When the Battle of Britain began in September 1940, a British Foreign Office official dryly informed his superior that there was some good news: “We’re in the final—and we’re playing at home.” (The story is told by Philip Ziegler’s in his excellent book London at War.) Yet at the start of that battle no one knew that an aerial war conducted in the skies over southern England would lead to the wide-scale bombing of British cities and the deaths of thousands of civilians: the Blitz. Playing at home, indeed.
The attack on New York was not the Blitz (though the raid on the World Trade Center was more devastating than any single night of bombing conducted by the Germans, the Blitz was an aerial campaign against London that lasted for months and killed 13,000 people), but New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says he has drawn inspiration from the reaction of Londoners to the bombardment of their city 60 years ago. At a press conference on Sunday, the major held up a copy of John Lukacs’ book about Winston Churchill’s decision to fight the Germans, Five Days in London, which the mayor said had become his bedtime reading. (For Emily Eakin’s survey of what other people have been reading this past week, click here.) Later that day, Giuliani gave a speech at the New York City Fire Department promotion ceremony, in which he said the following :
Your willingness to go forward undaunted in the most difficult of circumstances is an inspiration to all of us. It sends a signal that our hearts are broken, no question about that, but our hearts continue to beat, and they beat very, very strongly. Life is going to go on. … Winston Churchill, the leader of war-torn England who saw his country through the Battle of Britain with bombings every day, once said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it’s the quality which guarantees all others.” Without courage, nothing else can really happen. And there is no better example, none—no better example of courage than the Fire Department of the City of New York.
In another press conference Giuliani urged New Yorkers to return to their lives, to spend money, to make life ordinary again as best and courageously as possible. And yesterday, the atmosphere on Broadway south of Union Square was ordinary—as long as one looked north. Last night at British Airways terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, people appeared to go about their usual pre-flight plans: drinking, shopping, and smoking. Check-in was no different. The flight to Heathrow seemed eerily similar to every other overnight journey I’ve made across the Atlantic. When the wheels met the runway in London, it was raining. Even the weather in London appeared to have heeded Mayor Giuliani’s advice.