American Enterprise Online
July 8, 2005
By Alan W. Dowd  

The rush-hour bombings in London provide a grim reminder that terror’s war on civilization goes on; and as President Bush bluntly put it just hours after the attacks, “The war on terror goes on” as well. It must.  

Tony Blair, Britain’s redoubtable and often embattled leader, knows this. “Whatever they do,” he vowed after the attacks, “it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilized nations throughout the world.”

But typically, some are drawing the wrong lessons from the London blitz:

Those who say it was a consequence of British involvement in the ouster of Saddam Hussein ignore the stubborn fact that British authorities had foiled several terror plots before the US-UK-led invasion and liberation of Iraq. As the Times of London has reported, al-Qaeda-linked terrorists had plans on the drawing board to attack Canary Wharf, the Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle and Heathrow Airport before September 11. And in the years since September 11, British intelligence and law enforcement have conceded, in a grim sign of our times, that a terror strike on London was a matter of “when” not “if.”

The British authorities understand that a free society either cannot protect against every threat—or it cannot remain a free society. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed, “We have to be right 100 percent of the time. They only have to be right once.”

Moreover, many who draw a line connecting the Iraq War with the London attacks have ulterior motives. Their implication, of course, is that if only Blair had steered clear of Bush’s war, Britain would be unscathed. This is unsound on several counts: First, the enemy is more than al Qaeda; and its target is more than the United States. This is a war against democratic civilization and modernity. Individual countries cannot somehow insulate themselves from the threat. And even if they could, a great country like Britain would not. Second, it pays to recall that al Qaeda murdered 67 Britons on September 11, 2001. In other words, Britain was in this war from the very beginning.

Others say the London attacks are evidence that the war on terror is failing. This, too, misses the mark. Without question, our long-term objective is to end terrorism. And it can be done, contrary to those who say it’s impossible to vanquish a condition. As historian John Lewis Gaddis has written, “Terrorism and the authoritarianism that breeds it must become as obsolete as slavery, piracy or genocide.” While we are far from that destination, we are closer today than we were four years ago. The attack on London, while brutal and barbaric, is orders of magnitude less severe than 9/11, Bali or Madrid. Even so, that provides little solace for the hundreds of families affected by the death and injury of the rush-hour bombings.

Finally, still others are predicting that the London attacks, like the 3/11 attacks in Madrid, might drive the British out of Iraq and divide the US-UK alliance. This seems unlikely, especially as long as Blair is in office. Britain is not Spain.

Indeed, during another time of terror, it was Britain—and specifically, London—that defied the defeatists and stood virtually alone against the enemies of civilization. Churchill’s timeless words from 65 summers ago still speak to us and guide us.

He explained the nature of total war: “The whole of the warring nations are engaged, not only soldiers, but the entire population—men, women and children,” he intoned. “The fronts are everywhere.” What was true as the Axis Powers bombed London and Nanking and Hawaii is true today, as al Qaeda and its partners bomb Manhattan and Madrid, London and Baghdad and Bali.

He was candid about vulnerabilities and strengths: “The dangers we face are still enormous, but so are our advantages and resources.” Then, as now, the enemy has a capacity to inflict great harm upon civilization. Indeed, he could roll it back. However,  then, as now, the advantages and resources that we have are overwhelming: Free peoples focused on victory and united in a just cause can defeat those who seek only to destroy and kill and enslave.

He explained the path to victory: “One of the ways to bring this war to a speedy end is to convince the enemy, not by words, but by deeds, that we have both the will and the means, not only to go on indefinitely, but to strike heavy and unexpected blows.” In other words, war is a test of wills. Victory depends upon staying power, tenacity and, yes, a willingness to do what under other circumstances would be objectionable or even unthinkable: Churchill would scuttle the French fleet and raze Dresden; FDR would build a city-killing weapon; and Truman would use it. Likewise, Bush would launch a preventive war; sacrifice hundreds of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to plant democracy in the barren Middle East; and banish al-Qaeda’s stateless killers to endless sentences in a hopeless place.

Finally, Churchill explained the need for closer ties between Britain and America. “The British Empire and the United States,” he said, “will have to be somewhat mixed up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage.” Over the intervening decades, the two governments have grown ever closer, especially in September 11’s wake. It is hard to imagine this war ending well for our democratic civilization if these “two great organizations of the English-speaking democracies” were to split apart.