Meanwhile, back on the home front . . .

There is a fierce battle raging among the toy manufacturers concerning war toys for Christmas. Every toymaker is feverishly at work on products to win the hearts and minds of American children.

I visited the Smart Bomb Toy Factory in New Jersey, which is one of the leaders in toys of mass destruction.

A briefing officer said: "We think we're ahead of the game. We call our research unit 'War Toys R Us.' " He handed me a visitor's pass and then we walked into the next building, which was guarded by armed men in battle gear.

The officer said: "This is our R&D building. You are being watched on TV at all times."

I nodded my head.

He continued: "Over here are our ground troops and over there are our tanks and armored trucks. We have now perfected a laser-beam gun that knocks out all the Abrams tanks over there."

"Once the tanks are knocked out, can they be used again?"

"No. You have to replace every destroyed tank with a new one. That's where we hope to make our real money."

I said, "I see you are working on toy airplanes."

"Those are B-52s, F-18s and drones. They have the ability to fly over a mock-up cardboard layout of Baghdad, which is not included with the price of the plane.

"On the other side of the room are Navy carriers. They have the ability to fire toy cruise missiles by just pushing this button. The Navy ships always sell well, but we are promoting the missile-firing planes because the kids want the latest weapons they see on television.

"In the next room, we are developing a giant crane. We hope the kids will buy it to rebuild a mock-up of Baghdad."

"Are you selling girl soldier dolls for Christmas?" I asked.

"No. Our marketing people say little girls don't like war toys."

"That's interesting."

"We've come up with a peace demonstration doll with a tape recording that says, 'Stop the war.' "

"Who is that man on the balcony over there?"

"That's Major General 'Rip' Bascom, retired. He is our expert on war toys. He lets us know if they look like the real thing. All the toy companies have retired generals as consultants."

"Are you going to manufacture any embedded correspondents?"

"We had contracts with Peter Arnett and Geraldo Rivera to feature them as correspondent dolls, but we decided at the last moment not to use them."

"What do you do once you develop a war toy?"

"We have no choice. We have it made in China."

(c)2003, Tribune Media Services