IT BEGAN simply enough -- these things always do: Thursday, Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), briefed a bunch of reporters on remarks Prime Minister Suzuki of Japan had made before a House committee. Rep. Solarz reported that at one point, in explaining Japanese defense strategy, Mr. Suzuki had said to the congressmen, "We would prefer to be a wise mouse rather than a roaring lion." The phrase had a nice run in the press and even came to the attention of fusty old editorial writers such as ourselves. It struck us pretty odd. No one was insisting that Japan become, militarily, a roaring lion -- but a mouse ? Was that really "the only choice"?

Apparently not. This is the part you're going to like. According to the Japanese embassy,, whose principal was much wronged in this exchange, the interpreter at the hearings on which Mr. Solarz briefed the press had got it wrong, passing on his error for all eternity. Mr. Suzuki had not said "mouse" at all but, rather "porcupine," which, in Japanese, is a "mouse with needles." Yes, a mouse with needles. And why not? If we Americans can say "Horsefeathers!" the Japanese should surely be allowed to say "Mouse-needles!" And if there can be an opera called Die Fledermaus , why shouldn't there be a military strategy called Die Nadelmaus ?

At first, we will confess, we found the correction to be a bit alarming itself. The porcupine, with its legendary all-or-nothing blast of missiles, seemed to us something of a first-strike menace, a kind of animal kingdom variant of launch-on-warning. But the naturalists assure us that this is not so. Porcupines, like hedgehogs, are merely tough, defensive, don't-mess-with-me creatures. No harrages of missiles are sent flying. It just isn't worth you while to get in a fight with one. And there is genuine military lineage there.Our Webster's New World dictionary, having listed the American porcupine under its entry for hedgehog (the two are apparently related only as metaphors), provides a war college-type definition of the beast that we will not reprint in full in the interests of world peace and international understanding:

3. Mil . a) any of several defensive obstacles set up to slow the enemy's advance b) any of a series of defensive fortifications capable of continued resistance after being encircled.

It's a wise mouse with needles that knows its own defense limitations. We'll leave it at that.