Mr. McCain assumes that the choices we are confronted with by North Korea today are harder than they were in 1994. Then and now hundreds of thousands of South Koreans in the vicinity of Seoul find themselves held hostage under North Korean artillery. That was then and is now the great constraint on our choices.

Mr. McCain also equates the menace Hitler's Germany presented -- the world's greatest military power in the strategic heart of the heartland -- in 1938 to the menace presented by the puny and reduced power of Iraq. In 1938 Hitler embarked on a course of aggression that threatened the survival of civilization, committing an act of aggression that considerably augmented his power. No war was more defensive or more necessary than the war against his Germany. Since Iraq can be safely stayed from any act of aggression if not by its own incapacity then by the threat of formidable retaliation, war against it is manifestly unnecessary. That's why the people of almost every nation on the globe, except a misled America, prefer that we stay on defense.

JAMES CHALMERS

Huntington Woods, Mich. In his Oct. 24 op-ed article, "No Time to Sleep," Sen. John McCain suggests that we follow a policy "that matches the menace posed to America with the means and the will to confront it." I agree. But Iraq is not the greatest menace facing America. No matter how many times President Bush repeats it, that claim is false.

The greatest threat to America today is al Qaeda. The greatest threat tomorrow is a nuclear-armed al Qaeda. Experts agree that if Osama bin Laden gets nuclear weapons, it will be from the former Soviet Union or Pakistan, not from Iraq. In its rush to war with Iraq, the administration is ignoring the danger in Russia and worsening the situation in Pakistan. We are all less safe as a result.

KATHERINE R. HAWKINS

Somerville, Mass.