Never has the point that we are now part of a global community ever been made so forcefully as it was Wednesday night when we sat in our homes and watched a war start. Instantaneous satellite television transmission allowed us to find out what was going on as it was happening. If it was a technological horror for Iraq, it was a technological triumph for the United States.

Nowhere was this clearer than during the television coverage in which anchors, experts and correspondents rattled off the names of various planes and weapons delivery systems with the familiarity they usually reserve for sports figures. If they were short on the human quotient such as where the Iraqi children and women were, they were formidable in their delivery of highly technical coverage of the most highly technical war we have ever been engaged in.

If there is any early winner, it is surely the military-industrial complex in the United States, which finally, after an arms buildup that has lasted a decade and cost $2 trillion, was able to answer the ultimate question: Yes, it had produced weapons that worked. They worked not only in the sense of inflicting devastating damage, but they also worked in that they returned an astonishingly high number of pilots to their bases. It is absolutely incredible that so few planes were lost during more than a thousand bombing runs over strange and hostile terrain, at night. Just how dangerous it is to fly those kinds of planes at night was underscored a couple of years ago by a pilot who flew an attack jet off a carrier based, at that time, in Norfolk. He said he'd flown hundreds of missions. And he said he was scared to death every time he went in for a night carrier landing.

So while the technology was there, so were the people -- with skill and bravery that cannot be overemphasized. By contrast, Iraq, which also had some fairly sophisticated technology, put up no efffective defense.

In the struggle for the hearts and minds of the American taxpayers, the Pentagon had the upper hand for the entire Reagan era. Less than a year ago, when the Berlin Wall fell, Americans who were concerned that excessive Pentagon spending had robbed the country of the means to fashion a compassionate social fabric were talking of a peace dividend. It had become brutally apparent in the Soviet Union that its people are paying a staggering price for the Cold War. They have no food; we have no child care.

So there was hope here that money could be diverted from the military to the needs of ordinary families, trying to raise children, trying to cope with elderly parents, trying simply to make ends meet in a country where housing for young families is a fading dream. And those people who were trying to redress the imbalance of spending started to get some victories: Last summer Congress passed a $22 billion child-care bill, the first federal child care bill ever passed in peace time.

For a while, there was even talk -- serious talk on Capitol Hill -- of overhauling and possibly even nationalizing the nation's health care system so that we didn't have 37 million people without coverage. There were dreams that peace could produce an era in which we could make a quantum leap in social progress and give even more meaning to the example of democracy that so many nations were trying to emulate.

That dream may be the biggest casualty of the Persian Gulf war. For it will be far harder now for those social reformers to critize conventional United States military spending as excessive, unnecessary and misdirected. The military-industrial complex is on the ascent again, but it is not the same military-industrial complex that made Pentagon-bashing the liberals' favorite indoor sport.

There was an unmistakable sign from the Pentagon two weeks ago that it is finished with weapons systems that don't work and contractors who think huge cost overruns are a guaranteed tipping system. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney's cancellation of the A-12 Navy attack bomber was the biggest crackdown so far on weapon systems that are out of control. In this case, the program was 18 months behind schedule and $2.7 billion over its $4.8 billion fixed price for development. The losers were two of the Pentagon's biggest and oldest industrial allies: General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas.

The Pentagon is no longer the public trough that it was during the Reagan administration. President Bush and Cheney intend to make contractors produce weapons that work. The success of the first phase of the war against Iraq proved that it could be done. The armed services have been badly stung by the war in Vietnam, the Iranian hostage rescue failure, the invasion of Grenada and the arms procurement scandals. On Wednesday night, they redeemed 20 years of bad history in less than five hours.