The weeks of growing tension and stress are over, and the sad, terrible exhilaration of war has started.

No decent human being chooses war as the first option to settle a dispute. It is far too horrible -- and too unpredictable. But for reasons to be debated when the war is over and under different circumstances than those of Abraham Lincoln, President Bush reached the final, fatal crossroads: Take the road of war or the road of surrender.

From early reports, President Bush seems to have made another choice at least partly reminiscent of Lincoln, and of Gen. William Sherman. You fight war hard, doing what you have to do to win, recognizing that the only fair war is one that ends quickly. There was a second part of Lincoln's strategy, however -- planning for the peace as much as for the war. When the war is over you help your enemy regain his human dignity. This is what we did with Germany after World War II but failed to do after World War I. When this hard but necessary task is over, during the difficult post-war situation that will face us in the Middle East, let us hope President Bush and his advisers remember the second part of the lesson.

The tension of waiting has ended. The excitement and horror of war have begun. Let us hope it is worth it.

BRUCE BRAGER Arlington Defending the deposed monarchy of Kuwait and preserving another in Saudi Arabia is not my idea of upholding American values.

As for defending the right to consume oil with reckless abandon, I'd like to see the U.S. government's military bill for supplying hundreds of thousands of combat and support troops compared with its expenditures on alternative fuels and energy conservation development and research.

What did we do about Tiananmen Square, and where are we for Lithuania?

MARC S. HARRIMAN Washington