Attacks on U.S. Soil
With T.R. Reid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001; Noon EDT
Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, in a horrific series of events two hijacked planes hit and destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one plane crashed into the Pentagon and another in Somerset County, Pa. Thousands are presumed dead or injured as emergency services and relief workers continue to make sense of the chaotic scenes. The FBI and authorities across the country continue to track down those responsible for the crimes.
T.R. Reid, The Washington Post's London correspondent, was online Thursday, Sept. 13 to talk about reaction in Europe to the attacks on America.
Based in London, Reid covers the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scandinavia. A Post writer for nearly 20 years, he covered politics for the national desk before becoming heading abroad to cover Japan.
The transcript follows.
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As America's biggest allies in Europe, what has the reaction to the attacks been like in the UK and are they likely to support us in any military action?
T.R. Reid: Hello everybody, and greetings from London, where it is not raining (at the moment).
Probably the only positive aspect of this horrendous week for my family has been the wonderful support and kindness from the British people for any American here. People I met once 3 years ago have called to express their sorrow. And if you would take a look at my story in today's WashPost, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/world/A20869-2001Sep12.html, you can read about an awesome, spontaneous outpouring of friendship and support from the Brits.
P.M. Tony Blair has made it totally clear, although not in these precise words, that Britain will join the U.S. in any form of military action to get at the terrorists.
Words are so important in getting people's assent and allegiance. I reject the ideas of "retaliation" or "revenge." Even "justice" can't work here. But I am all on board with "defense."
As someone whose profession is words, what do you think?
T.R. Reid: Maybe the most impressive thing I've heard this week was when Colin Powell was asked whether we are at war. And he said, "Yes. It's a war." That was striking because he refused to use the standard diplomatic euphemisms, which usually turn me off. Also, I think it's true.
In those circumstances, I don't mind the word "retaliation."
Though there's not enough room to print or air every condolence call from foreign leaders or entities, I was surprised not to see an expression of sympathy from Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein whether he gave one or not.
Have you seen any such effort on the IRA's behalf and if not, are you surprised that you haven't?
T.R. Reid: Yes, Gerry Adams issued a statement of condolence. It was just right.
I have been reading the European press in English, French and Italian and following the local forums/talkboards. Also have gotten e-mails from a number of Europeans. I am deeply disturbed by the degree of anti-Americanism I see -- not exactly along the lines of "you guys had this coming" but perhaps more along the lines of "you shouldn't be surprised that people hate you this much because you're really quite awful and lots of people hate you, not just these terrorists." Is this a widespread sentiment in the UK and elsewhere? I see a lot of it on the Guardian Web site, from columnists, not just from readers. And what does this imply for our support from Europe?
T.R. Reid: You have a point. There is an undercurrent of opinion that the U.S. "was asking for it," for a variety of reasons: We support Israel, we export too many hamburgers and running shoes, we're too big for our britches. But this seems to me to be a decidedly minority view. Most of Europe is strongly behind us, galvanized, and ready to move with us if we act.
Why does it seem that many commentaries in newspapers such as the Guardian are placing blame for this terrible tragedy at the foot of the U.S.? They almost seem to be implying that there is a justification for this outrage. Is the hatred of America so great that even an outrage such as this justifiable?
T.R. Reid: Just to continue the previous answer to same question, almost all the commentary is supportive. Almost all the calls and letters are supportive of the U.S. There is resentment of the U.S., jealousy perhaps, and some hatred, particularly among fundamentalist Islamics.
But that's the minority. Almost everybody over here is on our side in this, and warmly sympathetic.
Understanding that the UK stands with the U.S., what is the overall feeling with the other European communities toward the U.S., and for the U.S. (for example, Germany, Italy, Spain)?
T.R. Reid: Something historic happened in Europe yesterday (and, frankly, I didn't think the WashPost gave it enough emphasis today.)
That is: for the first time in its 50-year-history, NATO invoked the clause in its charter that says an attack on one member is an attack on all. That is, the whole of NATO has formally taken our side. Even France, for once!
I think there is a pretty strong sense of "it could have happened here" among most European governments.
Winter Haven, Fla.:
A major concern of mine is what is said in the media regarding things the government "already knows" or "knew beforehand." While I admit that disturbs me if true, it does absolutely no good whatsoever for the media to harp on these possibilities. If anything, ONLY positive statements should be made, NO EXCEPTIONS, throughout this ordeal, so that our country can get through it all. Please tell me, and this is a sincere question I would like answered, what good does it do to be reminded that we had an opportunity to block this from happening, when it already has and there is nothing we can do about it? This thing happened in the first place because of hate for our government. What was the purpose of the media to complain about the president not returning to Washington immediately except to put a dark cloud over their actions again. I seem to remember during the Gulf War that it was revealed that all the enemy had to do was watch CNN and find out our next move. Is there any kind of positive movement taking place now in journalistic circles to begin a "rally around the flag" atmosphere? You have the power to do this, so why don't you? We are talking about the possiblity of WWIII and the media has the power to start it or stop it.
T.R. Reid: I am an American overseas, and I personally have decided that I'm not going to say anything negative about our president in this situation.
BUT, if somebody back home wants to criticize Bush, that's a fundamental right of every American. It's the basic freedom we're not fighting to defend. So I don't agree with you that our media back home have to stifle all criticism.
Is security being beefed up on the Strand and on Downing Street, or does the UK generally consider this a problem, however tragic and horrible, of its ally?
T.R. Reid: Well, they put 1,000 more police on the streets of London yesterday. There's definitely a feeling of a society that's on guard.
London was already more security-conscious than the US anyway, I suppose because of years of IRA bombs. But people are even more watchful now.
Europe has such vastly different sensibilities when it comes to things like conflict and terrorism -- I imagine in large part because so many people of so many different nationalities are crammed into a much smaller place with much older sources of conflict. We've been lucky. Can you talk about any everyday precautions in Europe that differ from the U.S.?
T.R. Reid: Interesting question. In most of Britain, no trash cans in the train stations, because you could put a bomb there. Nearly every European country bans gun ownership, or restricts is tightly. No gun shops, no gun racks, basically no guns in the home or the pick-up truck.
All over europe, and particularly in britain, there are closed-circuit TV cameras everywhere filming anybody who passes by. You really don't have any privacy here, except at home. I hate those ubiquitous cameras, but it is hard to get Europeans worked up about them. People look at me and say, "What do you care if they film you walking down the street?"
The British SAS and U.S. Special Forces were involved in training the Afghan rebels in the 1980s in their war against the Soviet Union. Quite ironic they are attacking us.
T.R. Reid: Well, you find your allies where you need them. Yeah, we trained and armed some Taliban types back then to help them fight the Soviets. But that wasn't any form of invitation for them take over the government and impose a fascist dictatorship. We're not bound to them because we helped them 20 years ago.
What can we, the people of the U.K., do to help? It seems a world away watching from just news reports and the will to want to help thrives in all people over here, but what can we possibly do? What might the U.S. government ask us to do?
Thank you Ian H, 20, UK
T.R. Reid: Thanks, Ian. I'm just responding here so that our American readers can see the generous spirit of the British people toward our country at the moment.
The U.S. is most likely to ask your government. to help with intelligence, and possibly with military retaliation. I'm just about certain Tony Blair will help.
The UK and France and many other European countries have large Muslim communities. How have they been reacting? Have there been any scenes of rejoicing like in the Arab world?
T.R. Reid: I happened to be a WashPost correspondent in Japan when the Gulf War broke out in 1991. I felt sooooo irrelevant to the paper then; nobody cared about Tokyo. And I feel that way again now, here in London.
To try to find some way to help, I have been busily trolling through the multi-faceted Islamic community here in London, just to see if anybody knows anything. The striking thing is, every Muslim leader we call offers condolences to our country. Almost all the Muslim groups in Britain have condemned these attacks.
I can't believe there are many Muslims anywhere who actually take pleasure at the notion that thousands of people have been killed. So my guess is, the terrorists helped when sympathy for the US among Muslims who had been critical up to Tuesday.
Nick, Kingston, UK:
Do you think that retribution, bombing whichever country may or may not be harbouring Bin Laden, say, would only breed more hatred?
Wouldn't that create more fanatics, and increase the likelihood of more devastation? If their only chance of immortality is martyrdom, through killing evil westerners like us, aren't we the authors of our own demise?
And no, before you say it, I haven't got a solution either.
T.R. Reid: In the late 1980's, Muammar Gaddafi sponsored a lot of terrorist killing, targeting American soldiers and innocent people on airplanes. In 1989, we bombed Libya in retaliation. Britain joined our raid; the French wouldn't even let us fly over their air space to reach Tripoli. The US-UK mission hit several targets in Libya.
Gaddafi said that he was a victim of brutality, that we had killed two of his children. But since then, he has not taken out any airplanes or marine barracks. So it's my view that retaliation worked against Gaddafi. It reduced terrorism. Maybe it would work that way again.
Harpers Ferry, W.Va.:
Are there flights in and out of the UK now?
T.R. Reid: I think every American here has a few friends sleeping on the floors because they can't get home. Latest news we have is that the first flight may go west from London tomorrow (Friday). I'll believe it when I see it.
I have reviewed the names of companies located in the WTC buildings and can not identify one company of ARAB origin or ownership. Can you tell me if any of the companies located in the WTC belong to an ARAB company. If not, would you agree that this implicates the whole ARAB world. Especially those posing as our friends.
T.R. Reid: That list of tenants at the World Trade Center (it's on the WashPost web site today) is fascinating because it is soooo global. Asahi Bank. Deutsche Bank. Credit Agricole (French). Barclay's. etc. It's a United Nations in there.
I don't think the terrorists were particularly concerned about who was in there, or who is not. So I draw no conclusion at all from the absence of Saudi firms.
First let me just say that I am your biggest fan. I have been following your coverage of Europe and Asia for as long as I can remember! I am consistently impressed by the way that you eloquently report not only the absolute crux of every issue, but also analyze the cultural responses within the country you are reporting from so that we, the readers, can understand the precise mood of the population. Is there a sense among Europeans that this attack will help Americans to sympathize with cultures who have to deal with such attacks of terrorism on a more regular basis?
T.R. Reid: Thanks for reading my stuff. You are clearly a discerning reader.
Yes, there is a sense here that Americans have "finally been brought into the world." But when this is suggested to me on TV or radio here, I generally disagree. We've been targeted for a long time, and therefore we have long been able to sympathize with people overseas who suffer from terrorism.
Would you please tell your British friends that their spontaneous donation of flowers and memorabilia in Grosvenor Square brought me to tears for the first time since this horrific affair began? We love the Brits too.
T.R. Reid: Thanks so much. I can see you read my story today, which is at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/world/A20869-2001Sep12.html. I'm posting your question just so our British readers can see how much their support is appreciated.
Every once in a while, I just turn off the awful TV news and head over to Grosvenor Square to see how generously the Brits have responded to our trauma.
Ireland has an unusually close relationship to the USA, both through blood ties and through economic relationships. What has been the reaction there?
T.R. Reid: You can't walk into any pub in Ireland without meeting 14 people who have brothers, daughters, or cousins in New York. They are with us in so many ways, and the Irish have been wonderfully kind and supportive this week. That, too, makes me feel great as an American.
You say you have spoken to Muslims expressing sympathy for the citizens of the U.S. Do they seem to support the idea of the use of allied force to end the perpetrations of such acts in the future? By that I mean, air and ground force assaults on the terrorist enclaves and training camps?
T.R. Reid: Surprisingly, several of the Muslim leaders here say they could support military action if it hit the actual culprits. There are a few Muslims who say they're glad somebody hit the U.S., but only a few. Most say they'd back an attack on bin Laden, if he's the culprit.
You are a very perceptive reporter who always seems to be able to tap into the mood of a country. What do you think the mood is in places like South Africa and Jerusalem who have seen acts of terrorism on a regular basis and are now watching what is considered the world's most powerful country in the world felled by a similar attack?
T.R. Reid: Thanks. You're clearly a perceptive reader.
The Israelis feel our pain. I am hearing voicings in the Palestinian sector who say, it's about time the U.S. got a taste of its own medicine.
I was in Tanzania after bin Laden hit our embassy there. All the Africans I met were sympathetic to the U.S. Like the Irish, everybody in Kenya and Tanzania seems to have a cousin in the USA
If any of your readers doubt the resolve of the UK you only have to look at what happened today. For the first time ever at the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, the U.S. national anthem was played as well as our own. Most of us in Britain distance ourselves from the rest of Europe and their anti-Americanisms (France). When push comes to shove you will find out who your true friends are. God bless America.
T.R. Reid: thanks so much. Just posting this so our American readers can see it.
Mr. Reid, as you say, we in the U.S. currently have the sympathy and support of the governments of Europe -- "even France!" In your opinion, what immediate actions if any would you like to see the U.S. government initiate that would rally continued such support?
T.R. Reid: IF the U.S. decides to retaliate, I think it will be key for somebody in Washington first to lay out the evidence we have to support an attack. Europeans are basically with us, but don't want to attack the wrong target. We need to demonstrate to them that we're aiming in the right direction.
Based on recent history, I have my doubts that France will remain part of the solid group backing the U.S. this time. But I think the rest of Europe is with us and will travel a long distance with the U.S. to deal with terrorism.
I've heard from a number of friends in London that young people in the UK (especially students) are worried that Tony Blair's unequivocal support of the American government will make Britain a target as well. That and that we had it coming to us -- not because of anything per se we had done, but just because there's so many people around the world who hate us. Is that the feeling you get, along obviously with the sympathies of many?
T.R. Reid: I sometimes hear the suggestion that Britain makes itself a target by aligning with the U.S. I think Britain would be an easier, and perhaps more tempting, target if it decided to go alone. And the British share that view, I think.
I don't agree with you that "so many people around the world hate us." Some do; there may be a legitimate reason, or it may be jealousy or resentment. We're the richest guy in town, living up on the hill in the biggest house, and some people are always going to hate that guy. But I think most people in the world recognize that the U.S. is a free and generous country, that it is populated by people from everywhere, and that we open our arms to the world (We gave 1 million immigrants residence status last year, more than any other country by a massive margin.) People know that, and admire it.
Thanks so much, everybody, for your marvelous questions. We'll meet here again.
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