As a former resident of Kuwait, I have been appalled by the way the American press misrepresents that country. According to popular belief, Kuwait is a "feudal monarchy," where thieves have their hands amputated, democracy is unheard of and women are not allowed to drive or hold jobs. None of that is true.

Since it became independent in 1961, Kuwait has tried to adopt what is best in Western societies while retaining its own religious and cultural values. The Kuwaitis have endured rapid social changes, an influx of foreign workers in numbers almost double their own and continual external threats to their security in good order and with few of the social problems we see in Western culture.

I was among the Kuwaitis for nearly five years and found them to be surprisingly progressive. I bought groceries in their consumer-controlled cooperatives, where staple foods were subsidized. I saw poor Badu people given housing and subsistence, and, like everyone in Kuwait, I enjoyed free dental and medical care and subsidized electricity and water. When my small son fell and injured himself, he was treated in a free public hospital.

I saw Arab women in the professions and working as sales clerks, technicians and civil servants. I saw them driving. I saw lively debates in the press and intense campaigns for election to the National Assembly. I observed the Kuwaitis' pride in their nation as they celebrated 25 years of independence, and I sensed their outrage at the bombing attack on Sheikh Jabir Sabah, their emir. I saw that he and his government, though not chosen through a system like ours, were in fact wise, kindly and responsive to the popular will. The emir was strongly supported.

Kuwait was by no means a perfect society. It had many of the problems found in other Third World countries. Some Kuwaitis were not always decent to their servants or fair to their employees. Under their constitution, Christians were allowed to have churches, but ours, the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait, was under frequent threat from people who stirred up religious differences for political ends. Racism was almost nonexistent, but partiality to one's own kind and kin, to the Eastern mind, is something of a virtue.

The Kuwaitis were far more civilized than their neighbors, and some day, through their vast wealth, their educated population and their aptitude for progress, they might become the leaders of a new Arabism, neither theocratic nor despotic but in other ways reflective of what has been one of the world's most enduring cultures.

I was not surprised to learn that the Kuwaitis fiercely resisted the invasion and that they are still fighting. They love their country. They also believe that Americans are the sort of people who fight for a cause as just as theirs. We should liberate their country by force. JAMES EASON Upper Marlboro