ALL ACROSS America, eyes were shifting nervously to television screens monitoring the Persian Gulf debates in the House and Senate. Families and friends of those dispatched to Operation Desert Shield -- however mixed or strong their sentiments were -- heard one lawmaker after another rise to agonize solemnly about the importance of the votes about to be cast. Many had communed up to the last minute with their constituents for guidance, some had changed their minds, still others were resolute. As nearly every speaker was to note, war and peace are the most important questions faced by legislators. House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois observed that "in 35 years of legislating, no vote has affected me more emotionally. There can't be anything more profound."

But when they called the roll for those votes, no one answered for the people of the District of Columbia -- for the capital city of this country, for neighborhoods that have sent proportionately more men and women to Operation Desert Shield than were sent by all but three states. No one from the District of Columbia was asked. No one from the District of Columbia is allowed to vote -- war or not. Does that surprise, shock or infuriate people in the 50 states? Does it give pause to the members of the Senate and House who did participate in Saturday's decisions?

Young citizens of this jurisdiction are, in enormous proportions, risking their lives and sacrificing the comforts of peacetime to serve their country in the Gulf. Neither they nor their families and friends here at home in the District ask special favor for them or begrudge their service to their country. But it is an outrage that these devoted young men and women and the community from which they come are denied so much as voting representation in the legislature that determines their fate. People in the District pay federal taxes and willingly and in large numbers serve in their country's armed forces. They are representing every member of Congress in the sands of Saudi Arabia. How is it possible that the country continues to deny them voting representation in Congress?