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Death rained down from the skies Tuesday. The World Trade Center is no more. The Pentagon has been assaulted. A plane went down in Pennsylvania. We will not know for some time how many Americans were killed and injured. But today we can begin to assess whether liberty, too, shall be a casualty of these attacks. This is the most dangerous time to be an American since President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, thus leaving the people with no recourse against illegal seizures of their person. Let there be no mistake about the meaning of Bloody Tuesday. The real target was our minds. That is the way of terrorists. We have known from our birth as a nation that the world is a violent place. We cut our teeth on the flesh of the British Empire, wresting with bloody teeth freedom from a nation that did not share our values. Today those with values different than ours gnaw at us. Will we win this battle of nerve? The sneak attacks from the sky ushered in the worst day in our history since the attack on Pearl Harbor. But the wake of this week’s attack is far more challenging. We had a foe to attack in 1942. We could mobilize and turn our fear, anger and hatred at another. Today, we are invited to feed upon ourselves. Far more than the lives destroyed by this week’s terror and the property destroyed, Bloody Tuesday was a direct threat to our values. For a few hours, the terrorists won, as we huddled near those we love and sucked information from the airwaves like hungry wolves. We shut down for a time. Score one for the shadows. We sometimes seduce ourselves with the thought that sweet reason can govern the world, and that, if only there were enough good will, we could reach agreement on how best to live. Bloody Tuesday is a reminder that values, and civilizations, clash. Our hold on the world is tenuous. The terrorists have invited us to abandon our values, and share a world of fear, hate and retaliation. I for one am unwilling to give in so easily. To do so would be to dishonor those who died this week. Ours is a government committed to the rule of law and to the rights of the people. To that end, we have labored to create a constitution that, if not the envy of the world, is indeed a new secular order. How easy it would be to sell out the rights that Constitution enshrines today. Already, our federal courts have shown a willingness to let the power of the state grow at the expense of the people. New doctrines and defenses swallow up liberties once viewed as fundamental. Will we today decide that some search warrant affidavits are more reasonable because a terrorist has drawn blood? Will we close our borders in a fit of xenophobia? Will those from lands with whom we quarrel suffer the fate of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, shuffled into concentration camps? We have lost so much to terror in recent years. It is today a federal offense to crack a joke about explosives in an airport. What new law will be proposed tomorrow? Will we willingly sell freedom to purchase security? I have never been prouder than I am today to be an American, and my commitment to liberty is not for sale. I am frightened, but I will not turn that fear upon myself or upon my neighbor. A terrorist stalks my heart; he shall not win it. The people of New Hampshire have on their license plates a simple motto: “Live Free or Die.” Today that motto is fit to guide a nation. Norm Pattis is a partner at Williams & Pattis in New Haven, Conn., and a regular commentator for Law Tribune Newspapers, a division of American Lawyer Media.

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