It was a warm spring morning and I had recently started my job with International Times in London. I had just gotten off of one of those double decker bright red London buses and stepped onto New Oxford Street in the heart of London. New Oxford Street is a busy 4 lane road line with big stores and bustling hoards of shoppers, tourists and office workers. I started to walk down New Oxord toward Carnaby where I was going to head into Soho where the I T office was.
The distinct smell of explosives were in the air. As I walked I noticed people were hurrying by me in distress. Some had shock, horror, and tears in their eyes . I had no idea what I was about to come upon. About a block ahead I could see, police, ambulances, and military vehicles. I kept walking. People were stopped all around me as I approached the scene, but there were no police lines or tape. Londoners who had endured the horrors of WWII bombings instinctively know to stay away. Being a naive yank and a nosy reporter, I didn’t know any better. I stepped right through the ongoings and noticed I was walking in broken glass shards and this sticky substance. When I looked down it was blood and human body tissue.
A bobby asked me : “are you a reporter?” How would he know that. ? Well, he didn’t , but only an idiot or a reporter would walk straight into a terrorist bombing scene like he was in charge. My Nikon Camera was hanging around my neck. I flipped out my Press ID.
“International Times”,I replied.
“I know” he said ” “Your’e the new yank on board” he paused….”this is my beat. I know everyone who works down here…especially your type”
Cops have a love hate relationship with reporters. Reporters are like cops, but aren’t held to the same rules. They are part of the 4th estate who are the watch dogs of government and the police.
” You tell them what they did down here” he said and then kept moving to help people.
The Irish Republican Army had planted a shoe box bomb inside the glass entrance way of Harrods Department store set to go off at 9:00 am. It did injuring and maiming 25 people. I missed it by 15 minutes. There was glass, blood, wood, concrete, body parts strewn all across the sidewalk and into the street. The last of the injured were just being carried away by ambulance. I was the first press there and started snapping pictures. Amidst all of this the sweepers had arrived and started cleaning the streets. No sooner had the event started, It was coming to an end. Londoners don’t like bomb scenes.
When I got to my office a colleague noted, “I see you’ve been to the bombing.” He then went on to explain that IRA bombings were routine in London.
“Good idea to stay off New Oxford Street in the morning” he said. ” they’ll be bombing it regularly now” “stay out of the Tubes too” he warned.
Between April and December of 1973, the IRA had set off weekly bombs on New Oxford Street, killing hundreds of people. They blew up Victoria and Piccadilly train stations. Islamic radicals assaulted and bombed Parliament and engaged in a shoot out with British commandos. During the Christmas offensive of 1973 the IRA bombed central London everyday in Deptember. They sent letter bombs to US Senators blowing off the hands of their secretaries.
They also sent one to me at the IT office. Before I could open it, New Scotland Yard bomb disposal unit had arrived and disabled it. Inside was a sheet of plastic, a book on the IRA and a letter to me asking that to tell the story of British rule over Northern Ireland to the American people. What was erie is that , they knew who I was and I was a nobody…..except to say I was an American reporter living in London.
I won’t say that I became used to terrorism while living and working in there. But I became acutely aware that we Americans have no idea what daily terrorism is, what it’s like to hear “another bomb go off”. And that’s a good thing, because it gave me hyper vigilance and a bit of PTSD. read: I am always assessing danger on the street.
It was then, too, that I became a patriot,( in the true sense of the word), started to have respect for America for LE, the military, NSA, CIA, Interpol and our extraordinary intelligence capabilities on this side of the pond. It is by no mistake that we are rarely attacked in this country. It is not the ocean either. It is the dedicated men and women of our state department, US Marshals, Secret service and many intelligence agencies that we will sleep tonight, safely with out the fear of walking down Pearl street this morning to a bomb going off on the mall. The US has superiority in interdicting terrorism around the world before it gets here.
Was 911 an anomaly ? Yes it was. And it won’t be happening again. President bush set up an ironclad intelligence system and to his credit, President Obama has only added to it. He’s not stupid. He knows his job is to keep us safe. I moved to Edinburgh Scotland that winter only to be faced with Scottish Nationalists who were planning to join their Celtic IRA brethren in their struggle to overthrow the Crown. More guns, more paramilitary, more hate more bombs.
I left the UK that August only to arrive to a happy crowd in Harvard square and to witness the resignation of Richard Mill-house Nixon. While I was gone , he had been impeached. Not a shot was fired.
Some people say the USA is the most violent country in the world. That’s bullshit and only spoken by people who have never lived outside the USA. I’ve lived in other so called western countries and this place is like Disney land. Pick a better country. I’ll stick with the good ole USA.
from the safest city in the USA
276 days left