A touch of sick humor is on view in the choice of Jan. 15 as Annihilation Day: It is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the one world leader who believed, with no hedges, that "War is not the answer."

That was the moderate King. The militant one, who argued that "Social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action," would have found no reason in 1991 to alter his belief of 1967: "The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today {is} my own government."

Some of the purveyors are currently debating war in the Persian Gulf as a constitutional issue, not a moral one. Congressional arguments on the War Powers Act are made as if the profound national quandary is whose finger gets to squeeze the trigger to start the war: George Bush's or Congress's. In the Senate and House, a few -- only a few -- have used the past five months to express doubts about the gulf encampment. Brave folk. They are now on record for the valor of brow furrowing.

None has spoken out as did Rep. Jeannette Rankin, the Montana pacifist and feminist and only member of Congress to vote against the first and second world wars: "You can no more win a war than win an earthquake." Before both votes in 1917 and 1941, Rankin was warned she would be defeated for reelection. The warnings proved correct. It didn't matter to Rankin. Two terms were enough to stay faithful to the truth that military solutions are no solutions. Never. Nowhere.

Where are the Rankins today?, the politicians who say that the War Powers Act needs to be replaced with the War Insanity Act. The Congress that now demands its say to let Bush have his war was preceded by Congresses that spent the 1980s approving $145 billion in weapons for the Middle East.

U.S.-armed Israel has had seven wars in 43 years, while Arab regimes in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have imported weapons to kill and threaten each other, suppress their own people or destroy Israel. Into one of the 20th century's most conflagrated regions of chaos and hate, the United States now sends its military to deliver more chaos and hate. The promise? Stability in the region.

At no time has Bush come before the country to speak directly to the question of possible combat deaths. To do so would cause headlines along the lines of "Bush Foresees Between 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. Dead to Free Kuwait." Why risk waking up the nation with the specifics of gore? Orchestrate vagueness. Invoke history: "If we don't check this aggression ... a new world order will have been forgone," Bush said to David Frost on public television. "It's that big. It's that important. Nothing like this since World War II. Nothing of this moral importance since World War II."

To Bush, the stakes are of such cosmic import that the public must be spared grubby details. Information on the number of caskets and body bags shipped to Saudi Arabia for possible post-combat use has been classified by the Pentagon. On Jan. 4, Pentagon and State Department officials refused to testify before the House Budget Committee on the monetary costs of the military mission to the Gulf. Operation Desert Shield is Operation Deep Pockets, with the warmakers announcing it is none of the public's business what the fighting costs, and all of its business to pay.

On the toll of war with its terms of human slaughter and suffering, Bush discusses speed and size: The planned invasion will be massive and sudden. "This will not be another Vietnam. If force is used, the generals' hands will not be tied behind them." The United States dropped more bombs on enemy territory in Vietnam than in any war in history, and now the revisionist Bush says the generals were restrained.

With a few exceptions, the media have phrased the past five months as a contest of wills between Bush and Saddam Hussein, not as a moment of derangement between two armed madmen willing to order their young to slaughter each other. Analysis -- endless analysis -- has been offered about the two men's tactics, as if they were coaches preparing for the Super Bowl. The media's analytical skills haven't been much devoted to exposing the irrationality of using international armies as a solution to a problem that regional armies created.

On Martin Luther King's birthday, a residual trace of nonviolence remains. Last June when Nelson Mandela visited the White House, Bush advised the South African to seek peace at home "through nonviolent means." If Bush cared about lives -- American and Iraqi -- he would be heeding his own counsel now.