Your headline "Iraq Retaliates With Missile Attack Against Israeli Cities . . ." {front page, Jan. 18} is unfortunate. You buy into the false Iraqi position that Israel is a member of the coalition, when it is not. Retaliation is Israel's choice, not Iraq's.

-- A. C. Hendrickson Unacceptable Vocabulary

When I picked up the paper Jan. 24 and saw the front-page headline "Powell Vows to Isolate Iraqi Army and Kill It," my initial reaction was something akin to revulsion. I could not believe that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would engage in the public arena in this kind of rhetoric, apparently for the benefit of combining psychological warfare with the military campaign raining down upon Iraq.

I was appalled by the fact that one of our nation's leading newspapers would splash across the front page the vocabulary of raw violence from the top echelon of our military as though this form of military propaganda is, because we are at war, acceptable to the American public. After all, the message we had been receiving from both the military and the media is that the ultimate objective of the Desert Storm is the surrender, not the total destruction, of the Iraqi army.

Perhaps this headline will awaken the American public to the reality that war on both sides is savage. This is a war on humanity; it is war on civilized thinking, speaking and behavior. It cannot, in the final analysis, be camouflaged in abstract military terminology.

-- Charlotte Warren No Faith in Gorbachev

Columnist Stephen Rosenfeld, who compared events in the Soviet Union to Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" {op-ed, Jan. 18}, should give up political commentary and become a music critic.

He advises the United States "not to rush to write off Gorbachev and the Kremlin" when President Bush should be running as fast as possible to catch up with all the Soviet citizens like Eduard Shevardnadze who have already written off the Communist leader. Mikhail Gorbachev's bloody attack on Lithuania, his use of the "big lie," his resumption of censorship, his support of the KGB and his failure to comply with disarmament agreements should convince Rosenfeld that Gorbachev is no Harbinger of Spring.

The people throughout the Soviet lands who throng the streets demanding freedom, democracy and dignity know this. Maybe if Rosenfeld turned down the Stravinsky he would hear the cries of the people.

-- Salomeja Blanford

The headline "Gorbachev's Move to the Right" {Outlook, Jan. 20} is wrong. The right-wing political philosophy, exemplified in the views of, for example, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Barry Goldwater, emphasizes individual freedom, free-market capitalism and limited, decentralized government. The left wing represents the opposite viewpoint.

President Gorbachev is clearly trying to move the U.S.S.R. in the direction of central control, or to the left, after initially moving to the right through the policies of glasnost and perestroika. Greater autonomy for the republics and a free economy, as advocated by Boris Yeltsin, would indeed be a move to the right. If Yeltsin were to come into power in place of Gorbachev, then The Post might well speak of a "move to the right" in the Soviet Union.

-- Roland F. Hirsch Still Lost in Space

Thomas Harris questions how a burst from a quasar could take 2 billion light-years to reach Earth in a universe only 15 billion years old {"Lost in Space," Free for All, Jan. 19}. There's no paradox here. Although a light-year represents an unimaginably great distance, it's only a year long chronologically. Thus the burst observed in the distant galaxy is the manifestation of an event that took place 2 billion years ago in the universe and well within the estimated age of the universe.

-- Robert M. Weiss

It is understandable that Thomas Harris is confused by your use of "years" and "light-years" in articles about astronomy. I have noted that you generally do not indicate that a light-year is a measure of distance, not time. It is the distance that light travels in a year. The term is confusing to many people. Perhaps you should make a point of clarifying it every time you use it.

-- Richard C. Banks Truth, Troth and Trough

Great Jan. 18 column by Judy Mann! It's nice to see Defense Secretary Cheney applauded for canceling the overdue, over-budget, A-12 attack bomber program. But the real losers aren't General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas. The real losers are the nation's taxpayers: we are the ones stuck with filling the public trough.

Which brings me to a curious typo in Mann's column: ''The Pentagon is no longer the public troth that it was. . . '' Surely she meant trough, because troth hints at a wedding, like between certain defense contractors and officials in the Pentagon.

-- Glenwood Gibbs