In earlier columns, I supported the plan to register men of draft age.

It seems sensible to compile a registry so that if an emergency arises, and if Congress approves, mobilization can be expedited.

Most of the response was from men of draft age. They were opposed. One suggested that if I like war so much, I could take his place.

I replied that only idiots like war, but his suggestion was good. Many of us old geezers might be worth drafting. Those who could no longer fight might perform other duties -- perhaps better than selfish young men who feel no sense of obligation to their country.

Soon after, I received a phone call from a 19-year-old. He said he disagreed with me on registration and considered me "too old and too conservative" for his generation. But he was respectful and articulate.

Although I stopped taking notes after the first few minutes, near the end of our conversation I recall an exchange that went something like this:

"Well, thanks for talking to me. The draft won't affect me because I'm a conscientious objector, but I found your comments interesting."

"And I find it interesting that you speak of a draft. There is no draft. I didn't write about a draft. We can't have a draft unless Congress perceives an emergency and passes draft legislation. Why do you call it a draft?"

"Oh, well, you know. They wouldn't be asking people to register if they didn't intend to have a draft."

"Who are 'they'? Do you think Mr. Carter has already decided on a draft?

Do you think Congress and the White House speak with one voice and 'they' will do whatever he wants done?"

"Well, no, I guess not. I guess I meant 'registration,' not 'draft.'"

"I'm curious about your status as a conscientious objector. How long have you been a conscientious objector and precisely what it is you object to?"

"Oh, that's not just a ploy to escape service. I really do believe that people shouldn't kill each other. I've believed that ever since I was a child."

"If you're walking along the street at night and I jump you from behind and put a knife in your back, or try to put a knife in your back, do you think you'd pray for me or fight back?"

"Oh, I'd try to protect myself. I wouldn't want to kill you, but I think I see what you mean. You're saying that if it got into a life and death struggle, your life or mine, would I kill you? Well, I guess I would. That's a frightful thing to say, isn't it? I never thought of it that way. What I think about is some idiot senator voting for a war that we didn't have to get into, and my responsibility to say, 'No, my conscience will not permit me to participate in this kind of operation.' If it's just you and me, and you're trying to kill me, well, if you were a civilized and moral person you wouldn't be doing that. I would have to defend myself the best way I could."

"And if you were threatened by an amoral dictatorship that permits no liberty to its own people or to the people it conquers, and if that ruthless dictatorship now moved against one of your allies, or against you , what would you do? Would you invite the dictator to a lecture on ethics and morality?"

"You're not being fair. You're talking about Russia, obviously. I think you conservatives have maneuvered yourselves into an illogical corner from which you can't escape. You treat the Russians as if they can't be trusted, and so of course they respond accordingly. They can't be trusted."

"You wouldn't fight against them if they threatened your country?"

"They're not a threat to my country.That's a misperception."

"Thank you," I said. "It's my second misperception of the day. I thought it would be worth 20 minutes of my time to talk to you, but I can see now that I was wrong about that, too."

Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale spent eight years as a prisoner of war who suffered harsh daily torture. In last week's Parade magazine, he wrote about "Freedom: Our Most Precious National Treasure." In that article he described the horror of being confined by sadistic captors. Then he said:

"Freedom does not exist because our Constitution says it should. Over the course of our country's history, people have constantly labored to keep freedom, and have paid dearly for it.

"Our Declaration of Independence 204 years ago remains one of the most stirring documents in history, signaling a commitment to bear the responsibility of protecting a way of life. . . . The legacy of these men was summed up very simply by Tom Paine: "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.' . . . We all bear the painful costs of freedom."

Not all of us, sir. A few who exempt themselves from fighting for the general welfare will fight to defend themselves from attack. They see a difference between personal self-defense and joining a communal effort to defend a homeland. Have a happy Fourth of July anyhow.