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Aftermath, Part One.

Jul
12
2005

The news of the London bombings transfixed the travelers at the Edinburgh airport, and at once things changed. Police had always been about the terminal; now they sported automatic rifles drawn from some hidden armory on the airport grounds. After failing to get a line through on multiple cell phones (shortly to be a subject of much conspiratorial theorizing), a friend lent me her phone card, and the landline came to life. My wife on the other end was aghast to hear of the bombings, and relieved I was all right. Of course I was: I was in Scotland, but family members always assume that you must be at the center of whatever catastrophe is on the news. It means they care.

We began to board, and the friend who lent me the phone card joined me in line. She had left a conversation with other Americans in our group, and she was indignant: “They were saying that we kill innocent civilians in Iraq all the time.” She is a foe of the war in Iraq, and I am a supporter of that war, and together we marveled at the popular stupidity that grips so many on the left. The relegation of intent to irrelevancy erases the differences between murder and manslaughter, between lovemaking and rape; and between terrorism and just war. So be it: I wasn’t ready to accuse the masses believing that Live 8 would end all poverty of intellectual gigantism anyway.

In a day of sorrows and reflection, this was the only anti-American reproach that I heard. And it was from our own.

Our flight was a charter lent by Virgin Atlantic to transport us from Edinburgh to London, and thence to the United States in two stages. It was a massive Airbus 340 of the sort that never otherwise flies to Edinburgh — christened, in the style of all the Virgin aircraft, the “Mystic Maiden.” We boarded buses to take us to the far end of the tarmac. And we waited. And we waited. This unusual charter, full of Americans, was suddenly attracting extra attention from security. On a day when Britons were dying by the score at terrorist hands, the assumption that Americans were the preferred target still held. We waited well past our scheduled departure time as the cargo hold, cabins and baggage were searched again. Once we were allowed on board, armed security personnel were present at the rear of the aircraft, ready to accompany us to Heathrow. Flight attendants were stationed at each exit, and at each restroom: every time a passenger used it, the hapless attendant entered the restroom and performed a full search for items left behind. I did not envy them this task; nor did I envy my fellow passengers who had to wait five minutes between restroom occupancies.

In spite of all fears, we arrived at Heathrow in good order. After the scouring of the Mystic Maiden and the show of force at Edinburgh, I expected the full crush of massive security. Instead it was the full crush of passengers milling about Heathrow: a sight I’d seen many times before. No extra security personnel visible, no ad hoc checkpoints, no BAA employees urging travellers to move along. Several of my colleagues were on their cell phones, and I eavesdropped on a man chattering in Spanish. He was demanding a car into the London city center. This struck me as a good idea. “Necesitas un photographer?” I asked. “No,” he said, “but you can come. I know you can get a byline with someone if you write something up.” We agreed to meet at the airport hotel.

Two hours later, at the hotel bar, I watched my friends and my contact head off to London in prearranged cars. Why not rush to the scene of the crime and score some shots? I couldn’t blame them, but for my part, having slowed down for a mere moment, I was overcome with tremendous weariness. For the second time in four years, I was in a Western metropolis on the day of its grief. I did not join my roommates on the Brooklyn Promenade to watch the towers in New York burn and fall; I did not go to gawk at Ground Zero until a family member’s visit pushed me to it. I wasn’t riding to London now. The spectacle of human stupidity as it happened and the press of events were one thing: warm graves and fresh blood at a battle lost were something else. I drank my sickly warm British beer and mourned alone.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 7:14 PM | Permalink

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