London's Calling

Osama bin Laden is watching. Yes, he like other terrorists who aim to kill and maim the innocent, always watch how people react each time they succeed in an attack.

They'll be watching now to see how Britain reacts to Thursday's multiple bombings on London trains and buses.

They've already seen how Americans reacted after Sept. 11, 2001, how Indonesians reacted after the 2002 Bali bombings, and how Spaniards reacted after the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

Global terrorists need a particular kind of audience reaction more than they need to destroy a place or kill people. They need a reaction of either fear and submission, or one of vengeful, unrestrained lashing out. The first one erodes a society from within. The second creates an overreach that incapacitates a society.

Britain knows well how to react to attacks on its civilians. They learned how to endure the Third Reich's V-1 rockets and to thwart many Irish Republican Army bombs. They've learned how to care for one another after these attacks, and how to take care in securing their public places as best they can. They've also learned how to capture terrorists.

London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, knew enough Thursday to talk directly to the July 7 plotters: "I can tell you now that you will fail in your long-term objectives to destroy our free society. In the days that follow, look at our airports and seaports, and even after your cowardly attacks, you will still see people from around the world coming to London to achieve their dreams."

Terrorists are watching to see if a society, whether it be Britain, the US, or other nations in their crosshairs, becomes so divided in how it reacts to terrorism that its citizens weaken their resolve.

Prime Minister Tony Blair may take political heat in coming days because of these attacks, just as the prime minister of Spain, José Maria Aznar, did after the 2004 train attacks. Mr. Aznar's conservative party lost an election and the new socialist prime minister quickly withdrew Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq.

Terrorists learn by each new reaction to their dreaded deeds. Evil acts thrive only when good people respond in ways that play to the very purposes of those acts.

The words of this paper's editorial on Sept. 12, 2001, still hold true even after this latest terrorist attack:

"Now is the time for strength of character - especially restraint, resilience, and compassion - not fear, panic, or trauma. The mental after-effects of this event should be the nation's top priority - to show that self-destructive acts of evil need not triumph."

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