From New York to London, we're all in this together

One of the great strengths of America is the way it has embraced and encouraged the talents of immigrants from various countries and diverse ethnic backgrounds.

But it is not taking away anything from all these new Americans to remind that there are special bonds between the United States and Britain, the mother country to which many Americans trace their ancestry.

Britons admire Americans for their innovative genius and energy. Americans admire Britons for their "phlegm" - their stiff upper lip-ness.

So in the days since 7/7, Thursday's terrorist attack on London, it is no surprise that the American media have been running a lot of laudatory comment about British stoicism in the face of adversity.

If Al Qaeda, the presumed force behind the attack, had hoped to bring cringing Londoners to their knees, they must be sadly disappointed by the relative aplomb with which Brits have continued to go about their business.

There have been many comparisons to the fortitude of Britons during the blitz of World War II. Because I was a schoolboy in London at the time, I've been getting a lot of questions about how the populace behaved.

It was, as many Brits might describe it under- statedly, a bit dicey.

First came the German bombers, and the searchlights probing for them in the night skies, and the anti-aircraft guns trying to maim them before they dropped their deathly loads.

By day, ruing with the foolish bravado of 12- and 13-year-olds that we were not up there ourselves, we watched the tracer trails overhead of dueling Messerschmitt fighters and Royal Air Force Spitfires, piloted by young men only a few years older than we were. Later came the flying V1 bombs, their motors sputtering before they flamed out and crashed down on London, and later the V2s, which zoomed in silently and exploded without warning.

Our house wasn't destroyed, but exploding German bombs rocked its foundation and blew out its windows.

There were long nights in dank air-raid shelters. There was food rationing (never let me hear a bad word about precious American Spam).

My father, in his early 40s, was conscripted into the Army and went off to spend three years in the deserts of North Africa.

My mother was conscripted into the government post office.

After school I foraged for eggs (available now and then) and oranges (about one per person every six weeks) for our household.

Elderly men were inducted into the Home Guard which, with the younger men away at the front, was supposed to fend off invading German paratroopers. With other schoolboys, I served in the Army Cadet Force, which issued us with ancient Lee Enfield rifles, assigned us to support the Home Guard in the event of invasion, and trained us as officer candidates should the war last that long.

What I can remember best about all this is that while the British people were certainly inconvenienced and often at risk, there was never defeatist talk, never a fear that Germany might ultimately win, never a suggestion that Britain should give up a long and grueling fight.

Hitler had invaded friendly democratic countries. Nazism was evil and had to be defeated. It was as simple as that. Prime Minister Winston Churchill promised blood and sweat and tears, and demanded guts and resolve. Prime Minister Tony Blair sounded similar to him when he said last week after the terrorist attack: "We will not be intimidated.... We will not be divided and our resolve will hold firm."

So, while I respect, but do not agree with, the conviction of Americans who say the US should never have gone to war in Iraq, I am bemused by the idea of some that we should now set a certain date for US troops to withdraw, leaving the field to terrorists who would deny Iraqis their freedom. That would have been like Britons saying to Hitler in 1939: "We'll fight you for a couple of years, but pack up and come home then, whatever the outcome." Or to the IRA terrorists: "We'll stick it out for a year or two, then if we haven't stopped you killing people, we'll give you what you want."

As a Briton born and schooled, but a longtime American citizen, I must confess my eyes moistened when I read a letter in my newspaper: "Five years ago we were all New Yorkers. Today we're Londoners."

New Yorkers or Londoners, we're all in this together. Our resolve must be common.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.

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