Remembering London, as riots shake the greatest of cities… resurrecting the Edward R. Murrow style, August 10, 2011.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note: In the early days of World War II, and most importantly during the punishing air raids of 1940-41, one man, with gravel in his voice, brought that war, its devastation and its courage, home to America, in all its reality.
That man was Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), and he worked for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
Murrow was a journalist’s journalist… and thus every real journalist who aspires to honesty and integrity wants to be like Murrow…. and so, owing so much to this man, I now pen my own paean to him.
To hear some of his wartime broadcasts, go to any search engine. Listen carefully. These reports are each of them historic not just because of where they were made and when but because of the distinctive Murrow touch, deft, real, unforgettable.
Hello, this is London calling.
Today I broadcast to you not so much as a journalist but as a man intensely grieving for a great city he loves, the greatest city on earth, London. I am now in the charnel house of the eastern neighborhood of Hackney… and the scene is one of mayhem, violence, and anger.
I am in London, but I cannot believe this city of culture and history has been laid so low. But it has…
When we think of London, we think of its kings,queens and princes… for never forget this is a royal city where the greatest of sovereigns, and some of the worst, have trod the very stones we trod.
We think, too, of the greatest of authors, of the Globe Theatre and the Bard of Avon backstage, refinishing a line moments before the fretful player would have to utter it.
We think of ladies of high style and ladies who compromised… of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with her profound ability to give love… and of such a royal mistress as Nell Gwynn whose knowledge of that subject was different but exhaustive and effective.
We think of politicians and statesmen like the great William Pitt, who helped forge an immense empire in North America… and the infamous Lord North, whose lack of judgement threw it away.
This is the London I love.
And now, this London, though I cannot quite believe it, is burning… right before my eyes.
London has burned before, of course…
There was the Great Fire of 1666 when King Charles II showed his people where his heart was, not by fleeing the great Metropolis, but by going into the fire, the flames, the billowing and choking smoke and passing water pails like the least of his subjects. Why did he do it? “Because I am a Londoner, too” and this pithy sentence procured him a lifetime of indulgence. For his Londoners loved him too.
London burned too in the Blitz of 1940, when the best the Nazis had turned their destructive genius to the pulverizing of a city determined it would not bend the knee, would not waver, and would never die… no matter how punishing each wave of airborn catastrophe might be.
For this is London… more lasting than the Eternal City itself. Determined to live and to flourish.
And now this great city burns… and at the hands of its own disgruntled citizens, as if they know that immemorial London, this hallowed place, can only quaver from within, at their own restless hands.
This is London… blackened, in rubble, humiliated… by those who care not for the English genius of politics and law… but only for immediate gratification of an anger they are determined to show a world aghast at what is happening.
What you see here, at this moment, will disturb you, distress you, revolt you…
Buildings of valuable commerce and utility, set afire, burnt, still smoldering.
Vehicles much needed by the good people who require them to get to work and deliver children and pick them up, now just smoking bits of dangerous metal.
Trash dumps… each required for the modern life we wish to live… now places of the utmost danger and peril, for here fires burn deep and may flash high and mighty at any time.
This cannot be the London I have known for a lifetime… it is not possible.
Yet it is…
Here there is riot!
Here there is wanton vandalism!
Here there is woe deliberately undertaken… with profound malice aforethought.
The perpetrators are young and thoughtless.
They who have every means of communication at their disposal select the most ancient means of communicating of all — with rocks, bricks, sticks, bottles, and any sharp instrument to hand. They do not want resolution…. they want chaos. And now they have it.
Like the malcontents of Ancient Rome, their weapons are the most primitive, but effective. They prize the old paving stones of Londinium and smash them into pieces small enough to throw… big enough to wound a man for life. Molotov cocktails cannot be far behind…
London is not defenceless, of course. She has thrown at these dark forces the men and material to put the insurrection down…. and she has arrested hundreds, who will soon understand English justice better.
How had it all started? Why did it grow so fast?
On August 6, 2011 there was a small antipolice demonstration in Tottenham over the fatal police shooting of a local man, Mark Duggan. This, as if by magic, spiraled into looting, violence, and madness.
There are a legion of “excuses” for what has happened. The economy is bad, the government is unpopular with its pinching austerity plans, jobs are hard to find. All this may be, probably is, true. But it does not account for the denizens of London, who have undergone so much more in times past, destroying their own shops, residences, offices, and neighborhoods… and with such incendiary menace.
16,000 police officers have been deployed. 111 of them have been wounded, many seriously. And riotous conditions have spread to other English cities, like Birmingham where three people are already dead.
All this, too, shall pass. But not until we faithful lovers of London, shocked and appalled, have scrutinized these events and grieved for them, for anything that hurts the London we love hurts us, and so we are hurting deeply now…. and for many days to come.