You will excuse me, I know, if I tell you that images of Groucho Marx keep running through my head. I see him in the movie "Duck Soup" in which he played Rufus T. Firefly, the dictator of Freedonia, a mythical state that went to war (in black and white) to the song "To war, to war, the country's gone to war." Groucho sings it and Chico sings it and Harpo does his best--a wonderful, zany put-down of war and the mentality that produces it.

I am not sure at the moment if Argentina or Britain is Freedonia. It is clear, though, that both countries are suffering from creeping Freedonia-ism, singing their own versions of "To war, to war"--the former in Spanish, the latter in English. The only trouble is that this movie is in color, real lives are at stake and in either language a bullet can amount to the same thing.

Already, four Argentine soldiers have died in the taking of the Falkland Islands. Already, Britain's foreign minister has resigned as have lesser members of the government. Margaret Thatcher wobbles on her parliamentary throne and England has put to sea the largest armada at its command. It will take two weeks to reach its destination. The world has time to go for popcorn.

In the House of Lords, peers of the realm yell for war. In Argentina, fascists certified by our government with the human rights seal of approval vow they will never give up the Falklands. The Argentine president, Lt. Gen. Leopoldo F. Galtieri, put it this way: "Let it be made very clear to all the international community, that if the Argentine people are attacked by military, naval, land or air means, the Argentine nation in arms, with all the means at its disposal, will present battle." Present battle? He's Margaret Dumont in drag.

On the Falklands itself, you can be sure, it is raining. It either rains or snows something like 250 days a year--a climate acceptable only to the English. And England happens to be the place where most of the island's landowners live. The rest of the Falklanders, about 2,000 strong, raise sheep and call themselves "kelpers" after the local seaweed that grows (it says here) up to 50 feet long. For this the British have dispatched the fleet.

What a lot of nonsense. The Falklands are British today because of an imperialist past and the reason there were no Argentines on them until recently was that the British drove them off. Still, the Argentines were wrong to use force to settle the dispute with England and the English would be just as wrong to use force in response. It is time to settle this dispute once and for all. Let the Argentines have the islands.

How would you like to be some British soldier contemplating death on the Falklands? How would you like to be in that armada, considering the prospect of dying for 750,000 sheep or world-class seaweed or the land itself--fit only for penguins? How would you like to compose a letter of condolence to some British mother whose son has fallen in the battle for the capital, Stanley? Stanley!

The Argentines, we are told, took the islands to divert attention from internal political troubles. The generals are in trouble. The Argentine economy is a mess. The people were pressing and so the generals, short of bread and lacking the wit to furnish a circus, gave them war. Now, Thatcher is about to respond in kind. There is pressure on her, too. The pride of England has been wounded. It is said that Britain has been humiliated.

But not really. Britain is no longer an empire. It is no longer the fleet and the Light Brigade and stupid little wars over inconsequential countries. It is, instead, an economically embattled democracy, and it ought to use its resources to improve the lives of Britons, not to fight Argentina over some islands it does not need and probably should not have.

The pride of Britain should be its morality, its dignity, its refusal to waste lives in some international version of a macho street brawl--to sink to the level of the Argentine despots. It ought to bomb Buenos Aires with cream pies. Instead, it seems intent on becoming a comic-opera nation, out to fight a silly war over some silly islands for reasons that are not worth the life of one man. It's a tragedy. It's a farce. Send in the fleet.

Freedonia rules the waves.