One of the most bizarre events of the year this week's attempt to extort $3 million from a Nevada gambling casino by planting a sophisticated bomb in it.

The casino's owner immediately said he was willing to pay the $3 million, and he actually put the money aboard a helicopter and waited for delivery instruction. On the other hand, the governor of Nevada tried to stall for time. And why not? Suppose the bomb threat was a hoax?

Meanwhile various law enforcement agencies sent demolition experts to the scene on the double. Thousands of people were evacuated. X-rays of the device were studied for clues on how to defuse it. And it was announced that a robot had been brought in to attempt to disarm it.

Newsmen looked at each other blankly and asked, "A robot? What kind of robot?" And even as they asked, the robot goofed and set off the bomb. Blooey! Little R2D2 blew itself all over the landscape and left its electronic brains dangling from telephone wires.

While the policemen are trying to figure out what happened and who caused it to happen, you and I might want to take another look at the basic question we have been facing with increasing frequency of late: "What is the best way to react to a threat from a terrorist?" Or perhaps the question should be, "Is there a best way?"

A bank robber who says he has a gun may have one, and he may not. A bank robber who shows a gun may be using a plastic toy, a real gun with no bullets, or a gun that can kill you as dead as a cannon could.

The terrorist who says that the bottle in his hand contains nitroglycerin and that he's ready to blow up everybody, including himself, may be telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But he may also be running a monumental bluff and gambling that his victims won't have the to call that bluff.

The airline hijacker may be brandishing a bottle of tap water or a bottle of gasoline. If you feel lucky, you can call his bluff and find out. The terrorist who says there's a bomb in your building may be in dead earnest, but he also may be a mental patient who thinks his brain is bombarded with X-ray messages from Mars. The political leaders who stockpile atomic bombs to scare off other political leaders who stockpile atomic bombs are a frightening phenomenon, to be sure. But the ultimate brigand may be the private terrorist who gets hold of an atomic weapon or makes you believe he has one, which would be just as effective.

Each case is different, so there cannot be one infallible formula for dealing with terrorism's many forms and manifestations.

However, a lesson we learned even before World War II began is equally valid today: You can't buy "peace in our time" by selling your soul to the devil. You can't do business with Hitler, or with small-h hitlers who use guns and gunpowder to terrorize the world.

Each time you knuckle under to a hitler, you let every other hitler -- and potential hitler -- know how easy it is to blackmail civilized people. You can encourage every minor league punk to equip himself with a gun or a few sticks of dynamite and hold the world for ransom.

Paying off a terrorist is like paying off a blackmailer. Once you begin, you can't stop, and each payment you are forced to make is higher than the one that went before it.

I'm sorry R2D2 blew itself up, but it was for the best. If the casino terroist had collected $3 million, there would have been 50 more bomb threats and 50 more payoffs by the end of the year. POSTSCRIPT

If you think it odd that I use hitler as a generic term for terroist , let me remind you of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian politician to betrayed his country to the Nazis.

The word quisling is now in every standard dictionary as a lower-case synonym for traitor . WARNING!

Kathleen Scruton was driving along New York Avenue NE at 9 a.m. When she stopped for a traffic light, two nicely dressed lads of about 17 appeared at the open window on the driver's side. One said, "Can you tell us how to get to the Capitol from here?"

Kathleen was in the process of giving careful directions to the young man who had spoken when she became aware that something had been thrown into her car from the open window on the passenger side.

It was her wallet. As she gave directions to one "tourist," his confederate had circled behind the car to the other window, extracted the wallet from Kathleen's purse, removed the money from it, and then had contemptuously thrown the wallet back into the car and stolled away.

Moral: When a seat is empty, keep the windows next to it rolled up. And always lock all doors.