Blog: The Death of Queen Elizabeth the Great

book of condolence

As a practitioner of emergency management, I have developed an informal theory (that I would never dare publish in any professional journal) that every disaster or major world event is a message from God, Gaia, Allah, Yahweh, Mother Nature, or Whatever is Out There. If I am right, then here are the messages I think we are getting from on high, regarding the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history:

First, the British system of constitutional monarchy is far superior to the U.S. system of fusing the ceremonial and policy/political functions of government into one person, the President. My wife and I have been privileged to be in England during the death, mourning and funeral of QE II. We cannot imagine any American political figure except perhaps George Washington who could have generated the outpouring of grief and sentiment that we have witnessed here.

A million or more people visited London during the day of the funeral, with 250 extra rail services laid on to carry them. Over 125 theaters and numerous outdoor screens around the country opened for millions to view the funeral remotely. A line of more than 250,000 people five miles long waited up to 24 hours to spend a minute walking through Westminster Hall, just to see her coffin in person. There are Books of Condolence for the Queen all over the country, that hundreds of thousands of people are writing heart-felt messages in and signing. An estimated 4 billion people of the 7.8 billion on Earth saw at least a part of her funeral.

By having the Queen represent the state, and by having continuity across the decades of her reign, Britons could happily criticize the policies and idiocies of the government in power (witness Brexit), while still remaining loyal to the Crown. In the U.S., we mix up two quite different functions, and overload the poor bugger who has to do all the work. The Queen was the patron of over 500 organizations, and the royal family as a whole has 2,862 patronages; our President, VP and their spouses couldn’t possibly keep up with that. And Elizabeth provided a real unifying and moderating influence on the 56 countries and 2.5 billion people in the Commonwealth—by contrast our most recent past President tried to destroy NATO and our other key alliances.

Second, by providing a focus for loyalty, the monarchy reduces divisiveness in society. When I was a junior year abroad student in Wales in 1969-70, the U.K. was pretty homogenous. Fifty years later things have changed, with 16.1 percent minority population in England and 14.4 percent in the U.K. There certainly is racism and division in Britain, but there is no crazy talk of “possible civil war” like we have in the U.S.

Third, if you want to organize a major world event, hire a Brit. Execution of the security and other arrangements for the complex funeral was astounding. Representatives from over 200 countries and territories attended the Queen’s funeral, making London the top terrorist target in the world. Possible threats included jihadists, Russian assassins, “lone wolf” attackers, and especially “hostile vehicle” attacks (e.g., trucks ramming the thousands of spectators). But the only real problem was that President Biden’s limo, “The Beast,” and his 19+ vehicle motorcade was held up in traffic beside a Pret-a-Manger near Marble Arch. How was such success achieved?

Years of planning ensured that the right personnel with the right training were in the right spots at the right time. Only 4.3% of the 142,526 police in the U.K. are armed, all are highly trained, and almost all of them were brought to guard the funeral procession routes in Scotland and London. (The percentage of the population in the U.S. and U.K. who are police officers is exactly the same, at 0.2%, but all the police in the U.S. are armed, and many are poorly trained and trigger-happy.)

Over a million CCTV cameras in London fed into a huge primary and backup Special Operations Room (SOR), along with TV and radio news links, all organized by the Metropolitan Police, MI5 (the Security Service “minders”), GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters, the equivalent of the U.S. NSA plus DoD’s Cyber Command), and other agencies. Every lamppost on the procession route was searched for bombs, sniffer dogs sniffed, airport-style security protected the coffin viewing line, and hundreds of metal and concrete barriers defended crowds from rogue vehicles.

Finally, consider the godly message that Elizabeth herself brought to us at age 21: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” She kept that terrific promise with more than 70 years of tirelessly doing her duty to her nation, the Commonwealth and the world. What a contrast with the buffoons, liars, narcissists, would-be dictators, and murderous thugs that dominate our news cycle every day. (BTW, is it a coincidence that most of these morons are men, while the Queen was a woman?) As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in the Queen’s funeral speech, “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered, when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

She really was Queen Elizabeth II, The Great.

Photos courtesy Lew Toulmin

  • photo of Elizabeth during World War II

    Before becoming Queen, Elizabeth served full-time in World War II as a mechanic in the Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She insisted on joining at 18 and was shortly promoted to the equivalent of Army Captain. She stayed in London during the Blitz despite being bombed, and participated in the Dig for Victory campaign.

  • photo of Queen Elizabeth II in 1947

    Elizabeth dedicating her life to service on her 21st birthday, in 1947, broadcasting on the BBC from Capetown, South Africa.

Next month I will return to describing the highlights of northern Spain, near the Camino de Santiago.

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