Thursday, July 07, 2005
It Can Happen Anywhere
The aftermath of the London bombings is unfolding at this moment.
What comes to mind are some observations from my April visit to London, the first in many years (I lived in Europe when I was a kid, and my parents lived in London during the 1980s). I went there to conduct business and see the Cream reunion concert.
Okay, I actually went there to see the Cream reunion concert, and to conduct business. Either way, I did spend five days in London—taking the subway all over the city, including the new financial district in Canary Wharf; taking the train out of town to visit one of our companys' major facilities; and spending a lot of time walking, talking, eating and looking.
And in retrospect, I do not recall a large police presence in London—at least a New York City-type police presence.
I did notice an odd absence of public waste baskets on the streets and in the subway and train stations there. Unlike New York, where every street-corner has some kind of trash receptacle, in London you can not throw out something unless you walk into a Starbucks and use the waste basket where they keep the napkins and lids.
It’s very weird at first—but something you get used to once it’s explained that the IRA used to use the receptacles for bombs.
As a result, people throw out gum, beer and soda cans, water bottles, napkins and all manner of trash in weird public places—on stairs, in niches of a brick wall, on ledges. It reminded me of the old Monty Python ‘Society of Putting Things on Top of Other Things.’
More importantly, there were very few cops on the streets of London—again, unlike New York.
In New York City, you get off the subway or the train, and there’s a cop standing around on the platform, another bunch standing around inside the station, and two more on the sidewalk outside the station—they’re all over the place. Granted, they’re not all battle-hardened warriors, but, as Rudy Giuliani figured out before anyone else, nothing creates a better sense of security than the presence of cops.
In London, I saw uniformed policemen mostly in the tube stations (although not nearly in New York City-type numbers), and that was about it.
Of course, the presence of cops on the streets and in the subways of New York did not stop terrorists from flying planes into the World Trade Center, and who’s to say that some thugs couldn’t plant bombs around the New York City subway system the way they’ve done in London.
But today’s London terrorists have had a year to plan their message for the G-8 conference, and based on my recent experience with the vast London underground, it did not take a highly sophisticated ring of experts to do what they did.
The markets in Europe are reacting to the explosions fairly dramatically this morning—a flight out of equities and into bonds; and oil getting crushed on the traders’ notion that people will fly less.
I suspect that today’s attacks will come to be remembered like the Spanish train attacks one year ago in March: a terrible event in the ongoing life of a country, and not much more than that. I also suspect that, as in Spain, those responsible will be tracked down and prosecuted—preferably, in Shakespeare's words, "not shriving time allowed."
And I would expect to see many more uniformed policemen on the streets of London next time.
I Am Not Making This Up
Posted by Jeff Matthews at 8:00 AM