Saturday, July 09, 2005


(Jim & Ben ride top of London double decker bus)

(this column is for THE ALBANY JOURNAL 7/14/05)

“We are fighting these terrorists with our military in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond so we do not have to face them in the streets of our own cities....Victory in Iraq is essential to victory in the war on terror. We have a strategy to achieve that victory.”
President George W. Bush, Greely Colorado, October 25, 2004.

"An assault on Iraq will inflame world opinion and jeopardise security and peace everywhere. London, as one of the major world cities, has a great deal to lose from war and a lot to gain from peace, international cooperation and global stability."

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, September 28, 2002 (prior to America’s invasion of Iraq in March of 2003).

When my son Ben called me from Kuwait in June of 2003, he mentioned to me that he would like to travel after he came home and was released from active duty- to “see the world other than from behind the barrel of an M-16,” was how he put it. Four months later, he got his wish. Using a Eurail pass, he visited Germany, France, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. After he had been on the road for about a month, we met up in England at Gatwick Airport. I flew from Atlanta, the late night flight over the Atlantic meeting the rising sun over the Irish Sea.

We bummed around for 10 days in a rented Nissan Micro, stopping at touristy places like Stonehenge, Bath, Cardiff, and Stratford on Avon. But our favorite stop was unquestionably the city of London, where we spent several days visiting museums, art galleries, stores, and going to plays. Once in the city, we parked our car and traveled by train, bus, the Underground, and on foot.

Which brings me to my topic- the tragedy of July 7th on the London Underground and on a city bus. When Ben and I visited the city, we traveled through two of the targeted railway stations, Kings Cross and Russell Square. We rode an open topped double decked bus on a tourist ride around the city. (See the photo.) We even visited my old home- a flat in South Kensington not far from Knightsbridge where three other college students and I lived while attending school in east London. It was 34 years ago when I briefly lived in London, and the tube (the slang term for their underground trains) was the way to travel if you didn’t have a motorcar or bicycle.

The college we attended in eastern London was miles away from our flat, in an area referred to as the “City of London” where almost 2,000 years ago the Romans built the original Londinium. When Ben and I visited the old city in 2003, we made a point of walking through the area and viewing the old Roman walls which had been excavated. The sense of history throughout the country is palpable- a cathedral or castle less than 300 years old is relatively new. The faded remnants of Roman roads, ruins, baths- even gold mines- are everywhere.

But in July of 2005, all that was torn asunder, as men (I’m relatively sure no women were involved) did what envious, jealous, mindless human beings have done since the dawn of time- they tried to destroy that which they are unable to build for themselves. The same nihilistic tendencies which impel bullies to tear down painstakingly built sand castles on the beach inhabit the religious zealots who justify their use of bombs to wreak terror and stop the heartbeat of the greatest city in the world- if only for a day.

I loved my time living in London as a college student back in 1971. I loved having my honeymoon there with my beautiful bride twelve years ago. In October of 2003, the pleasure I experienced accompanying my son, several months after he was mired in the muck and chaos of the War in Iraq, cannot be communicated in words. We went to plays, visited Parliament and Big Ben, saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, climbed an ancient tower, and ate Indian curry near Picadilly Circus. We spent hours at the British Museum, staring in awe at artifacts brought back decades ago from the very country where my son had gone to war only seven months earlier.

The July 7th bombing won’t destroy London and it won’t break the spirit of its citizens. When the IRA waged war there- the first IRA bombing (the Post Office Tower) occurred in October of 1971- the gritty British managed to keep their city and their country on an even keel. But it saddens me nonetheless, thousands of miles and years removed from the place I will always think of as the greatest- and most civilized- city in the world.


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