. . . The first British response to IRA violence was the worst. The IRA was identified as an enemy which had to be destroyed.
In 1972, the British Army fired into the crowd at a big demonstration in the city of Derry, killing 14 innocent people.
There were undercover killings of IRA volunteers later, and a team of three IRA people were summarily executed when they were caught on an operation in Gibraltar.
All these things did was to convince many people in Northern Ireland that the British Government operated on the same low moral level as the IRA itself.
Fortunately, there was another strategy as well; and this one worked. It was to treat political violence like any other crime.
Painstaking police work caught the people who set the bombs; and when, in fits of panic and dishonesty, the wrong people were arrested and jailed, it was necessary to right the wrongs publicly - no matter how painful and damaging the results might be.
There are no short cuts to proper justice, just as there are no short cuts to decent government.
Slowly, people throughout Ireland realised that the IRA, and the Protestant militia groups which had grown up in imitation of them, had nothing to offer but violence and chaos. It was the effective end of the IRA.
Countering political violence isn't easy. It takes rigid self-discipline on the part of government and people. And it takes a degree of proportion and self-awareness too. Thursday was a terrible day for London; yet we mustn't forget that much the same number of people died that day in Iraq, and no one dedicated acres of newsprint to them.
We must hunt the bombers down, because they have committed a vicious crime against society. But we mustn't throw away the calm and self-possession which every decent society needs. It's not weakness; it's our greatest strength.
At least the British goverment, in their earlier iron- and hamfisted overreaction to the IRA, actually committed its mistakes in Ireland. Our current conservative government left the Saudi Arabian home of our attackers intact and invaded a nation that had nothing at all to do with the crimes of September 11, 2001, using September 11, 2001 as its implicit rationale. Even though the Blair government was stupid enough to follow Bush into Iraq, I don't think we'll see them invading Syria or Iran with a battle cry of "Remember 7.7.2005!".