London can take it

But of course it shouldn't have to. It was a pointless and tragic waste of human life.

References to London's stoicism during the Blitz are all over the place: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Australian Labor Party foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd ("British bulldog spirit" was how he phrased it on the radio this morning), who both happened to be in London at the time of the attacks; newspaper articles such as one from the Mirror (entitled "We can take it" and full of allusions to the Blitz); Cliopatria's Alan Allport, who simply and movingly posted the words to Noel Coward's 1941 song "London Pride".

While comparing the terrorist attacks to the Blitz is obvious and perhaps, in some places, trite, it's not misplaced. Over four hundred Londoners were killed on the first Luftwaffe attacks on the city alone, and yet morale did not break (although it was not always as strong as the later myth made out) - and that's despite the attacks being repeated night after night and with the threat of invasion looming, and bereft of great power allies. Why do the terrorists think they will be able to achieve what the Luftwaffe (or, for that matter, the 9-11 hijackers) could not? Cities are a lot more resilient than airpower strategists then or terrorists now seem to think.

On the other hand, in 1940 Britons were mostly united against a common enemy; I don't think that's the case today. Solidarity in the face of terror is surely easier to maintain when it was present in the first place. Also, it must be stressed that unpredictability dramatically enhances terror bombing: the V2 rockets shook Londoners more than the earlier Blitz did, partly because death could and did rain from the sky with little or no warning, an effect terrorists exploit. Another difference between then and now is that during the Blitz, the Tube was a symbol of security, so much so that authorities had to relent in the public's use of them as air-raid shelters. Today, they are scenes of terror. Where will the Londoners of 2005 find refuge?

Although I probably won't be researching the Blitz period per se, I can recommend a couple of related books, particularly dealing with the way the 'myth' of the Blitz was formed and how it has been used since the war (more in the sense of a powerful national story than something that didn't happen the way everyone thinks it did - though there's certainly some of that too): Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991) and more broadly, Mark Connelly, We Can Take It! Britain and the Memory of the Second World War (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2004). I may write a bit about these books in future.

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