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Dr. Louise Richardson: U.S. Response to 9/11 Was 'Overreaction'

America's response the 9/11 terror attacks was an "overreaction," incoming Oxford Vice-Chancellor Dr. Louise Richardson said.
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LONDON — America's response the 9/11 terror attacks was an "overreaction," according to the incoming head of one of the world's most prestigious universities.

Dr. Louise Richardson, who will become vice-chancellor at Britain's Oxford University next year, said on Tuesday the United States overreacted to the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon because "it was such a new experience" for the nation.

Speaking at a British Council panel debate in London, she contrasted the different ways in which the U.S. and the U.K. have reacted to terror attacks.

"The scale of the reaction — I would say overreaction — in the U.S. to the 9/11 atrocity, I think, was reflective of the fact that it was such a new experience for the U.S.," Richardson told the audience.

By contrast, she said, "the British population proved really quite resilient" to terror attacks, having lived through the Northern Ireland's "Troubles" from the 1960s and 1990s.

That period included a series of deadly bombings by the Irish Republican Army in mainland Britain.

The worst of these included an IRA bombing that killed 12 people in 1974 after it hit a bus carrying soldiers and their families on a freeway in Northern England. A wave of bombings attributed to the same militant group hit British pubs the same year and killed 28 people.

In 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped an IRA bomb that killed five people at a hotel in Brighton.

Image: Grand Hotel in Brighton, England, after IRA bombing in 1984
The shattered top four floors of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England, are seen after an IRA bombing in this image taken on October 12, 1984. Five people were killed in the attack, which targeted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other members of her ruling Conservative Party.AP, file

The IRA ended its 30-year armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland as part of a power-sharing peace deal in 1998. Overall, the conflict left around 3,600 people dead.

Richardson was speaking with other experts about whether the threat of a terror attack on the West was exaggerated by officials and in the media.

“The reason random attacks have so much more impact [is that] because if nobody is chosen, nobody is safe and so the fear is more widespread,” she said. “So I think central to any counterterrorist campaign should be a resilient population.”

Richardson is a leading voice in the debate on modern-day terrorism and spent 20 years on the faculty at Harvard University. She is currently principal and vice-chancellor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.