WASHINGTON -- For decades, the London police -- the "Bobbies" -- have stood as the only protection that a civilized society should need against a dangerous world. Valorously they stood their ground on the streets of London, proud that only nightsticks should ever be used against citizens!
Sir Robert Peel, the famous British statesman, had founded the Metropolitan Police Service, later known as Scotland Yard, in the 19th century and based its work upon the outlandish idea that "the police are the public and the public are the police." The idea that Peel pursued relentlessly was that trust and consent were what was important, and not the threat of force.
The greatest fear in England after the recent riots was perhaps that sacred trust had died, too. Something precious had gone from society. For days, British leaders stumbled about rhetorically, trying to figure out what this violence with no name assigned to it really could be.
By the end of the week, the concern had begun to spread "across the pond" to the United States, where "flash mobs" in big cities along the Eastern corridor had mayors and philosophers alike wondering if this syndrome of violence with no apparent purpose may be coming here.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron came home from a holiday in Tuscany and made a valiant try at analysis. Far from poverty, he said, the riots were the result of "people with a twisted moral code." He challenged his colleagues: "Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations? Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort."
And at one point, he noted that pockets of Britain were "frankly sick."
Then came other attempts at analyzing what happened as parts of London that gallantly survived "the blitz" during World War II were burned to the ground by demonstrators who didn't have the faintest idea of what they were doing or why they were doing it.
The French press called the street violence "shopping riots," since most of the rioters indiscriminately looted every possible kind of store. The Economist went deeper and noted that, "In the absence of internal, moral restraints, external ones can only do so much."
Not criminality simply, but, "I would define the riots, in simplistic terms, as class warfare," said Clifford Stott, a social psychologist at the University of Liverpool. "It's class war on the streets of Britain."
Others went back to that terrifying movie, "A Clockwork Orange," based on the novel by Anthony Burgess.
Writing in the authoritative Financial Times, novelist Gautam Malkani noted that "with its depiction of a lawless Britain, where the police command neither confidence nor deference and residents live in fear of feral youth empowered by their own vernacular, the parallels in Burgess' novel are instructive." Burgess sees "nothing paradoxical about an apathetic rampage."
Back to the French press, with its waggish levels of truth, it was suggested that Anglo-Saxon capitalism has produced a "hopeless white underclass unique in Europe."
And maybe it has -- one has the recurrent feeling that this could be the base problem. Britain has overwhelmed its society with social welfare programs, and this is what it gets.
Perhaps, many are saying now, it was the wrong response to poverty and discrimination. Perhaps those social welfare programs have only created on the streets of England the disparate young of all ethnicities indulging themselves in the destruction of their cities.
Now, it will become easier to give in to the Tories, with their theories that crime is best dealt with by a strong hand and throw away the key. The social democratic-style governments and policies that have swamped Europe at times over the last three decades now seem questionable, at best. Maybe the real problems are to be found in multicultural welfare dependency, broken homes and moral nihilism. Many young people don't really have much to lose.
What is interesting, too, about the British experience, with its "death of responsibility" in the midst of one of the greatest democracies on Earth, is that, this time around, they are looking at the new media and social networking sites with criticism. The police, indeed, are invading those sites -- and learning from them.
Reading about the riots, my own thoughts went to the many English television stories I have seen. Eventually, I tried to bypass them, simply because they were so depressing. I began to wonder: Is there nothing in England except poor public housing, broken couples and dead-enders everywhere you look?
This was not a racial or ethnic outbreak, and that is both good and bad. If it were, that would make it relatively simple, because you could break down the miscreants and the attacked. No, this time the rioters, who cruelly mocked their victims, were from all of Britain. As of this writing, upward of 1,000 have been arrested.
My own second point -- and this particularly affects America -- is the lack of fathers in these areas. Young people, particularly boys, gain their moral stature largely from their fathers. Not only do too many of these boys have none, but their mothers have rotating lovers that the boys often loathe.
Speaking of fathers, I must admit I was moved to tears by the Pakistani father in the city of Birmingham, whose own son, protecting his community's shops, was killed by a driver who mowed down three boys with his car.
The father asked the men in the mob around him, "Every one of you who would like to see his son killed, please step forward."
For just a short time, the riots stopped.