THE TITLE of Arthur Hadley's book is his metaphor for the American military establishment, a crippled institution which, in his view, may not be repairable in this democratic society.

The rout of American troops in the War of 1812, the poor work of the Army infantry in Europe in World War II, the destructive interservice rivalries of the postwar era, the present impotence of the joint chiefs of staff and such purchasing absurdities as $640 toilet seats are ultimately traceable, he believes, to what he calls "the Great Divorce." The American intelligentsia -- the "best and the brightest" among us -- have been disdainful of the military through most of our history, leaving the profession of arms and the management of $300 billion budgets largely to the lower and middle classes.

That is why, he argues, the Pentagon is a clumsy, inefficient and often stupid Leviathan. That is why we have come to rely so heavily on nuclear weapons and battlefield technology -- "to turn mediocre soldiers into winners." That is why in recent wars and forays things go wrong, troops don't fight, helicopters fall down and the services bicker from here to eternity. The brains and the talent for success are not there in sufficient quantity. The Ivy League schools and their counterparts across America produce great crops of Wall Street lawyers and MBAs but few, if any, infantry platoon leaders. So the military becomes a ghetto of predestined failure, abandoned by those (the "civilian elites") who might set things right.

Soldiering, as Hadley recognizes, has never been a universally popular or esteemed vocation in the United States. During the deliberations of the Continental Congress two centuries ago Jeffersonian antipathy toward the military was expressed in an effort to limit the regular army to 300 men. The proposal was defeated by the strenuous intervention of George Washington. But in all the years since, popular feelings about the military have been inconstant, rising and falling with the circumstances of history. "Since the Vietnam war," Hadley writes, "this split between the military and civilian elites has enlarged to almost become Milton's 'gulf profound . . . where armies whole have sunk.' "

Stanley Kauffmann,the film critic of The New Republic, perhaps exemplifies the intellectual attitudes that Hadley laments. In a recent review of a film about a Navy pilot, Top Gun, Kauffmann wrote, "The young men in the film and their superiors are consecrated to standards, honored since prehistory, that seem increasingly isolated from other standards in the world . . . The military life has never encouraged individuality or intellect or introspection . . . Many of us shudder at the idea of living such a life or of the young people we know living it. But secretly we are glad, we must be glad, that at least some young people do."(The New Republic, June 9, 1986).

Those living the military life reciprocate these feelings of alienation. "How many times," Hadley observes, "have I been asked . . . by otherwise thoughtful and intelligent officers, 'Do you think it is possible to graduate from Harvard today and still be a patriot ?' "

In reviewing the checkered history of America's armed forces and their present difficulties, Hadley describes and illustrates many institutional weaknesses -- intractable interservice and intraservice rivalries, ineffectual command structures, excessive civilian meddling (by the White House for example) in tactical decision-making, personnel mismanagement that promotes administrators and military politicians over warriors, congressional committees that often treat the military budget as another barrel of pork.

But his great passion is to end the "Great Divorce" by creating a military establishment representative of the whole society and this, of course, requires the reinstitution of the draft:

"One out of five Army soldiers is in category IV, the lowest acceptable category. . . . The middle class, both black and white, is conspicuously absent as are the sons and daughters of the 'elites.' The quality of the troops we have available for combat is statistically disguised because the women being recruited into the armed services are decisively more intelligent than the men." HADLEY HAS had a long and productive career as a journalist and author. He was a tank officer in World War II, has a deep affection for those who wear the uniform and has a broad understanding of military affairs. His book is important and provocative. But his obsession with elite "shirkers" gives to the book -- unintentionally, no doubt -- an irritating tone of elitism, a suggestion that battlefield success and reformation of the military bureaucracy depend on the sons of Exeter, Andover and Groton. It isn't so. The service academies are not overrun with dimwits. The aptitude scores of entering cadets far exceed those of the college population as a whole; that is also true of officers going into service from ROTC programs. And the educational attainment of enlistees in the ranks exceeds that of the general population; 93 percent were high school graduates last year.

The organizational and command problems within the armed forces are as serious as Hadley asserts. But it will take more than a new draft or the affections of the Ivy League to correct them.

Richard Harwood is a deputy managing editor of The Washington Post.