How is it that Mary McGrory sees so clearly our mistake of riding roughshod over local customs in Vietnam and then chides our efforts to conform to Moslem sensitivities in Saudi Arabia {Outlook, Dec. 16}? In the United States religion is part of our way of life. In Saudi Arabia the Moslem religion is the way of life, permeating societal behavior to an extent unimaginable here.

Strange how we expect foreign visitors to conform to U.S. laws and customs, yet we see meager need to do so when abroad. America's reasons for stationing troops in the Persian Gulf may be manifold, but surely they do not include the destabilization of Saudi society.

Make no mistake about it -- we are guests of the Saudi people and should behave as such. THOMAS KING MEYER Alexandria

U.S. military personnel are now deployed against Saddam Hussein in Saudi Arabia, a country that needs us much more than we need it, yet our servicemen and women are asked to leave their freedoms at home.

The country we are supposed to be defending is dictating what our servicemen and women can and cannot do. That a country whose survival depends on defense by the U.S. military has the audacity to demand that our men and women -- who are willing to lay down their lives for Saudi Arabia -- leave their religion and their way of life behind should be an outrage to every American. It is despicable that a country we are willing to die for would ask that a rabbi be told he must remove his Star of David or that a minister or priest give up his cross.

Reading that the Pentagon is renting a cruise ship in order to allow servicemen and women to drink beer {front page, Dec. 14} should offend every person in this country. The United States should not have to spend millions of dollars on a "floating America" so that military personnel may enjoy their freedoms. In a country in which individual freedoms are so highly regarded, why is it that the American people choose to overlook the loss of freedoms of hundreds of thousands of our military personnel who are defending the "American way of life" in a region far from home. ANDREW COLE Rockville