When women sit down to talk about common interests," said Mary Grefe, "our children, our health, our environment become priorities over our nationalism, our provincialism. When I talk to a Japanese woman or a German woman, I don't talk as an American, I talk as a mother, a grandmother and an educator."

Grefe was watching the concluding session of the Women's Leadership Conference on National Security, an extraordinary meeting of several hundred American women, which she chaired. The conference was designed to get American women talking about national security and survival, and it left Grefe with the conviction that powerful mutual interests held by American and Soviet women might help break down the barriers of distrust between the two nations. The conference attracted people from 33 states. But next time, said Grefe, she wants to have women from the Soviet Union.

"Dr.(Helen) Caldicott (head of the Physicians for Social Responsibility,) says they have films that show the effects of nuclear war just like we do and that they're showing it on their TV," says Grefe. "All right. I'd like them to bring their films over and show them."

The women participated in two T days of intensive discussions about national security and survival with experts in and out of government, and on the third day they heard from a global food expert who told them, in effect, that peace may not be as hopeless a proposition as it appears.

Dr. Lester Brown, president of Worldwatch Institute and author of "Building a Sustainable Society," told the women that the deepening troubles within the Soviet agricultural system offer a basis for a permanent, mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Brown, who predicted the Indian crop failure of the mid-'60s, said the Soviet Union is plagued by poor agricultural real estate, serious soil erosion, a factory-style centralized system that works vastly better in theory than in practice, a "near-crippling lack of incentive" for individual farmers, wasteful marketing and distribution practices, and a flight from the countryside by its youth.

It is importing some $3.3 billion in grain from the U.S. this year, he said. Every day three 20,000-ton freighters leave American ports to go to the Soviet Union. "The current movement of food between the United States and the Soviet Union is the largest of any two countries in history."

The Soviets, he said, are now confronted with the possibility of having to cut back on military production in order to shift technology and talent to the agricultural sector. "I think," said Brown, "they will be tempted to do the latter if we give them an opportunity."

"The important thing analytically is to recognize that they've moved from importing only after a bad year's harvest to importing continuously. I think that long line of ships is a lasting tie between us and the Soviet Union."

Out of the conference came a O certain healthy distrust of so-called "experts," of public policies that find us feeding people at the same time we are spending billions on weapons to destroy them, and of building up weapons before reducing them. "It's not logical," said Dorann Gunderson, Republican chair of the Women's Campaign Fund. "We and the Soviet Union are like Siamese twins. We may have two heads and think differently, but our mutual self-interests are overwhelming."

Whatever mystery remained about the technological aspects of nuclear weaponry seemed to disolve in laughter when they heard Utah State Sen. Frances Farley describe what the MX missile really meant: 10,000 miles of roads going no place being built on the deserts. Farley lead the fight against the MX in Utah and came to town to tell the others that citizens can still fight the military-industrial complex and win.

I think," said Gunderson, as did others, "that males, both Republican and Democrat, are not understanding the deep down feelings of this issue. The women are out ahead of them."

Peace is the ultimate, the best, the most natural aspiration for the women's movement. Women, with all the experience gained from the modern women's movement, are turning their energies at long last to peace and survival. They left the conference better informed and better connected with each other's organizations than ever before on the issue of national security. And they left with the realization that women have special strengths that can help forge a legacy of peace, and a mission to do so.