In respect to the defense budget, I am in the shoes of a lot of people I know: respectful of the defense growth on the Soviet side, ready to see more spent on the American side, but rocked by the sheer size of the numbers the Pentagon now puts forward, and uncertain whether 1) all the new money can be spent reasonably efficiently and 2) all the new units and machines can be applied to good strategic effect.

Is there not, I ask, a middle way that is a bit better than simply an unthinking averaging out one's alarm about the Soviet threat and apprehension about an American overreaction to it? That is not simply a response entailing the fashionable general bow to a strong defense followed by the crossing-out of the specific items that constitute a strong defense? That is not, in a word, a cop-out?

These are not the questions that come to the minds of the people dominating administration policy. They are as fully committed to rearming America--a phrase they use, by the way, without a trace of your typical liberal's wince--as they promised they would be. Nor do these questions trouble people who have already decided that the administration is pushing an arms race, crushing the poor or savaging the economy. I am in the group--perhaps a swing group--that is willing to give the administration's case for more defense a fair hearing. Show me.

We kid ourselves, however, by thinking that hard analysis is a better guide to these matters than gut feeling, because in the end, I find, almost everyone, hawk or dove, consults the pit of his stomach to determine whether we are buying "enough" defense. Our argument is really not very rational, for all the explicit emphasis that Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has put on raising the intellectual tone of the annual Pentagon posture statement, which he has just submitted to Congress.

And so it was that for me his report produced at the end a shrug that said: I acknowledge your seriousness but you lost me along the way.

Yes, we must do some sustained catching up. Yes, we must avoid the sort of skimping that forces us to rely too greatly on nuclear weapons. Yes, we must have the men and materiel to do the job. There were a good many yeses.

But then came Weinberger's insistence, in the section on conventional war, that we have to set aside the "mechanistic assumption" that it is necessary to fight only, say, "one and a half wars," or to fight just a "short war" or a limited war. Rather, said Weinberger, we should prepare to fight several wars simultaneously, to fight on fronts of our, not the enemy's, choosing, to fight long wars, to fight in a way splintering the "Soviet empire," to fight to win.

There was his further claim that our nuclear forces must not only deter nuclear attack and nuclear blackmail against ourselves and our allies. Our forces must also "impose termination of a major war--on terms favorable to the United States and our allies--even if nuclear weapons have been used-- and in particular to deter escalation in the level of hostilities . . ."

I think I understand why Weinberger would assert as he does a readiness to fight, to win and to take terrible losses. It has something to do with conviction, with getting the Soviets and others to understand that the United States means business, with laying the ghost of Jimmy Carter, with the institutional interests of the secretary of defense, with Weinberger's bureaucratic bumping match with Secretary of State Alexander Haig, with assuring Americans (especially Republicans and conservatives) that this administration is doing what it set out to do in defense, with winning political support for a big defense budget.

But to me the effect comes off not just as toughness but as excess. Weinberger is too grim, too single-minded, too muscular, too belligerent, too uptight. He describes a world of constant, deadly, pervasive menace, but the world I see is a place with some different grays as well as blacks, maybe a few dirty whites, too.

Weinberger has too many missions he wants the United States to perform, by military means. He is undisciplined, too casual, in accepting contingencies for which to prepare military plans. He thinks he's settling me down but he's making me squirm in my chair.