Author Archives: John Robson

It happened today – July 7, 2015

July 7 memorial, Hyde Park
On this day a decade ago, suicide bombers set off three bombs on the London subway and one on a bus during rush hour. The bombers killed 52 people, plus their own wretched selves, and injured over 700 in Britain’s worst terrorist incident since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, its first ever suicide attack, and the most serious attack on British soil since World War II. And yet it accomplished nothing.

I do not of course minimize the pain of those who lost friends and relatives, or those who suffered injuries in the blasts. My point, though, is that the attack did not change British government policy nor did it achieve the main goal of terrorism, to terrify.

Again, to say so is not uncritically to endorse British government policy on any issue from immigration to defence spending. London is behaving in a singularly fatuous and feckless way, barely affected by the change from Labour to coalition to Tory ministries in the intervening years. But it is doing so for reasons common to all the advanced democracies, not because of any reaction public or political to “7/7”.

To some extent the British establishment seems to me to underestimate the threat of terror rather than to overestimate it. As has been habitual, it fails to grasp the nature or scale of the threat to the West from the rising tide of Islamism, Vladimir Putin’s feeble rampage, the increasingly desperate geopolitical lunge by the proud, brittle tyranny in Beijing, and from its own loss of economic dynamism and social cohesion, its demographic decline, the growth of narcissistic hedonism and its fading faith in itself and loss of common sense.

If it were up to me, I would worry that three of the four bombers were British-born and the fourth was a convert from Jamaica. And that a poll two years later found that a quarter of British Muslims surveyed said the alleged bombers did not actually carry out the attacks. The West has a habit of fatuity in the face of foreign aggression that is now overlaid with an increasing dependence on an increasingly unlimited and incompetent state. But none of this resulted from the terror attacks of July 7, 2005, or the utterly botched follow-up two weeks later.

Even the shockingly intrusive nature of surveillance in modern Britain came from Tony Blair, a man of whom on another occasion I should have much to say, none of it good. But this is not that occasion. Instead, I want to praise the British people for keeping calm and carrying on.

We used to hear, in the aftermath of 9/11 in particular, that if we did X, Y or Z the terrorists would have won. But the key thing was always that if we became terrified they would have won and that has not happened including in Britain after 7/7.

If you look at the list of incidents at the outset you see that 7/7 was the work of Islamist fanatics, the Lockerbie bombing of the previous Marxist-tinged wave of secular radicalism that also spawned the Red Brigades and Saddam Hussein, and the one before that of the Nazis and assorted 1930s menaces. The specific threats to our way of life change, but their abiding hatred of the West does not. And one reason it does not is that for all our follies, there is a core of quiet competence and steady self-reliance that drives the fragile and frantic into a frenzy.

If we do fall, it will be largely because of what we do to ourselves, not what our enemies try to do to us. And at least in this respect, the British have behaved splendidly from July 7 2005 on.

It happened today – July 6, 2015

Althea Gibson
On July 6 1957, early in Eisenhower’s 2nd term, Althea Gibson became the first black to win a singles title at Wimbledon, 18 years before Arthur Ashe would defeat Jimmy Connors to become the first black male singles champion there.

Forget the Williams sisters; this was in an era of wooden rackets and long rallies, not graphite alloy and crushing serves. I actually prefer the older game; Connors-McEnroe marathons with incredible recoveries, between-the-legs shots and preposterous ingenuity are my idea of tennis. But never mind that.

Right now I want to talk about Althea Gibson. Actually I want to quote her.

She’s worth talking about because she was a remarkable person, athletically and otherwise. Born in 1927 in South Carolina and raised in Harlem, she won 56 tennis singles and doubles titles including 11 major ones, then gave up amateur tennis after repeat wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1958, toured with the Harlem Globetrotters (playing exhibition tennis, not basketball), joined the LPGA in 1964 as the first black to do so and played professional golf until 1971, in which year she was voted into the National Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame, and later became New Jersey’s commissioner of athletics from 1975 to 1985.

She died in 2003, 46 years after making history under Eisenhower and just five years shy of Barack Obama’s election. If you want to focus on race. Which is understandable given her circumstances. But it’s not really why I bring her up.

I bring her up because of one sentence she once uttered that, it seems to me, explains her success in the face of the particular as well as general challenges she faced. Remember, it’s hard enough to win Wimbledon without also facing barriers of racial prejudice. And it doesn’t just explain her success. It points the way for the rest of us.

That one sentence is “The loser says it may be possible, but it’s difficult; the winner says it may be difficult, but it’s possible.” She said a lot of other good things too (including “Being champion is all well and good, but you can’t eat a crown.”) And she did a lot of amazing things. She lived a long and remarkable life. But for all of that, and recognizing that the words resonate because she walked the talk, I always treasure that line, which I heard once uttered on some otherwise long forgotten late night TV show.

It perfectly sums up the attitude everyone needs to succeed at what they should be doing.

Amazing.