It's stirring, isn't it, the sight of the British armada, steaming across the ocean to retrieve a tiny group of islands that 99.9 percent of the world has never heard of. As strains from Gilbert and Sullivan play in the background, we are sort of holding our breath and trying to figure out if this is funny, tragic or ridiculous.

It's probably all of the above, and as such it is a splendid illustration of why the United States could use a Peace Academy. Fifty-two senators and 104 members of the House have already agreed to support a proposed Peace Academy that would train mediators and conflict managers to help nations involved in disputes. If it existed already, the U.S. could have made available, independent of the Department of State, a force of expert conflict managers who could be helping the U.N., Britain and Argentina resolve the crisis peacefully during the two weeks it takes the armada to get to the Falklands.

Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) is one of the principal sponsors of a Senate bill that would provide for some $60 million dollars over three years to set up a Peace Academy. "With this Falkland Islands thing becoming almost in some ways a tragic-comedy, this is a time for such a force to be exerted onto the scene of potential confict," says Hatfield. "What a lot of people don't realize is it takes only a small spark or ignition switch to begin an uncontrolled expansion of violence leading to conflagration.

"We live on the abyss of nuclear war," says Hatfield, "Wait till one of the superpowers gets involved. With the crazy racetrack we're on today, what's the other superpower to do? It's got to get involved, too."

Rep. Dan Glickman (D- Kan.) is the chief sponsor of the House version of the Peace Academy bill and he describes it as something that could function like an international mediation and conciliation service, generating expertise and reseach into border conficts."The U.N. is nothing more than a place to air grievances. There doesn't seem to be any hardcore institution with people trained to resolve conflicts."

The idea of a Peace Academy was first proposed by George Washington, says Hatfield. "It's not one of these wild, liberal concepts." This past fall, a presidential commission issued a favorable report on it after holding hearings around the country. The National Peace Academy Campaign, headquartered in Washington, has had its membership grow from 3,000 last January to "well past 30,000" now, according to its executive director, Mike Mapes, a Navy Academy graduate who served with the 7th Fleet during World War II and Korea.

While the academy would also focus on conflict resolution in families, communities and labor-management relations, the growing support for the concept is a reflection of "the need felt across the country to do something about the world crisis," Mapes says.

The Senate has scheduled hearings on the Peace Academy bill for April 21. Glickman says the House will probably hold hearings sometime in May. It has the support of liberals and conservatives. "It has gotten more than a quarter of the House without a heck of a lot of public support," says Glickman. "This may be something we can truly forge a bipartisan, nonideological coalition with."

The Peace Academy proposal deserves the support of the public. As Mapes says, we haven't done much to institutionalize peace-keeping since the U.N. was formed 36 years ago. We've learned a lot about how to make war in the intervening years, but we have also learned something about how to make peace.

The Peace Academy also deserves the support of President Reagan. If we can spend $257 billion in fiscal year 1983 to maintain an arsenal for war, we can certainly afford some $60 million to develop an arsenal for peace. President Reagan could do a lot worse politically than embrace the Peace Academy, and as he has illustrated, he can do a lot worse diplomatically.

Think how helpful it would have been to have the academy already in existence. Instead of getting into hot water by stating that we were friends with both sides, Reagan could have announced that the U.S. was making available a cadre of the best mediators in the world to help Britain and Argentina reach a peaceful solution.

He would have been better off, and so would the rest of us.