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Don't Let the Terrorist Win

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THE terrorist wins by getting the rest of us to live in terror. By that standard, recent events have been disturbing: The resignation of the wife of the skipper of the USS Vincennes from a teaching job in the San Diego area after parents at the school expressed fears that her presence was a danger to their children. Her husband commanded the ship that accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner, and last week her van was car-bombed, presumably by terrorists bent on revenge.

The near panic reaction to the discovery of two cyanide-laced grapes among the many thousands of tons of fruit shipped to the US and elsewhere from Chile. Grapes vanished from supermarket shelves, jobs were lost, and at least one parent sent the police after a school bus when her child was sent off with grapes in her lunch.

The reluctance of some booksellers to market Salman Rushdie's novel after Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the author's death. Most book merchants came around to a stand for literary freedom, but the capitulation to terror was imminent.

These are perplexing matters. A country, like the United States, can proclaim it won't compromise with terrorists - by bargaining on hostages, for instance. This despite the dangers in such a stand, including possible violence to American citizens.

The individual may find such an absolute stand more difficult. Parents' natural instinct is to protect their families no matter how statistically distant the threat, as with the Chilean grapes. And officials saw little option but to take all measures possible to protect the public's health.

When the ``tainted'' object shifts from a grape to a person, as with the Vincennes captain's wife, the dilemma deepens. And when fear for family or self isolates a person threatened by terrorism, the questions of justice and courage are profound.

It's those questions - just how much are we going to let terror distort our better judgment - that must be kept constantly in mind as we, individuals and nations, take steps to deal with threats. We can't let the terrorist dictate our thinking.

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