I heard a thing on the news the other day that our esteemed Marines are eating too much. Either they are getting fat, or else their food bills are running too high. The idea is not to give them seconds at chow.

Just here we must all reflect that the policy may be sound, even though the picture that pops into our mind is horrible.

I think Marine chow may be similar to the situation of shooting dogs with guns so military surgeons can practice on wounds.

That was the plan at a military medical outfit, but Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense, issued an order that no dogs are to be shot for this purpose.

"Practical" people like to point out that the dogs were going to come from dog pounds and shelters and were going to be killed anyway, so it made sense for them to be killed in the furtherance of training doctors.

But what the practical folk forgot is that almost every American (certainly every American competent to take part in the affairs of the nation) either has a dog or has had one or longs for one.

Secretary Weinberger, who was not born yesterday (and the Weinbergers, moreover, have an old dog they are fairly passionate about) could see in less than four seconds that the picture of mutts hanging in net bags to be shot at in order to make dandy wounds for study purposes was not a pretty picture.

In the first place, people like dogs. In the second place, people have a generally sneering attitude toward military marksmanship and competence in general. The Pentagon has enough trouble winning sympathy from taxpayers without this nonsense of wounding dogs, so the secretary squelched that little project without delay.

It is very like capital punishment, in which the problem is not the vanishing of some thug through electrocution, but the idea of doing the killing. The general barbarousness of the process--the pseudo-clinical care with which the victim is treated just before he is killed--is disgusting. Apart from that, nobody ever feels quite sure the right jerk is being executed.

There are, of course, moral questions, but it is clear people would not waste much time on them if it were not for the grisly picture presented by the sheer mechanics of the execution.

The same is true of the dogs. Dogs are slaughtered by the tens of thousands without much objection, so it is not a question of a lot of dogs ending their lives; society can take that all right and indeed orders it. But society is not so ready to see the mutts hung up in bags getting shot for a bunch of junior butchers to saw on.

In fairness to the quacks, however, it must be admitted that as far as the dog is concerned, it is probably nicer for him to be anesthetized, shot, operated upon and then killed painlessly than to be gassed in a pound. So the problem is not a problem of substance but of style, and chiefly a problem of sentiment.

The same is doubtless true of the Marines eating their heads off. If they are getting too fat, the objection is probably esthetic. You should look lean and mean on a poster, though most of the really mean bastards I have known have weighed well over 200 pounds.

Besides, it is hard to imagine a Marine or anybody else in military service getting actually fat on mess hall fare, unless it has changed radically in recent years. Which, of course, it may have.

"Please, can't I have another hunk of quiche?"

"No, dammit. There's three-fourths of an inch of flab over your pectorals already. And no lemon mousse for you today, either."

And yet (cruel as the picture may seem) it may well be a fact that denying a man the luxuries of gluttony will make him a better man and a better soldier.

Or, suppose the Marine food bill is soaring out of sight. Can anyone argue that the government should wink at it? No, sir, a little belt tightening would seem to be in order. And how do we know, come to think of it, that the Marines are not throwing away $26,718 worth of peach melba a day, simply because some of them are allergic to fire?

No point beating a dead horse. Surely it is clear that in capital punishment, in feeding less to the Marines, and in shooting dogs to make wounds for doctors to play with, the policy may be rational enough, yet still unacceptable, simply because the general public (and we were still paying the bills for everything when last I checked) is made uneasy by such things.

For my part, I admit a fat Marine is not as ornamental as a thin Marine (though the general terror of calories is much exaggerated, obviously) and if it's the Marine food bill that's the problem, I admit there should not be lavishness or waste in government spending.

Still, a guy does have to eat if he's supposed to climb up sheer cliffs with the enemy shooting steadily at him. Besides, if a guy may wind up risking his life for the republic, I say give him all the second helpings he wants.

It shouldn't cost much more to let a Marine have extra turnips than it costs for every elected dogcatcher to traipse about the world with his entourage.

Furthermore, on several occasions I have shared humble repasts with what are called high government officials and cannot recall any great shortage of chow. But if there really is a cost problem, raffle off an extra missile in Africa and buy precious potatoes for our hungry Marines.