NPR Commentary for ATC (realaudio) about LONDON (+US) backpack bombs

†††† from Jan 31, 2003†† - 2:23 min



8 years agoI took some pictures inside Westminster Abbey, having dumped mybackpack on a rear bench. When I returned 2 minutes later, a rector was gazing at it with unabashed horror. It had to be a bomb. England was then still a war zone with the IRA and any package, bag, or backpack was dangerous and often prohibited. I couldnít see Old Bailey, the court where they wear those amazing white wigs, cause I had a backpack. Couldnít go in with it; couldnít check it, couldnít discard it.


If we do go into Iraq, we should expect that to happen here. We can handle a few thousand fanatic Al Qaida members, but if even a couple of tenths of a percent of the worldís billion Muslims go critical with rage, thatís 2 million potential terrorists. We canít stop that, especially if they are willing to use personal suicide bombings, like they do in Israel. And the ones at imminent risk will be Americans tourists abroad, where law enforcement is often a joke and random attacks indefensible. There are more Moslems in America now than Jews- how far will we go in crushing their lives after the next major terrorist attack.


Contrary to popular opinion, Americans arenít disliked around the world; most people like us or even love us, which I discovered in 2 Ĺ years in Europe and Asia. Some of this is due to our money and power- everybody likes a winner, some from our cultural domination in movies and TV; but much is from the spirit of freedom and justice that America has always espoused. Anything was possible here:health, riches, happiness, or simply the freedom from the random death and terror that so much of the world lives with every night.


An invasion of Iraq sullies that spirit- it snaps us back into the 19th Century where imperious colonial powers carved up little countries at will. The last time we did that was the Philippines in the Spanish-American War, which led to 30 years of us fighting a popular local insurgency. Credible reports have over a half million Iraqis dying of third world diseases in the last 12 years because in the Gulf War we bombed the water purification and sewage treatment plants, then embargoed chlorine for a dozen years. Their families probably arenít going to be swayed by our soldiers handing out chocolate bars.Until their latest rebellion, even France was getting in on the act- they want a piece of the oil pie too.


Saddam is a psychopathic monster and no one will mourn if his mortal coil shuffles offstage, but it seems we are dealing with something far more important- what America stands for, how we live, and what freedoms we still have over the next decade. Like the freedom to not always look over our shoulder.



Michael Hammerschlag's commentary and articles ( have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence. Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Hawaii Advertiser, Capital Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times,  and Guardian. He's been a TV reporter, foreign correspondent, and produced documentaries. He spent 2 years in Russia as the empire collapsed, and 5 wars raged with and among the Muslim republics.