In the United States there is nothing like the anti-nuclear movement that is a real political force in Western Europe, but there is a shadow of it, and it is sure to lengthen in the wake of the president's announcements on the MX missile and the B1 bomber.

I take this flyer with some misgivings because, if the European movement is to be any sort of model, the level of political debate is not going to rise. In Europe, anti-nuclear has turned out to be, on its leading edge, anti- NATO-nuclear, a euphemism for unilateral disarmament and, as such, an escape from strategic difficulty to political dreamland.

Or rather, to political dangerland, since the unilateralists ask little of the Soviet side except that its representatives show up at international conclaves from time to time and agree solemnly that American nuclear weapons menace world peace.

But perhaps European unilateralism will not be the model here. The political culture is different: the d,etente-minded left is too recently repudiated, too incompletely rehabilitated, and the anti-nuclear core has not built European-type alliances with other special interests. Nor is there the same enlivening fear that the place where we actually live might become somebody else's battlefield.

The greater likelihood here is sharper public involvement in the sort of nuclear budgetary, planning and operational issues previously pretty much monopolized on the inside by specialists and on the outside by people who have been raising nuclear alarms for years without getting much of a rise.

If there is a single reason for this sharpening, it is the SALT standoff. Many people, I believe --not just the peaceniks--have been troubled by the accumulation of nuclear arms and by the drift in official discourse toward regarding nuclear war as imaginable, fightable, even winnable.

But they have felt the force of the perception that the Soviets are piling up bombs at a rate inconsistent with legitimate defensive purposes. They have been numbed by a consciousness that the whole issue seems so hard for officials, let alone simple citizens, to get a handle on.

Most of all, they have had a hard emotional grasp on SALT, which to them has held out a certain promise that all chance of restraining a runaway tendency has not been lost. Arms building and arms control together has seemed like a prudent compromise between one's hopes and fears.

In recent years people who feel this way have been on the defensive, but Ronald Reagan's definitely-arm-now-and-maybe-talk-later policy is starting to bring them into an attack mode.

I note, for instance, that the current Newsweek has a poll asking people for their views on nuclear war. What the numbers mean is anybody's guess, but it is indicative that nuclear nerves are now open and raw enough to be considered worthy of calibration.

Many of us are touched more by private measurements. Last summer, for instance, there was Yale sociologist Kai Erikson's New York Times review of a new Japanese study of the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. After a careful recital of the findings, Erikson suddenly asked, "What kind of mood does a fundamentally decent people have to be in . . . before it is willing to annihilate as many as a quarter of a million human beings for the sake of making a (political) point?" Accepting as I do that Truman wanted to end the war quickly, it struck me that the gloves are coming off.

Erikson's question points at the gap likely to widen in the months ahead. Many citizens are concerned most with the actual human results of a nuclear bombing. But politicians, with most strategists, often end up focusing on political scenarios. The first group finds the political people lacking in the elemental respect for human life which alone qualifies them to exercise their great power. The second group finds the others perversely unwilling to cope with the political and strategic choices flowing relentlessly from mutual Soviet-American possession of the bomb.

Can't that gap be crossed?