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A Few Words

July 10, 2005

We were in Italy, riding in a Mercedes minivan along the treacherously beautiful Amalfi coast, when we first heard the news.

Our driver, Sergio, answered his cell phone, spoke a few quick words, and then turned around and announced "the Underground in London has exploded".

When tragedy strikes, I tend to experience an awful tightening in my stomach, as though all of my body is being pulled inward toward some sort of gastronomic black hole.  It is a rare feeling.  I last felt it in February, when I got that awful telephone call about Meg.  Before that, it was 9/11, when the second plane hit and I realized that what I was hearing was planned.

That feeling struck again Thursday morning in that van.  The terrorists reached London.

This time, however, it was different.  In spite of the horror, in spite of the fear and the concern for those caught in the blasts and the loved ones doubtless still seeking confirmations of safety, I felt something akin to relief.

Relief?  Let me explain.

The London bombings revealed (to me at least) that the terrorists do not know us.  Had they struck before the recent elections, they may have had a chance of repeating the success they found in Spain.  Blair may have been unseated.  But what did they gain by striking on July 7th?  Some bizarre protest of the G-8 summit, or London’s winning of the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games?

By striking London, the terrorists have done nothing but strengthen Britain’s resolve.  They have made the war personal, and one thing my study of history and of military has taught me is that it is never a good idea to make a war personal with small, isolated attacks.  The burning of Washington was strategically pointless, but it united the young United States against Great Britain in 1814, for example.

The terrorists do not know how to truly terrorize.  They continue to go after grand gestures – the twin towers, massive transit systems – instead of eyeing more decentralized targets.  A dozen suicide bombers in a dozen Wal-Marts across the country on the day after Thanksgiving would be almost impossible to prevent and would paralyze the economy.

Here is hoping that the terrorists fail to wise up in the near future. 

And, in parting, I will leave you with what I believe will become a powerful rallying banner for all of us in the days to come.


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