Now, into the third year, the war continues. The attack has been relentless and it is clear that casualties are mounting. The evidence is all around us--the dazed, the dispirited, the refugees hitting the road in a vain hope for a better life elsewhere. Occasionally, there is a fatality, but no one has made a body count. Nevertheless, the toll is mounting. The war on the poor continues.

The plan calls for a reduction in the food stamp program of 9 percent--from $12 billion to $10.9 billion. Child nutrition programs would be cut by 8 percent. Spending for elementary, secondary and higher education would be reduced 6 percent, and the program to help low-income families pay their heating costs would be trimmed by 30 percent. The summer employment program for young people would be cut 12 percent as would the minimum wage--from $3.35 to $2.50 an hour.

The standard welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, would be cut back from $7.8 billion to $7.1 billion--this with a 4 or 5 percent inflation rate. As for the Legal Services program, which provides lawyers for the poor, funds for that would be eliminated entirely. The same holds for the Economic Development Program that finances public works in areas with severe unemployment. The plan concedes that there are areas with severe unemployment.

In fact, the plan envisions that there will be almost as much unemployment as there is now--10.1 percent instead of 10.7 percent, but still over 10 million people. And this does not include people who have stopped looking for work. While the general plan proposes some retraining programs and tax credits for businesses that retrain workers, it also calls for a general reduction in training and employment programs of 8 percent.

All this has taken its toll. Alcoholism, depression and the occasional consequence of that, suicide, are up. So is wife beating. Children, the raw material of any country, are undernourished and undereducated. This is the true infrastructure of the society and it is rotting at a very young age. Suffer the little children.

In many cities, people are eating at soup kitchens. In Detroit, there are eight soup kitchens, some of them reporting that, for the first time in anyone's memory, the people being served are not just bums and hobos with shopping bags full of newspapers, but families--mothers and fathers with children. Kansas City has these kitchens--and Houston and Trenton and Tucson, too.

All this is remarkable testimony to the success of the war. The poor are in full retreat. In some places, they are cold and homeless. In other places, they are merely out of work and discouraged. In all places, they are miserable. This must be no one's fault but their own, otherwise we would do something about it. The commander-in-chief knows this. He pursues them vigorously. These things are never easy and, anyway, the plan says there are no other choices.

After all, the deficit must be reduced and the nation must be armed. The Soviets must be intimidated. Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger says Russia has grown so strong it can fight on two fronts. He has asked for $1.77 trillion over the next four years. We need more tanks. More planes. More missiles. Even more battleships which make, at the very least, a stirring sight.

There are other expenses as well. The plan, for instance, calls for vouchers to help send children (mostly middle and upper class) to private schools. The plan also calls for a government-supplemented savings program so that people (again the middle and upper classes) can send their children to colleges. And the long-awaited third step of the tax reduction will go into effect in July. Once again, it will be the rich who will benefit the most.

The squeamish and the bleeding-hearted may protest, but the administration has not flinched. Forced to choose between guns and butter, it has chosen guns. Forced to choose between the rich and the poor, it has chosen the rich. The program is a virtual success. The administration has eliminated the difference between war and peace. For the poor, they are now both hell.