It must occur to everyone reading about the Iraq situation that the real hostages are the U.S. automobile drivers. This country cannot run without oil, and now we're preparing to go to war over it. Instead of spending American dollars and spilling American blood to perpetuate our dependence on the Middle East, we must immediately begin to work diligently to free ourselves from oil.

The technology for alternatives to gas cars has been in place for years, but the auto and oil industries have maintained their monopoly on transportation. Isn't it time to stop being their hostages as well? Let the government put some of the billions of defense dollars into research and development of an alternative engine. Hire the Japanese to lead the way -- they have the creativity to pull it off. Take all the closed car factories in Flint, Mich., and put our soldiers to work building the cars of the future. It's time for this country to wake up, get creative and stop being a hostage to bully corporations and politicians. Let's not take action by getting involved in a war. Let's take action by solving the problem at its source -- stop our slavery to oil. MAUREEN MAYER Lorton

This is getting ridiculous. Political pundits are emerging a thousandfold from La-la land wondering why the United States has not come to grips with its crack-like addiction to foreign oil. They blame President Bush. They blame Exxon. They blame everyone. These same pundits, however, are the ones who drive to work solo in their European cars, spending endless hours on the Beltway burning the same oil that they rant and rave about. Who's kidding whom?

Hypocrisy abounds. Ultra-greens in California want clean everything, yet they adore their electric toothbrushes, petrol-sucking Jaguars and oil-based make-up. The zillions of people who relocate to coastal areas cry for clean water, yet their cries amplify to wails if the price of water increases. People everywhere moan about pollution, yet their enthusiasm slackens considerably when encouraged to recycle. Notice a trend?

Believe it or not, I am not attempting to pass judgment on anyone. Ours is (the last time I checked) a capitalist society. If a demand for gasoline exists, Exxon will supply it. If a demand for electricity exists, Pepco will supply it. If a demand for beach-front housing exists, developers will supply it. The simple fact remains that unless we change our personal habits toward the use of natural resources, in this case oil, we will be chained to the Middle East and will kneel before madmen like Saddam Hussein.

Not a pretty picture is it? If you don't like it, do something about it. Turn off your lights (we do burn foreign oil for electricity), take the Metro (you are paying for it, whether you ride it or not) or get in a carpool. But if you can't bring yourself to do something, please don't whine about our energy problem.