Once upon a time it was reasonable to believe that our only important strategic problems were caused by Soviet strategic nuclear weapons. One can easily get the impression that many members of both the Reagan administration and the peace movement, whatever else they disagree on, still hold this view today. There is indeed a weird sort of harmonic vibration between each of these two groups' separate fixations.

The Reagan administration a few months back, for example, seemed bound and determined to have a public debate between Cabinet members and other senior officials on such matters as whether we would or wouldn't have a "demonstration" nuclear launch in Europe during a conventional war, whether the probability of nuclear war was predictable to two or three decimal places, and whether nuclear war would or wouldn't be worse than a bad cold. Today, in part because of the administration's decision that we must not only improve the survivability of our strategic forces (a necessary and important effort) but must also have much more--an expensive, enduring capability to fight a sophisticated nuclear war over a period of months -- the future budgets for a number of overdue improvements in our conventional forces are in serious jeopardy. (A few in the Defense Department are raising the alarm, but to little avail.) This is strategy by sentiment -- nostalgia to be exact -- for the simpler days of the 1950s, a Norman Rockwell world in which it was thought that there were no major strategic problems for the United States except those that could be set apart and handled by SAC.

The peace movement, on the other hand, exhibits a different kind of sentimentality, also related to nuclear weapons. It is as if many of its members believed that we were Elliott, Gertie and Michael, that the Russians were E.T. and his fellow creatures, and that the common enemy was abstract and faceless government, with its jangling keys and clumsily death-dealing technology. Stop -- freeze -- the technology, communicate with the strangers (at first they seem scary, but they're really cuddly) and it will all work out --there will be no more vulnerabilities.

Calling attention to a rather more complex view of our national vulnerabilities is not regarded as a friendly act either at the White House Mess or at a nuclear freeze march.

Neither group, for example, is particularly concerned about nuclear proliferation. It's a messy, detailed problem, and it's unfair, you see, for the world to confront us with issues of that sort. The two groups' reasons are different. For the Reagan administration it is apparently an unwillingness to thwart the business community's sales of nuclear material and technology. For the peace movement it is the absence of a single target to put into the cross-hairs of moral fervor. But the result is the same -- it's getting easier for the Galtieris, the Qaddafis and the terrorists to get nukes.

Neither the administration nor the peace movement appears concerned about such serious and growing problems as the vulnerability of our energy distribution systems -- oil and gas pipelines, electricity grids and the computers that operate them--to terrorist disruption. In a number of cases, a few deft conventional explosions could cause massive power losses for periods measured in months. Our method for growing and distributing food depends heavily on the smooth and timely operation of an intricate and fragile energy distribution system (the Midwest's tractors need lots of fuel right at planting season and harvest season, for example). Our financial system is far from invulnerable from foreign governments' manipulation; nor are the computers that, increasingly, operate it secure from tampering. Our policy for a national stockpile of critical materials borders on the farcical.

These are not new problems (such diverse souls as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Thomas Moorer and soft-path energy advocates Amory and Hunter Lovins have been stressing them for some time). Some such vulnerabilities can be significantly ameliorated by relatively inexpensive government actions. But because they do not lend themselves to being solved by cheerleading -- nor by stereotyped conservative or liberal solutions -- they continue to gravitate to the bottom of the in-box.

To begin to reduce many such dangers, business must be told to do some things by a government that plans and that thinks ahead. This is hard for an administration that has so raised Social Darwinism to an art form that, in deference to the invisible hand of the market, it knocks down most of the barriers to nuclear proliferation and cripples our research on renewable energy. Solutions would also require that citizens put concerted pressure on government and business to reduce these different types of vulnerabilities and to plan how to mitigate disasters if they should occur. This is an impossibly hard job of emotional gymnastics for activists who want to believe that there is no strategic problem that can't be solved either by reaching out and touching the aliens or by harassing Trident submarines.

Norman Rockwell and Steven Spielberg (the latter in his sunny moods) both produce attractive and charming worlds with their art. The first taps our nostalgic sentimentality about the past -- a past in which the United States had no serious vulnerabilities except those comfortably deterred by Gen. LeMay. The other draws on our dreamy-eyed sentimentality about the future -- a future free of nukes and nasty governments. Both worlds, both sentiments, provide enjoyable temporary refuges from August heat and the woes of the world. But neither old Saturday Evening Post covers nor this summer's best escape flick provides a reasonable basis for resolving today's tough problems.