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Resilience and a display of "plain, common guts"

N. Ram



LONDON, THE DAY AFTER: A lone commuter in a carriage of an underground train on the Central Line during the morning rush hour in London on Friday. People stepped into buses and subways cautiously as the day wore on and traffic appeared to be lighter than normal. Many appeared to stay at home the day after bombers hit the transportation network, killing at least 50 people and injuring over 700. - PHOTO: AP

LONDON: Anyone visiting the United Kingdom at this time is struck by the extraordinary quality of the country's response to a human crisis brought on by terrorist strikes on civilian targets. The emergency services — the police, the fire personnel, the ambulance services, the doctors and the rest — moved seamlessly into action, as if the carnage in the London Underground, and indeed much worse than this, had been foretold. Officialdom, and most of the media, avoided exaggeration or speculation as the nature and scale of the human tragedy unfolded.

No-frills statements

Prime Minister Tony Blair rose to the occasion with his no-frills statements, his demeanour that said it all, his gestures of solidarity — and by making it clear the country was determined to get on top of the situation before the day was out. But the most moving feature of the crisis response was the resilience and "plain, common guts" (to quote from a little manual of instructions issued six decades ago to American servicemen in Britain, and republished recently) shown by the people of London, as they had done many times in the past when under attack. According to that 1942 manual, "If they need be, they can be plenty tough. Sixty thousand British civilians — men, women, and children — have died under bombs, and yet the morale of British is unbreakable and high." Many fewer died underground and in the blown-up bus on Thursday, but the assessment offered in the wartime manual of another era seems to hold true.

In London of mid-2005, the walking wounded gave clear and coherent accounts of what happened in the Underground, and the television image of one man in a hospital bed, with burn injuries on his face, calmly narrating his experience would shame a Stoic of ancient Greece. Incredibly, by late Thursday evening, the British capital returned to a semblance of normality.

The day after, the trains and buses were running and people were back on the streets going about their business.

Some oppositional voices have begun questioning the Blair Government's responsibility in inviting terrorist strikes on British soil through its collaboration with the Bush administration in the Iraq war. But the popular mood suggests that the time for debating that kind of issue will be later.

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