"We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress."

-- President Bush, warning of a

possible war with Iraq before the

U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 12.

It's been apparent for some time that President Bush sees the world in terms of either/or: good or evil, black or white, his way or the highway. And this simplicity obviously resonates with many Americans.

Consider some of the responses to a column last week about an antiwar talk by former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter at the University of Maryland.

"As for Mr. Ritter asking if Iraq is worth dying for, my answer is HELL YES," one reader wrote. "Life means nothing if you have to constantly live in fear of these animals. If we do not fight today, you will miss this country tomorrow."

Another wrote: "If 3,000 or 3 million people, young or old, die to save the lives of Americans, then so be it."

In choosing a "world of progress," a lot of Americans apparently believe that war is the way to get there. Which means that those who find the very notion of war for progress to be perverse must have chosen a "world of fear."

"As you can imagine, this campus is strongly pro-war and backs up Bush all the way," wrote a student from the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University-Idaho. "The ROTC is very popular here. Take it from me, fanatic Middle Easterners aren't the only ones who believe in the oxymoron 'holy war.' "

According to opinion polls, those who subscribe to Bush's view of the world are clearly in the majority. A CBS/New York Times poll published Nov. 8 found that 64 percent of Americans approve of the United States taking military action against Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

From Ritter's pro-war detractors, impassioned moral arguments for such action poured in: Hussein is not fit for a civilized society because he kills his own people; Hussein builds weapons of mass destruction and threatens his neighbors while neglecting the needs of his own people; Hussein gets richer, while his own people get poorer.

Odd, though, how that same sense of righteous indignation can hardly be found when it comes to this nation's shortcomings. There are, in fact, fat cats here, too, living among hungry children. But that's no big deal.

We also spend billions on weapons of mass destruction -- daring anyone to challenge our supremacy -- while the needs of millions of Americans go unmet. And yet, all of that money could not stop what happened Sept. 11, 2001.

Sentencing people to death while reasonable doubt remains about their guilt is certainly not the same as Hussein gassing his own people. But it's still wrong, and a majority of Americans apparently don't give a whit about it.

So, how did we suddenly become so angry with Saddam Hussein and outraged by the way he treats his people? Although 59 percent of Americans said the economy was more important than Iraq, according to that CBS/New York Times poll, the Bush administration's war talk obviously kept the electorate from dwelling on it.

After all, under Bush, jobs have been lost by the millions, life savings by the billions, while untold numbers of lives have been lost for lack of adequate health care.

Could it be possible that Bush rolled all the hurt over his failed domestic agenda and our lingering fear and anger over 9/11 into one big ball of rage to be tossed at the evildoer easiest to reach? (Osama bin Laden being unavailable at the moment.)

All of our pent-up frustrations had to go somewhere.

"I'm tired of giving dictators and butchers an even break as a reward for the hellish calamities they inflict on people," one reader wrote. "Saddam and his henchmen must go."

Might he have also had Enron et al. in the back of his mind?

At any rate, onward toward a world of progress. Or, more realistically, a world of fear.

As a correspondent from St. Louis put it: "In my opinion, we are in a MAD situation (mutually assured destruction) with respect to Iraq, but President Bush refuses to acknowledge it. Let's roll (the dice)."

E-mail: milloy@washpost.com