Mike Corbett can't understand how members of the volunteer army can become conscious objectors {letter, Sept. 13}. The explanation is that many are deceived by recruiters who promising travel, job training, free education, leadership experience, etc. They don't tell the recruit that the purpose of the military is to kill and destroy on order. When they learn the truth about that, some become conscientious objectors.

A case in point is Cpl. Jeffrey Patterson now being held in military prison in Hawaii because he refused orders to go to Saudi Arabia {news story, Sept. 5}. As a Marine he has spent the last three years in Okinawa, Korea and the Philippines. He says that he felt more like part of an occupying army than a defender of freedom. During those years he developed a conscientious objection to continuing his military service, and he decided to get out when his discharge time came in March of 1991.

Cpl. Patterson saw the orders to go to Saudi Arabia as orders to kill for oil and to depose a tyrant who our government supported for the past 10 years. He applied for conscientious objector status and refused to go. Before his case was adjudicated, he was ordered to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Corbett wonders how Cpl. Patterson could refuse to fulfill his military oath. Again the answer is simple. An oath that goes against conscience has no moral binding power. An oath to do anything immoral is immoral in itself. The Nuremburg trials codified this.

We need to listen to men like Cpl. Patterson lest we turn our military into a corps of Nazi-like robots.

RICHARD McSORLEY Director, Center for Peace Studies Georgetown University Washington