


If anything, the response here has been quite the opposite. Ask any Briton over the age of 60 what he or she thinks of the bombings on July 7, and the response is almost certain to be to the effect: 'We've been through all this before; we lived through the Blitz.'


That allusion to what Winston Churchill called 'Britain's finest hour' is repeated these days in the popular as well as serious press, in radio and television talk shows, and in speeches by national leaders.


But that is not all the British are proud of. They are also proud to have survived bombings by the Irish Republican Army. That campaign of violence only succeeded in giving the British greater pride in their ability to withstand terror. So, too, has the response to the latest bombings been a source of pride.


That was the impression I got as I visited central London in the hours after the bombings, and then as I rode the first buses around the city and the first underground trains the next morning. 'We cannot be intimidated by terrorists,' said the head of a school that one of my sons attends, explaining why he refused to let classes out early and went ahead with an end-of-year party that same afternoon. 'We have to show them life goes on.'


Otherwise, the talk was of sports rivalries, summer holidays and plans for next year. The tragedy of the day, almost self-consciously, was not a topic of discussion. Everyone knows, of course, that it can happen again - that it may well happen again, just as it happened night after night during the Blitz, and during the era of IRA bombing. 'But you can't go on worrying about it,' said a clerk in a shop that opened again for business the day after the bombings. 'Otherwise you'd spend your whole life worrying.' One thing is for sure: despite those stiff upper lips, the fear that it could happen again is on everyone's minds. But no one is putting it quite that way, and no one is saying: 'Ok, you win, now let's pull out of Iraq.'


That wasn't the British response in the darkest days of the Blitz, and it is not the response now. Officials realise there is a long way to go to bring security to a level where it is truly possible to believe that never again will they do this to us.


'They' might well do it again, but it won't get them anywhere - other than to stiffen British resolve to defeat any enemy who thinks it is possible to intimidate a people who, after all, have seen and survived much worse.


Donald Kirk, a freelance journalist and author, was in London last week at the time of the explosions


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