Fred Downs, in "Death and the Dark Side of Command" {Outlook, Aug. 16}, forecasts that if the United States were to go to war, the Army would be unprepared. He argues that the Army today is teaching management to junior officers and that the leaders of combat units are not being taught about the dark side, "the basic realities of combat: killing the enemy and taking ground." He is on target. The philosophy that pervades the U.S. military today is that war will never happen.

The combat leaders Mr. Downs predicts will be unprepared will initially be forced to lead members of the All-Volunteer Force. The Army is rightly proud of the intelligence level of the new recruits. Unfortunately, all the services have recruited so well by using ads that picture the use of computers, the watching of radar screens, service on ships in untroubled waters -- in general, preparing for a future in high technology or in college. I have yet to see an ad that features killing and dying, slogging through mud under fire, the panic of a sudden attack in the dark, the tension of diving a plane into ground fire or a wingman's plane exploding from a missile hit.

Too much rhetoric about a peaceful profession may lead to a carelessness that could lead to war. JOHN F. AHEARNE Washington The writer served as acting assistant secretary of defense.