London — “I hope they catch the sods who did it,“ said the man who's installing a new floor in my mother-in-law's kitchen. It was just five minutes after news of the bombings had come over the radio, and he was already back to work.
It takes more that a few bombs to shake the British. At the height of the Blitz in September, 1940, German pilots dropped more than 5,000 tons of bombs on London in just one month. Later that year, Coventry was hit by nearly 900 incendiary bombs during a single night alone.
In 1973, the Irish Republican Army detonated 36 bombs in London. The terrorist campaign against the capital continued for nearly three decades and claimed more than 100 lives. I remember taking the Tube through central London on February 9, 1996, the day that a massive truck bomb exploded at Canary Wharf, killing two people and destroying a six-storey building.
It helps, too, that Londoners were expecting to be attacked this time. Eighty-seven Australians died in October, 2002, when a car bomb blew up outside a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. Nearly 200 people died in March, 2004, when terrorists struck four commuter trains at the height of the morning rush hour in Madrid.
It seems that the United States' allies in the “war on terrorism“ are being targeted one by one. After the Madrid bombings, the chief of the Metropolitan Police warned that a terrorist attack on London was inevitable. With 9,000 British troops fighting alongside U.S. forces in Iraq, it comes as no surprise that he was right.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has not overreacted to yesterday's attacks. The army was not called in. The police are describing their work as a criminal investigation. The G8 summit continues at Gleneagles, with Mr. Blair back at the negotiating table after a quick trip to London to check things out.
The Prime Minister's reaction reflects the national mood. My sister-in-law's friends, unable to find a train home after work yesterday, repaired to the pub instead. Within six hours of the attacks, I received an e-mail confirming a lunch meeting on Monday not far from Tavistock Square, where the double-decker bus was blown up.
The Luftwaffe and IRA taught the British an all-important lesson: When you're fighting to defend your way of life, there's no point in giving up your way of life.
Thursday's atrocities confirmed that global terrorism is a serious threat. But it's a threat best answered by cool heads, thorough policing and serious efforts to address the economic and social inequities that feed fanaticism and violence.
Mr. Blair is back at Gleneagles because the British people realize that all of the world's biggest problems – terrorism, civil strife, poverty, disease, environmental degradation and climate change – are inextricably linked. He returns to Scotland with a greatly strengthened negotiating position, as a leader of a nation under attack that refuses to be cowed. And the Prime Minister is not alone: Most other Londoners are back at work today, too.
Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of War Law.