More than most great cities, London has a history of destruction -- and rebuilding. The great fire of 1666 destroyed St. Paul's Cathedral; World War II bombings devastated whole neighborhoods; later, the Irish Republican Army planted bombs in the city's pubs, parks and even outside Harrods department store. Thursday's explosions on the city's subway and an iconic double-decker bus killed at least 38 people and brought home terrorism to a younger generation. But the attacks also seemed to strengthen the resolve of Britons, as world leaders hastened to promise anew that they would fight terrorism whatever its source.
Open societies are tempting targets. Cities dependent on mass transit, such as New York, Paris or London, are particularly vulnerable. Bomb-sniffing dogs, heavily armed police officers and alert transportation officials were on duty in all major cities after the London attack, but that level of security is not infinitely sustainable. London has closed-circuit security cameras on nearly every lamppost; the movements of people are monitored; abandoned packages are checked. The video should help the investigation, though electronic eyes did nothing to stop the criminals.
The Madrid train bombings last year, like London's, struck during morning rush hour; they killed nearly 200 people. Madrid was attacked just before national elections, London during the G-8 summit of industrial nations in Scotland, hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The summit went on, and Blair's colleagues flanked him as he denounced the attack; many were no strangers to terrorism at home.
London's shock and dismay contrasted sharply with the joy of the previous day, when Blair exulted as the city won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. Blair's somber statements Thursday were firm and free from cant. A previously unknown group claiming ties to Al Qaeda took responsibility, but Blair took pains to note that most Muslims not only obey the law but condemn such violence. Islamic organizations in many nations joined in denouncing the attacks.
Americans not deeply moved by the IRA assaults of the past were more riveted by these attacks, quickly assuming a connection to the 9/11 devastation. In Scotland, President Bush commented that "the war on terror goes on." That war is global, as Bush and other leaders often note. It requires sharing intelligence and staying vigilant.
British officials have periodically warned that a terrorist attack was all but certain. John Stevens, who retired as London's Metropolitan Police chief in February, said after the Madrid attacks that an attack on the British capital was "inevitable."
Blair in February defended proposals to tighten anti-terrorism laws by saying that if an attack occurred, the public would ask why more hadn't been done to protect the country, not why civil liberties were curtailed. But after the attacks Blair said British values would outlast the terrorists and "we will hold true to the British way of life." Those who slaughtered more innocents Thursday may not understand that, but survivors of New York and Washington, Bali and Madrid, affirm the sentiment in their daily lives.