Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling: The Red Wheel Rolls Back

I was in London's Heathrow Airport this morning when the bombs went off in the city, many miles away. Unlike America's CNN-saturated airports, Heathrow has no ubiquitous media presence looming inescapably at every turn. The first inkling we had of the slow-rolling attack was the announcement that the underground service from the airport to the city had been suspended "due to a power failure." Then came snatches of overheard conversations of people on their cell phones: "bus blown apart," "bombs in the tube," "I told them to shut all our pubs and get the hell out of there." No way of finding out more. For once, I longed to see one of those toothsome talking heads blaring out the news to a captive audience.

Soon we were in the car, still under media blackout with a broken radio, driving north on the London Orbital, the great bleak wheel of concrete that encircles the vast metropolis. A line of blaring ambulances passed us on the southern side, heading into the city center. It was almost noon before we were finally able to find out what had happened - or rather, find out the first, still-confused inklings of what had happened. An unknown number of dead; many injured, perhaps hundreds; several tube stations hit, one bus blown up; a coordinated series of attacks, taking place during the course of an hour, and clearly aimed at crippling London's transporation system - which it did, most effectively. There was the usual claim of responsibility by a hitherto-unknown group claiming connection to al Qaeda, although the police were showing an abundance of caution about naming any possible suspects.

Then Tony Blair appeared on the screen. A brief statement, very halting, off-kilter, apparently choked with emotion. A short time later he was there again, this time with the whole panalopy of G8 leaders and the various world worthies that were attending them at Gleneagles. As the cameras narrowed in, Blair was framed with a somber Jacques Chirac towering over his left shoulder, while good angel standing at his right was George W. Bush, standing stiffly with that striking look of profound constipation he wears on portentous public occasions.

By now, Blair had found his footing - and some ghost-written text - as he laid out a message of stern resolve. The breathtaking obliviousness his language was striking. Let's be charitable at this time of national crisis in the UK and assume that it was obliviousness - and not conscious hypocrisy, not a deep-stained cynicism foisted on a people even in their hour of need. (Although all historical evidence points to the contrary.) In any case, there was Blair - with Bush at his side - raining contempt and condemnation on all those who would use violence to advance their cause, on "barbarians" who think nothing of killing innocent people to get their way.

What a vertiginous, wrenching disconnection from reality in those words! Here were two men responsible for the deaths of up to 100,000 innocent people if not more; two men whom - as the Downing Street Memos prove - knowingly launched a war of aggression based on "fixed" intelligence, in defiance of the laws of their own nations and international law as well. Today's violence and destruction in London - horrific, sickening, indeed barbaric - still pales in comparison to the epic destruction, looting, chaos and death that Bush and Blair have inflicted upon Iraq. The hour of destruction and fear in London, and a day of partial paralysis (already easing as I write, at 5 p.m.), while terrible in its own right, especially for those left grieving or injured, again pales in comparison to the daily horror Bush and Blair have engendered in Iraq, particularly Baghdad, where the simplest actions of daily life have become a dance with death, where the people live and breathe fear, ruin, terror and strife every day of their lives.

Bush has done this. Blair has done this. They didn't have to do it. There were no compelling reasons of national security or national survival that compelled them to launch this murderous action - a war of aggression in the very heart of Islam, a war that the US-UK intelligence services admit has engendered more terrorism. They have made senseless, violent, barbaric war on others; and now others make senseless, violent, barbaric war on them. This not to excuse the terrorists in any way. Their crime is as heinous as the war made by the great Christian statesmen. Murder is murder - foul, brutal, the all-devouring of a unique human consciousness - whether it is carried out wholesale in aggressive war and state terrorism, or in the "asymmetrical," piecemeal attacks of stateless terrorists, or one on one, between individuals. But you cannot make war and not expect war in return. Once you set the red wheel of slaughter in motion, you can't control it, now matter how powerful you are - or think you are.

I wrote some lines the day after September 11 that still hold true, I think, on this new day of infamy, July 7: "Blood will have blood; that's certain. But blood will not end it. For murder is fertile: it breeds more death, like a spider laden with a thousand eggs. And who now can break this cycle, which has been going on for generations?"

There is much else to say on the London bombing and its ramifications, but I'm too tired at the moment. I had to break off this blog post earlier tonight to write a story at the request of the Bergen Record in New Jersey, where I used to free-lance quite a bit. They called to ask for a story on the London situation, to be turned around in just a few hours. I will either continue this post tomorrow, or else post the NJ story.