Fighting Spirit

There is such a striking difference between the way the British react to yesterday’s terror attacks and the way the Spanish reacted to last year’s Madrid bombings, that I am not the only one intrigued by it. We all know that Britain will not “do a Spain.” It is simply inconceivable that, in response to terrorists, Londoners would paint their hands white, hastily change their foreign policies and vote their government out of office. “Britain will not be cowed,” Tony Blair said, and this sentiment is shared even by political opponents of his Iraq policies, such as Ken Livingstone.

Jingoism is often considered to be a pejorative word. A jingoist is a “supporter of bellicose policy,” says the Concise Oxford Dictionary, but the term derives from an 1878 music-hall song by G.H. MacDermott.

We don't want to fight
But, by Jingo, if we do,
We've got the ships,
We've got the men,
We've got the money, too.

This attitude seems to be typically British. As in the 1930s, the British are often appeasers (because, as the song says, they “don’t want to fight") but when attacked, every willingness to appease is over and they fight to the bitter end. Other nations often tend to behave in exactly the opposite way. They brag, but when severly hit they throw down their arms. Perhaps that is the fundamental difference between the macho attitude of some peoples (like the Spanish?) and the jingoism of the British. Perhaps we need a reappraisal of jingoism. In a letter to The (London) Times, Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, wrote today: “New Yorkers feel particular empathy, just as Londoners showed empathy to New York. In fact, I’ve mentioned many times that in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, I viewed the people of London during the air attacks of the Second World War as a model for how to remain courageous and strong during times of great trouble.” London did not “do a Rotterdam” in 1940. It did not capitulate. Because the British have something even more important than the ships, the men, the money; they have the fighting spirit.

Spain vs London

I am surprised that you are intrigued by the differing reactions from Spaniards and Britons. First Aznar got booted out of office because public support was turning against him even before the bombings (and regardless of his stance on the war on terror). Compounded with the abysmal handling of its aftermath it is no surprise he got the wrong end of the stick. Trying to pin the bombing on ETA not because of a honest mistake but as a political strategy is a shameful thing to do and for that alone he was rightly condemned by the popular vote.

Next, Spain didn't change its foreign policy because of the bombing but because a new leader took office. A leader that had promised repeatedly to withdraw his troops from Iraq. A leader who was always convinced (and with him 90% of the Spanish people) that that war was a mistake. Are we now blaming politicians for following up on their promises and handling in line with their proclaimed principles once they are elected?

No, if we feel a policy is wrong, we should put forward our arguments against it. But there is a big difference between convincing others that their principles are wrong and trying to get others to act against their principles. Even (or especially) if the end result would be the same. By chastizing the Spanish government you are doing the latter and missed an excellent opportunity to do the former.

Marc Huybrechts

I think when a country is attacked it pays to look at the issue from the perspective of the enemy. There is no doubt that Al Qaeda wanted to change Spain's foreign policy. And there is also no question that the Madrid bombings succeeded in changing Spain's foreign policy by changing its government, which means that Spain's voters gave Osama Bin Laden what he wanted.

I do NOT think that it was Mr Belien's intention to say that we should be "blaming politicians for following their promises", but rather that people (voters) should rally around their government when attacked by barbarians. The mistakes and motivations of individual politicians are not of great importance when compared with the need to unite against a manifest foreign enemy and to send a common and clear message to that enemy of not being intimidated. The Spanish people have given the enemy what he wanted. In so doing they have strengthened his conviction that "terrorism pays" and thereby have increased the likelyhood of future terrorism.

@Marc Huybrechts

IMHO, the Iraq issue is a side-track. The Spanish people was against Spanish participation in the Iraq invasion way before the Madrid blasts. At least the parting government thought it would change the voters determination, since they came up with lies about the ETA right after the blasts. It might have added to the voters resolve, not changed it fundamentally.

Let's forget about Iraq, which is a detail in history. Once the Iraq question is solved, it remains to be seen whether the Islamo-fundamentalists will find another casus belli to attack Europe.

Taking issue with the implied complicity

The Spanish voters didn't 'give' anything to Osama Bin Laden. True, the attacks might create the impression but the real reason of the sudden swing on election day was not because of a willing surrender to Al Quada but as a willing punishment for the Spanish government's handling of the war on terror (especially during the 3 days between the bombing and the election, but already before)

Honestly, the Spanish voters were between a rock and a hard place. Either vote the way they did and create the impression they surrendered to terror or vote for a government that was willing to exploit a horrific event for pure partisan domestic gains, which is only little less apalling but, frankly, given its monopoly on legal violence much more dangerous.

By refusing to acknowledge that real dilemma both you and the original author are unfairly presenting the Spanish as cowards while at the same time heralding a people that's luckily not sharing that burden.

And no, in the face of external danger, people should not automatically rally around their government. In this modern age, group-centered self defence is both futile as shown by those bombings and unnecessary as shown by the resilience of the cities under attack. On the contrary individuals should never surrender their individual freedom, their vote nor autonomous thinking to any central body, especially in the face of an imminent threat. History has proved time and time again that such socialist and primal patriotistic thinking paves the way for the most amoral and cruel policies this planet has ever seen.

Head in the sand?

1) Of course the Spanish people gave Osama what he wanted. They gave him a change in Spain's foreign policy. If you deny that, then you are not facing reality. Al Qaeda itself has said so in various 'commentary' on its propaganda medium 'al jazeera' and elsewhere.

2)You have a remarkable tendency to create 'strawmen' that you can then conveniently shoot down. But most of our western media does that all the time. First, you 'claim' something about Mr Belien that he never said, i.e. that politicians shouldn't keep their promises. He never said that. His main point was about different reactions of the people in Spain and Britain to terrorism. He didn't comment about what politicians should do or not do.

3)Now, you set up a new irrelevant strawman. Of course, "individuals should never surrender their individual freedom". Where did I ever make such a silly claim? Nor did I deny the 'contrived' dilemma that you described. My comment concerned the proper reaction of a people against external agressors. You have obviously a different opinion about what that reaction should be, and that is your entitlement, but - if you want to remain intellectually honest - you should not misrepresent other people's opinions so that you don't have to deal with their arguments or points.

4)In my view people should rally around their government in time of external danger, and they should certainly not react to terrorism by given their enemy what he wants. The history of appeasement of fascism in the 1930's shows clearly what will further happen if one tries to appease the unappeasable. When faced with true evil it is futile to let personal likes and dislikes, nor petty internal political preferences, override the need for unity in the face of a deadly common enemy.

5)My conclusion is that you deal largely in speculation (e.g. about the possible motivations of politicians, your 'contrived' dilemma, etc...), whereas Mr Belien and I deal with facts. He pointed to the different reaction of the peoples of Spain and Britain to terrorism, and I pointed to the fact that by changing their government AT THAT TIME the people of Spain gave Osama what he wanted, i.e. a change in foreign policy. Your last sentence is, in my opinion, a remarkable opinionated statement of self-delusion. It has certainly nothing to do with historical facts, but everything to do with parroting sentimental nonsens propagated by the perverse western selfhating naive-left. This last point is an opinion, not a fact, and I would never pretend otherwise. I would hope that, likewise, you would make an effort to separate opinions from facts, so that your future opinions would be better-rooted in historically-verifiable facts.


Point by point

1. You fail to grasp the context in which I used the word 'give'. The Spanish voters made a choice which may (or may not, we know surprisingly little about the real demands of these terrorists) play in the hands of Al Qaida. But they made that choice mostly regardless of that question.

2. Please read again. I never attributed that claim to Mr Belien, but made a personal moral judgment about the behaviour of politicians. I used the style figure of a rethoric question to emphasize how self-evident I think that position is. Given that no has rebutted it, may we assume everyone agrees on that?

3. Maybe I misinterpreted your position, but you advocated for the Spanish people to vote against what they felt was the right choice because it might look like appeasing? If that is indeed your position (if not, correct me), I call that clearly surrendering your free vote on the sole basis of an external threat.

4. It is just silly comparing 1930's geopolitics with current events. We are not facing a well-organized, visibly enemy-state. We are facing a loosely enfranchised network of terrorists, often with a very different agenda. And to top it off, the advantage of a 'national unity' even back then is not a given. The USSR was one hell of a country that spoke with one voice but it appeased as much, if not more than the Western democracies...

5. You are quite good at condemning a position without using arguments, i'll give you that. Feel free to challenge my last (any) sentence but don't do it by yelling 'selfhating naive-left'.

Giving in to terror

On the contrary individuals should never surrender their individual freedom, their vote nor autonomous thinking to any central body, especially in the face of an imminent threat. History has proved time and time again that such socialist and primal patriotistic thinking paves the way for the most amoral and cruel policies this planet has ever seen.

There is a fine line between succumbing to a totalitarian regime and "rallying round the flag" at a time of perceived national danger. There is no doubt that the normal democratic conventions had to be suspended in the UK in 1939 to fight a "proper" war against a determined enemy. Then in 1945 when democratic norms were re-established the British electors rewarded Churchill for his leadership by kicking him out!

My view is that the Spanish electorate were fully entitled to kick out their government, and that to keep a government just because of a bomb outrage would have been perverse. They had clearly lost faith in Aznar's integrity.

I can't see how on that election day the voters had a real opportunity to express disapproval of their government's manipulations AND revulsion at the bombers.

By the way, the decision to pull troops out of Iraq was in my opinion totally misguided, but that's another debate!

Bob Doney

Hear Hear

I wanted to make a comment along the same lines as BVH before I read his reaction. The situation in Madrid was totally different from the one in London now. Blair just got re-elected, in Spain the blasts happened before the elections. The current ruling Spanish parties (which were way ahead then in the opinion polls at blast time) always said they wanted to retreat from Iraq, and they delivered upon their promises. They didn't change their stance at all, they are not the opportunists that mr. Belien's item suspects them to be.

A clear case of surrender for terror was GMA (President Arroyo) from the Philippines when she retreated hastily from Iraq after a Filipino truck driver was kidnapped, and released.


opinion polls

My recollection is NOT that the current ruling party in Spain "was way ahead in the opinion polls at blast time". On the contrary, I believe that the polls were very close. But, in any case, the polls should be irrelevant when facing a foreign enemy.

In a democracy, governments come and go, but the time to change government is not when threatened by an external enemy. At that time, a clear consistent message needs to be send of "we will not be intimidated". Spain's foreign policy needs to be determined freely by the Spanisch people, and not under intimidation by an enemy.


Facing an enemy

In a democracy, governments come and go, but the time to change government is not when threatened by an external enemy.

The problem with this idea is that we ALWAYS face the threat of terrorist attack. We may forget this for a while when things are quiet, but somewhere the plotters are hard at work.

Bob Doney

I beg to differ

In the face of external threats an individual doubly needs an optimally working government. And removing the driving force of competition from the political field will do nothing but letting a good government weaken and a weak government keeping a hold on power.