According to a Jan. 8 news story, "Most Americans Want Hill to Back Bush." Yet in the inset column beside this story is The Washington Post-ABC News poll, which tells quite a different story.

According to the poll, 53 percent of the Americans surveyed oppose going to war with Iraq "if it meant that 1,000 American troops would be killed in the fighting," while 61 percent oppose going to war with Iraq "if it meant that 10,000 American troops would be killed in the fighting."

Even more curious is the first item in the poll, according to which 63 percent of Americans favor war with Iraq if Saddam Hussein doesn't pull out of Kuwait by Jan. 15. One wonders what kind of war the 63 percent have in mind that might be successfully pursued without even 1,000 American casualties. Certainly the abrupt shift in public favor against war in the event that American casualties might result should be carefully considered by the president, Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. E. F. RIVINUS Upper Marlboro

In the Jan. 6 news story "How Many Americans Would Die in War With Iraq?" Barton Gellman reports that the most pessimistic estimate for 21 days of intense fighting is 16,059 American casualties, 4,136 of them dead.

Has anyone looked at history? We are talking of more than 1 million men with thousands of tanks meeting in head-on fighting. During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, approximately 1 million men and well over 1,000 tanks met in head-on battle. Charles B. MacDonald, distinguished military historian and survivor of the battle, states in "A Time For Trumpets; The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge," American casualties in less than 30 days totaled 81,000, of which 19,000 were killed and 15,000 captured. The Americans had about 600,000 men, the Germans about 500,000. The Americans were defending, the Germans attacking.

It is easy to dismiss this instance with the remark that Iraq's army is not the German army. But the Iraqis have many advantages on their side if we go head to head with them. They are well dug in, have far more artillery than we do and many more tanks. The situation in the air is similar. We controlled the air, subject to weather.

I served in World War II and the Korean War; I am not a pacifist. But if the president starts a war, are he and the American people willing to pay what may be a terrible price in blood and suffering? BRENT PEABODY Silver Spring