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The April 1993 bombing at London's Bishopsgate

The April 1993 bombing at London’s Bishopsgate


Not to belittle what has happened in Boston, but the past week’s tragedy reminds me of the five months I spent as a student in London in 1993, when bombs went off on a regular basis and terrorist cells were embedded throughout the city. There was a bombing at Harrods department store and this horrific attack at Bishopsgate that, amazingly, killed only one person. Britain’s long war of attrition against the Irish Republican Army was in full swing, and it was not unusual to be evacuated from a public area or to make an unplanned Tube stop because someone reported a suspicious-looking package or backpack that might be a bomb.

For Londoners, it was a point of pride to continue their regular routines despite the bombings and the occasional loss of life. Even though attacks occurred every few weeks, deaths were unusual because the IRA had a policy of warning the authorities shortly before most explosions. The goal of the bombings was to instill fear and create disruption. Londoners refused to play along. During my short stay, I never sensed fear or panic among the city’s leaders, media or the population. The idea of locking down most of London for a full day because one bomber was on the loose would have been unthinkable. London endured more than four years of The Blitz, after all. It certainly wouldn’t come to a standstill because of a few well-planted homemade explosives.

My point is not to criticize the people of Boston or their city’s handling of the Marathon bombings. Today’s shutdown of the city was a success because it helped bring the two bombing suspects to justice. But I do think the hysteria of the last few days illustrates how fortunate we are to live in a country where these kinds of attacks are extremely rare. What happened Monday in Copley Square would represent a typical afternoon in many other parts of the world, and not just in the trouble spots we know about from the evening news.

I hope and pray that attacks like the one at the Boston Marathon continue to be so uncommon that they warrant the kind of around-the-clock news coverage we have seen all this week. I also hope that we as a country can someday do more to combat the gun violence that claims and destroys far more lives. But that’s a topic for a different post.

Image pulled from http://www.BBC.Co.Uk