Liberty cannot be vanquished by bloodshed – not the kind of liberty and freedom our American framers and forbearers spoke in word and showed in deed. This is because liberty is an ideal and one of the most eternal and precious ones humans know. Platitude aside, it is important to remind ourselves that no amount of carnage and hate will dissolve this notion – violence cannot defeat our valued heritage, even though reactionary thinking might.

Terrorists attack our freedom violently through the fear they spread, not by the hateful speech or ideas they espouse – their ideology is not marketed to Americans. We do not fear their value system gaining real political currency in this country, although last week’s electoral victory by Hamas should serve as a reminder that violent groups can win populist legitimacy, as if history had not provided example enough. The terrorist organization that exists solely to see the destruction of Israel gained over seventy seats in the Palestinian government. Yet, there is confusion on the point of what the terrorists seek.

Many allege – including our president, if I understand him correctly – that the terrorist’s ultimate goal is nothing short of overthrowing our government, our way of life and the imposition of a radical form of Islam. It ought to go without saying that this is an absurd possibility – one I doubt even the leaders of Al-Qaeda would believe. Their ideology may articulate a wish to replace pro-Western dictators with medieval minded Taliban regimes, but this obfuscates their true “raison d’etre,” their guaranteed threat, their only tactic – that they will kill and maim in order to spread fear and panic.

This panic erodes our resolve – not to fight those who seek to harm us, but to uphold our constitution and our heritage.

Lately, too many senators have said, quite literally, that they would willingly trade their civil rights for their lives – an abashed nation looks at you, Senator John “None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead” Cornyn, R-Texas – and I’ve even witnessed “strict-constructionist” conservatives blubber, most oddly, about how the constitution is “not a suicide pact.”

Talk about broadcasting the wrong, hypocritical message to our enemies and overseas critics. Truly the patriotic spirit of Patrick Henry cannot be said to live on in these supposedly stolid senators. I would be less outraged if a person confessed quietly that they valued their lives and that of their families greater than some abstract quantity called “liberty.”

However, I fear such weak-kneed words on behalf of our nations’ leadership is bringing us to succumb to the seduction of a false, color-coded sense of security.

Warrant-less searches have slipped from the realm of clear illegality to an object of reasoned debate – made all the more ludicrous since the government reminds us almost daily that another attack within the U.S. is inevitable. Whereas even our most professional security experts explain to us that not all terrorists can be identified, tracked and captured in time, any one of us can track and follow the less illusive state of our own liberties in our laws and courts.

Throughout our history, we Americans have died proclaiming the battle cry of freedom. Terrorists enlisted the sacrifice of thousands of ordinary civilians to continue this struggle on September 11, 2001, an open invitation for their destruction and damnation, a major miscalculation by an enemy force not seen since Pearl Harbor.

It is our duty, therfore, as civilian participants, not to be terrified. And no, I do not believe that means “we win” when we merely overcome our temerity by going out of our house and traveling a short distance to the mall to shop.

We can worry. We can be human. We can be scared. We cannot, however, lose faith in our sworn common values and argue that these threats warrant the total annihilation of civil rights. How we really win is through undying vigilance of our liberties.

I am hopelessly idealistic enough to believe that we can still bring the same determination that previous generations of Americans showed in their commitment to the Constitution.

This is the very same kind of commitment that the men who pledged their lives, property and sacred honor demonstrated during the revolution.

This is the very same commitment held by those who idealistically volunteered to fight to extend the franchise during the Civil War.

This is the very same kind of commitment that FDR expressed by “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

This is the very same kind of commitment that appears in so short supply in our halls of government and in our electorate when polled on the NSA scandal.

I am aware of the shortcomings of our past, yet we must not lose the path, nor give up our commitment to an ideal that is forever tied to the soul of America.

Ellis can be reached at

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