Attack Will Test How Much We Believe in America

September 2001

by Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC

Lots of folks have voiced the same sentiments.....I refuse to let the terrorists change my life.....the spirit of our country will rise above these fanatics.

And, the following article which appeared in the Los Angeles Time on September 12, 2001 expresses this sentiment so much more eloquently than I could. It was so directed to the best parts of the legal profession that I had to include it in this month's E-Zine. Unless lawyers come to the fore and defend our values and liberties, we will have lost this "war" and surrendered our freedoms to be just like the perpetrators!)

Attack Will Test How Much We Believe in America

by Patt Morrison
September 12, 2001

This was not a test, this underhanded mass murder, the most death-dealing day on American soil since we massacred ourselves in the Civil War.

This was an actual emergency, a siege on the nation and on its sacred places, its temples of money and of might.

Yet what happened Tuesday is very much a test--but not, perhaps, of the kind that President George W. Bush meant when he used that word. It is a test of strength of the standards of freedom. It is a test of how much Americans truly believe in America. The test didn't come yesterday and it won't come tomorrow.

While the smoke still drifts and the cries of the injured still reach our ears, we Americans can be at our best, generous and recklessly brave.

No, this test is for the duller, less heroic months to come, when there is no more smoke and there are no more injured.

It will come unexpectedly and often, one pop quiz after another, in how the nation reclaims its soul.

If they, whoever did this, force us to become like them, like any fearful and besieged and vengeful people . . . if "better safe than sorry" becomes the national motto . . . if the land of the free becomes the home of the military checkpoint and the national ID card, then we fail the test.

For my money, the day's most inspiring figure was not in Washington, D.C., but in Los Angeles. Harry Pregerson is 77 years old, a man of that "greatest generation," a Marine wounded on Okinawa, a federal judge whose conscience, he has said, is forged out of "the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights, the Boy Scout oath, and the Marine Corps Hymn."

His court is the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, on the lip of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. With courts and government buildings shutting down across the nation, Pregerson's court was still open for business.

Here is what Pregerson told my colleague Henry Weinstein: "We can't let terrorists shut us down." By "us" he meant the plodding, methodical routine of law itself.

In the name of America, Harry Pregerson, at least, would not be stampeded into locking the door on what America is meant to be about.

It's Pearl Harbor all over again, they've been saying. It's war. All right, let's say it is war. What do we give up to wage war, and what do we get for it?

Erwin Chemerinsky, the USC law professor and warhorse of the Constitution, notes "the tremendous temptation to tyranny in times of crisis," like the rounding up of noncitizens in the Bolshie panic of the 1920s, of the nation's Japanese in the 1940s, of alleged Reds in the 1950s, when "we gave up our most precious rights for no gain in terms of security."

Already we make trade-offs every day, bartering liberties for security, paying the ransom for fear in the coin of freedoms. We let the government keep its doings secret from us. The FBI's Carnivore program can read almost anyone's e-mail, reach into almost anyone's computer.

Video monitors watch us buy bread and underwear. We submit to scans and searches to get on a plane or to walk into a courtroom; once, at the Criminal Courts Building in downtown L.A., my manicure scissors were confiscated. (I can understand that; one look at my hands and the guard knew I never used them for their real purpose.)

And in the 1992 riots, I didn't know what frightened me more: the looting or the presence of armed National Guard troops on the streets, as if my city were just one more banana-republic capital.

So how much would you be willing to barter in the name of the pursuit of security?

Students registering for school will now be required to give fingerprints for our records.

Are you a terrorist? You look like one to me. Step out of the car, please.

Folks, we have to search every purse and backpack going into the multiplex.

Keep an ear cocked. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, people with the best of intentions will be saying that any security trumps any civil liberty. And people with the darkest of intentions will be gleefully riding their coattails.

There is one test I took a while back. It went like this:

If there were a fire in the National Archives and I could save the night watchman or the original Bill of Rights, but not both, which would I save?

The Bill of Rights, of course. There are lots of night watchmen. There are lots of newspaper columnists--maybe too many. But only one Bill of Rights.

The test now being written for our still unspooled future is what that document is made of, what America is made of--mere parchment, or something stronger, something fireproof, and bombproof, and fear-proof.

Patt Morrison's column appears Mondays and Wednesdays. Her e-mail address is

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September 2001