I LIKE RIPPLEMAN because he has an opinion on everything. The other day I asked him how he felt about the neutron bomb, and he said, "I like the neutron bomb. It's safe and it's sane, and God knows this world needs another war weapon to protect itself."

"For a tactical weapon it's a steal. Maybe it might sound expensive today, but let's say by the year 2000, when we give the Panama Canal back to Panama, and then somebody says the United States can't go throught it before E1 Salvador, what do we do?"

"I don't know," I admitted.

"We use the neutron bomb. We kill all the people in the area but we don't hurt the canal. Then everyone will say the bomb was a bargain.

"That's a good point. If we used conventional nuclear weapons to blast the E1 Salvador boat out of the way, no one would be able to use the canal," I said. "The only thing that worries me is that if we build a neutron bomb, Iran and Saudi Arabia and Israel will demand we sell it to them first. Since we're dependent on their goodwill, they have first crack at all our new weapons."

"Then we'll sell it to them. After all if Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel offer to buy the neutron bomb from us, we can make it a lot cheaper."

"I was hoping that the neuron bomb would be just for us. It would be nice if the United States had one weapon it could call its own.%

"We can't build weapons just for ourselves," Rippleman said. "They're too expensive. But if we can get every country to say they'll take a gross of neutron bombs we can bring it in at a price our Defense Department can live with."

"What I don't understand is, if we let a country buy our latest war weapons, how will we have the advantage over them in case they do something stupid like let an E1 Salvador boat go through the Panama Canal before we do?"

Rippleman said, "It's quite simple. The fact that they buy the weapon from us doesn't necessarily mean they know how to use it. A neutron bomb is a very complicated piece of hardware. Onlt by lighting the fuse will it go off."

"And you don't think someone can learn how to fire one?"

"Not unless he's had an American high school education. You take two soldiers facing each other with their neutron bombs, one with an American high school diploma and one with a diploma from Albania. Who do you think will win?"

"The American of course," I said.

"Because the American G.I. has been taught to think for himself. If he can't set the bomb off he'll hit the Albanian soldier over the head with it."

"But is'nt there another problem with the neutron bomb?" I said. "I understand many G.I.s want to retire early to get their pensions. Suppose they quit the service for their pensions. Who will be left to fire it?"

"I've been giving that a lot of thought," Rippleman said. "If a G.I. who specializes in the neutron bomb retires and goes on pension, he would be hired by the Defense Department as a 'civilian specialist' in charge of firing it."

"And then the Panama Canal would be saved," I cried.

"I don't know if it will be saved, but it sure as hell will give E1 Salvador second thoughts about stopping one of our ships from going theough the canal before they do."