Far back in an unhumble part of his mind, Gen. Colin Powell might be expecting something really big to happen to him, something momentous, something historic, sometime soon. Another star on his epaulet.

History suggests that Powell is due for a promotion, elevation to the rarefied company of American five-star generals, joining MacArthur, Eisenhower, Marshall, Arnold and Bradley.

Right now, Powell is something of an anomaly. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is America's highest-ranking military officer, commanding (through Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf) all of Operation Desert Storm; however, his four-star ranking is below that of another allied military officer, Sir David Craig, marshal of the Royal Air Force and Britain's defense staff chief. Craig is the equivalent of a five-star general.

There is precedent for awarding parity.

In 1944, to rectify just such an imbalance in the allied command, Gen. George Marshall was made a five-star general by Franklin Roosevelt. Two days later, Gen. Douglas MacArthur got another star, then Dwight Eisenhower and Hap Arnold.

So perhaps if Powell got it, Schwarzkopf would too.

"The decision has historically been done with a great deal of reservation," said Vincent Demma, historian at the Center for Military History, "but primarily because {the United States} wanted to have generals who were equivalent rank to the British generals. ... They were all made a few days apart, so there'd be some seniority."

No Vietnam commander got a fifth star. The British didn't fight in Vietnam.

"If there were consideration being given to this, we wouldn't discuss it," said Maj. Kathy Wood, a Defense Department spokeswoman, with some mystery. "Because we would want {Powell and Schwarzkopf} to be surprised."

Star inflation is something we just can't seem to fight. In 1866 Ulysses S. Grant became the first four-star general, and now there are 26 of them. Schwarzkopf became one in 1988. Powell in 1989.

One thing more: The promotion -- as grand as it seems -- probably wouldn't mean a salary increase for Powell or Schwarzkopf. Generals max out at $101,829.60 after 26 years and four stars.

Those Unruffled Brits It will be a scene in a movie someday: Two hard-bitten, ink-stained, unshaven newspaper reporters (Mel Gibson? Michael Caine?) retreat to their hotel room in downtown Baghdad. They lock the door, to keep out the Iraqi "minders." They pull up armchairs, face the window and throw back the curtain. A bottle of Scotch appears. Tobacco undergoes ignition. They stare into the night sky. And then the light show begins.

The bombers have come to Baghdad.

"It was like the best war movie you've ever seen," said Paul McGeough, London correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, reached yesterday in Amman, Jordan. "It was like 'Star Wars,' it was like a sci-fi war. ... It was mind-blowing."

They say it's a TV war. Not entirely true. A few intrepid print reporters were there for the bombing of Baghdad, many of them British. There seems to be a rule in journalism that much of the great war correspondence comes with a British accent. Anyone who listens to the BBC reports on National Public Radio knows that no combat zone is too dangerous or malarial for the Brits and their Commonwealth brethren, no situation too chaotic or intense to disturb their detached tea-time tone or interfere with proper English pronunciation ("inEXplicable" and so forth).

The U.S. papers, however, chose caution rather than valor. Every major metropolitan paper and news weekly yanked its correspondent. The night the bombing began, the United States was represented by a grand total of two print reporters, both freelancers: Don Kirk for USA Today, and Michael Kelly, a 33-year-old Washington native who was stringing simultaneously for the New Republic and, at the last minute, the Boston Globe.

Kelly's most recent dispatch in the New Republic is surely one of the best word pictures of bombing to appear in print in this country:

"In the nighttime raids, the anti-aircraft fire would begin a few minutes before the bombers came, in scenes of incandescent hysteria and beauty, the tracer shells tracking lovely curves, and Ss and parabolas of orange-red light against the backdrop of a blacked-out city skyline. Only every fifth or sixth shell was a tracer, which created a spacing that gave the ack-ack trails a pleasingly deliberate, almost lazy look. You could see the tracers hit their apogee and then explode in delicate bright-white starbursts, like the better sort of fireworks."

One astonishing image is secondhand: "A stunned Reuters correspondent actually saw a missile arrive at a street corner, appear to pause for a moment, and then turn left."

Kelly, reached yesterday in Amman, Jordan, has a laconic way of describing his experiences. Whether this is battle fatigue or chronic cool is not obvious over a phone line. For example, he tells of the 26-hour trip to Jordan from Baghdad: "We got caught in two bombardments so we had to stop and wait them out. The first wasn't so bad. We were in a little gas station trying to get some gas, in a little town called al-Rutbah, it's about 100 miles from the border, in the western Iraqi desert. While we were waiting for gas there, all these soldiers who were there started yelling, 'Turn out your lights, get away from the petrol pumps.' They were very unhappy. Pretty soon there was a big barrage of antiaircraft fire, and after a while we saw the explosion some miles away, of what I think was the al-Waleed air base."

A couple hours later the driver got lost. Then came the second bombardment. "We just took a wrong turn, a couple of wrong turns, and then it started up around us, lots and lots of antiaircraft fire, and then a series of explosions not too far away, close enough to make you unhappy."


The Face of 'Zorro' "Zorro" has been unmasked. His name is Tommy Rominger, he's a 33-year-old Air Force tech sergeant in the Persian Gulf, and he is the author of the unsettling cartoons that usurped Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" strip this past weekend. He was ID'd by his mother, Marilyn Rominger, who lives just north of Daytona Beach, Fla.

"I frankly don't understand the humor in some of the cartoons, and I never was a big fan of 'Doonesbury' until now," she says. "But I think this is wonderful."