Anger over U.S. war plans reverberates on streets of London

October 04, 2002|By Dan Reimold

LONDON -- They are angry in Britain -- angry at a possible war seen as unjust, angry at an America seen as isolationist and murderous, angry with a president seen as egocentric and war-hungry.

As an American Ursinus College senior studying in London this fall, I'm witnessing the mood of the world's second-greatest city directly after the anniversary of Sept. 11.

At a subway stop in the slightly seedy Action Town section of London, the British attitude seems to be summed up on a poster advertising Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and showing the face of President Bush. His eyes are blackened, horns have been crudely drawn on his head and two words are scrawled boldly across his chin: "war criminal."

Unlike the poster vandals, most of the 20 members of my study-abroad group concur with Mr. Bush's call to arms. I see Saddam Hussein, his followers and weapons-in-waiting as a true, immediate threat to the safety of society. In this newly dangerous age of terrorism, he is a madman who must be overthrown, jailed or assassinated.

My view, of course, is uniquely American. The European world -- in the press, the government, the streets -- simply does not agree. After Sept. 11, many saw our rage and attack on the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan as a given. After all, vengeance and saving face are two distinctly American tenets. And sympathy and timing seemed to have prevented other countries from raising a peep of protest. But the objections aren't muted this time around.

Proposed U.S. military action against Iraq does not appear to be linked directly to recent terrorism, the protesters cry. Regardless of whether Mr. Hussein has weapons of mass destruction in the works, British citizens see Mr. Bush's siege as driven not by some diplomatic sense of duty but by a self-serving desire to protect oil interests, to show off U.S. military might and to finish what his father started more than a decade before.

And so, guilty by association, Prime Minister Tony Blair is a lonely man in his home country. He is passionately advocating a war everyone else wants to eschews. He is depicted in newspaper political cartoons as a puppy wagging his tail behind Mr. Bush, his master, or as a disrobed politician hiding behind the coattails of the leader of the free world.

Last month, to the horror and vexation of a majority of his own citizens, Mr. Blair announced, "Britain must be willing to make a blood sacrifice to stay allies with America." The pulse of his people, quite loudly, sounds an entirely different tune.

On the sidewalks of Ealing Broadway, a leafy suburb on the outskirts of London, in the midst of thousands of commuters and shoppers, a gray-haired, unshaven man spouts anti-war rhetoric into an antiquated megaphone.

Many passersby nod in agreement at his words, and some stop by a wooden table to pen their signature to a protest petition. Nearby, a younger man holding religious pamphlets, without the aid of a megaphone, cups his hands around his mouth and screams the message of God. The spirited shouting produces an ironic cacophony. "Stop the war in Iraq! Sign this petition!" "Jesus loves you!" "Sign this petition!" "Jesus saves." "Stop the oil-hungry Americans!" "Jesus cares for sinners." "Let Iraq live in peace!"

The peace of young Americans making their way in a foreign, supposedly friendly land has been broken. One student in our group, a junior named Jon, learned this firsthand on the eve of this Sept. 11.

Relaxing in the living room after dinner, his home-stay mother abruptly turned off the TV, telling him they needed to talk. He thought he'd stayed out too late the night before. Not even close.

"Be careful," she said softly. "The world, right now, is not happy with Americans."

Is she overreacting? I hope so. Each day, though, with more negative headlines, warnings, protests and unrest, it's harder and harder to be sure.

Dan Reimold is a senior communication studies major at Ursinus College in London. He permanently resides in Bensalem, Pa.

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