When the flag is hoisted over the U.S. Capitol at dawn each day, the banner stretches out in the breezes to a full 8 by 12 feet. Here in Arlington the hot prairie wind billows out Old Glory to 20 by 38.

Something more than Texas-style braggadocio is at work here. The mega-flags in Arlington, eight times larger than those of the nation's capital and ordered especially to fit the big poles manufactured here, are an implicit statement about what these people think of themselves.

They are economic winners and they have come here from all parts of the country in pursuit of the oldest of American dreams--a better life. In doing so they have created something of a new American melting pot.

From here the future looks limitless. In little more than three decades Arlington has grown from a quiet rural town of four square miles and 7,000 people, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, to a sprawling city of nearly 200,000 encompassing more than 100 square miles. Thirty years ago cotton gins stood in the center of town where banks now rise.

This report, the third in an occasional series examining key issues affecting people's lives in selected American communities, was reported and written by staff writers Haynes Johnson, Paul Taylor, Celestine Bohlen and Dan Balz, with polling by Barry Sussman.

People here in electorally crucial Texas helped make Ronald Reagan president, and this is the kind of place the Republicans cannot afford to lose if they intend to hold the White House in 1984.

Interviews by four Washington Post reporters and a poll of more than 1,200 residents show that most of them still share Reagan's view of the world and that an overwhelming majority approves of his performance as president.

But deeper concerns, some of them surprising and most of them invisible on first inspection, exist. IN THE LAND OF WINNERS

In a region predisposed to supporting the president, standing by the flag and approving of a "strong" America, there is confusion and concern about where his policies are taking us in Central America. The principal reason is the strong memory of Vietnam.

In a city of go-getters, there is admiration for Japan's economic success and a sense that the weakened competitive position of the United States results from our own failures. Even in an area of big defense contractors and a willingness to spend freely on defense, a surprising number of people say they would blame Reagan as much as the Soviet Union for the lack of an arms agreement.

Arlington is certainly no city of hand-wringers or prophets of gloom. Yet the single most arresting impression from the interviews here is the way in which the outside world and its danger penetrate directly to the heart of families here.

Most striking of all is to hear them describe how their children have engaged them in a colloquy about the prospects of war.

"Daddy," a 9-year-old boy asked, looking up from the nightly TV newscast, "is Beirut the war place?"

"Why is there war?" a 7-year-old girl asked, after watching another newscast about guerrillas in Central America. "Is there going to be war here, Mommy?"

These are conversations some wives and husbands don't share with one another, or so they say. But they are now a part of life here, even in this place where economic optimism remains the hallmark.

Of Arlington, far more than of most places in America today, it can be said that the problems of the state and nation around it are far removed. The recession hit here, but without the severity felt in Houston to the south and the oil patch fields of Midland and Odessa to the southwest.

The General Motors plant, largest single employer in Arlington, experienced layoffs of about 900 of its 4,500 workers, but they are all back to work now. Real estate agents saw their business plummet as they racked up the worst sales year in a generation, but they now boast of rolling up the most profitable deals in two decades. The economic slide shocked some who thought themselves immune, but Arlington never saw anything like the grim scenes so common elsewhere in the nation.

"I saw something on the news about Cleveland where people were lining up to get food," said Beverly Haas, 35. "It's hard to relate to that here. You think of this as an ideal place to live. Otherwise, why would so many people come here?"

That view predominates everywhere. For instance:

Outside, on the subdivision street across from the freeway, one of the cars parked before the developer's dream of a $150,000 house bore a familiar bumper sticker, one you can see all over town: Arlington, Tex. For the Good Times

Inside, gathered around the living room overlooking the manicured back lawn leading to the "spa" (a hot tub), the latest members of the Newcomers club were introducing themselves, and they were, without exception, glad to be here.

"Everybody looks so happy," said a woman newly arrived from Seattle. "When I came here I hadn't seen happy people in six years." Another, from the suburbs of Chicago, spoke of this corner of north-central Texas as "almost a fairyland economically."

Fairyland it is not, though the entire Arlington setting encourages a sense of ease and well-being.

The prosperous developments rising off the prairie, the surveyors staking out the latest in an endless cluster of new shopping centers, the billboards proclaiming that a local business establishment is "working for your success," the amusement centers attracting tourists from across the country, the clean and comfortable look of Arlington Stadium where the Rangers play their major league baseball games--all are testaments to success and the good life.

But within Arlington's boundaries is evidence of other attitudes that seem inconsistent. Together, they show how complex and sophisticated Americans have become as they consider their role in the world. Their opinions are more typical of the country at large than even people in Arlington recognize.

The message from Arlington is that no group of Americans, no mat- ter how seemingly isolated from troubles elsewhere, can be taken for granted when it comes to how they feel about issues at home and abroad. They know they are linked directly to forces that are affecting theirlives, and they are worried about them, even if they don't speak openly of them. Chapter II: The People

Fifteen years ago, novelist Larry McMurtry saw suburbs sprouting on his beloved prairie and wrote: "The new Texas is probably going to be a sort of kid brother to California, with a kid brother's tendency to imitation."

Ask the people of Arlington today what their city is like, and a surprising number of them will tell you exactly: Anaheim, Calif.

The outside world knows both as small cities attached to giant cathedrals of fun--in Arlington, Six Flags Amusement Park, Wet and Wild, the Texas Rangers (ne Washington Senators); in Anaheim, Disneyland and the California Angels.

But something deeper runs between the two cities; something Anaheim experienced mainly in the 1950s and '60s, and Arlington is living through now: the white heat of growth.

The development here is spreading randomly and ruthlessly. It destroys as it creates, and to the uprooted people who chose to live in its midst, it offers the challenge of molding a community out of concrete and constant change.

"Arlington is three highways in search of a city," said Paul Geisel, an urbanologist at the University of Texas at Arlington. Actually, it's both city and suburb; the language hasn't caught up with the hybrid.

It was the familiar real estate triple-threat--location, location and location--that built modern Arlington. It sits precisely at the halfway mark along the 30-mile stretch of asphalt that connects Dallas and Fort Worth. As the region grew, Arlington exploded--a 27-fold population increase in a single generation. Growth is what gives the place its dynamism, its appeal, its problems, its character.

Some of this was planned; much took on a momentum all its own. It dates to the election in 1951 of Tommy J. Vandergriff, then 25, the boy mayor with the big vision. He was a native of Arlington who'd gone to college in California, been captivated by the model of suburban-city development he found, and figured, why not us?

In 1952, with low taxes, low wage scales and inviting right-to-work laws, he romanced a General Motors plant to town. Later came the tourist industry, the warehousers, high tech. Vandergriff, now Arlington's first-term congressman after serving 26 years as mayor, went after them all with a gusto that belies his soft-spoken mien. In his home town now, he's part hero and part devil, but if any city can be said to have an author, he's it.

What kind of place did he create?

The 189,000 residents of Arlington live in a city that, true to its suburban bloodlines, has no center.

The major downtown streets are suburban strips: gas stations, fast food joints, car dealerships, low-rise buildings. There are no large public assembly points and not much cultural activity--Dallas and Fort Worth, the locals will tell you, are nearby and well-endowed.

Arlington has no local television station, no local radio station and only one daily newspaper--with a paltry circulation of 11,000. Average turnout in municipal elections is just 10 percent.

Arlington is rich in other things, though. Its schools are considered among the best in the region; eighth-grade students score two years above grade level on nationally standardized tests. Good housing is plentiful and, despite the local real estate boom, still a good buy. Taxes are low. Municipal services, always hard-pressed to keep up with the growth, remain adequate. The 23,000-student commuter college--the University of Texas at Arlington--is a source of local pride.

Arlington has 28 7-Elevens, 29 lighted athletic fields, some of the most prosperous orthodontists in the state, a clinic for aspiring school cheerleaders and a vast but over-subscribed network of youth sports leagues.

It's also the largest city in America to have just one funeral home--a testament both to the youth of its residents (the median age is 27.1; in most big cities, a bit over 30) and their cultural, racial and ethnic homogeneity.

"Arlington is so homogeneous it's boring," said Hugh M. Moore, whose personal saga nicely captures the Arlington of today. His father was the undertaker ("Trust us," went the old Moore Brothers' motto, "We'll be the last to let you down"), but young Moore turned his back on the lucrative family monopoly to become a developer instead.

That, of course, is where the money really turns over in places like Arlington. Today, at 33, seven years after being graduated from law school with $600 in his pocket, Moore is developing shopping centers and office buildings galore, and claims he is worth "in the low eight figures." Translated from Texas-developerspeak, that works out to at least $10 million.

But back to homogeneity. The curious thing about its outbreak in Arlington is that this is a city filled up by people who all came from somewhere else. A local real estate firm surveyed a new subdivision recently and found that just one resident in eight was a native Texan.

They came from the small towns of the South and the crippled cities of the North--places that could no longer feed their appetites for the good life. They are overwhelmingly white, Protestant, well-educated go-getters who came to Arlington to go get more.

These immigrants have given Texas a much faster life style, and Texas in turn has given them the rugged optimism that seems to grow out of the soil.

"There is a feeling here that it's still worth getting up in the morning," said newspaper editor Richard Heiland, 37, who came from the Ohio Valley.

"You don't hear much negative talk, and I like that," said Dan Fergus, 35, who came from Rochester, N.Y.

But the very speed and mobility of these transplants' life style extract a price. It's the cost of admission into Affluent Late 20th-Century American Life, and it can be measured even in a thriving place like this--though it cuts against all local instinct to do so. "This is sunshine land," said Ann Rice, a social worker. "It takes some willingness to admit that not everyone has a nice house on a pretty street."

High divorce rates, lonely suburban housewives, swinging singles lost in fast-track lives, school-age youths hooked on drugs--Arlington has all that, too.

"After the umpteenth time of getting awkward silences . . . I quit asking people how their wives or husbands were doing," said Rev. Don M. Pike, pastor at the First Methodist Church, who returned to Arlington in 1980 after a 10-year absence.

The pace of life in Arlington is "tearing the guts out of some marriages," he added, "chiefly when you have two career people going hard. They don't have time for each other."

Nor, apparently, for their children. Arlington has a community group that is trying to figure out what to do with its "latchkey children"--students who arrive home at 3 p.m. each day, to an empty house.

Growing up in a place like Arlington calls for, perhaps more than anything else, resilience. Some schoolchildren move as often as each year, and their only sense of rootedness comes from the shared experience of having just moved. "My daughter has had about six best friends move out of the area," said Teresa Rudolph. "She had a hard time for a while, but she never really cried about it, because someone else is always coming in to fill the void."

The upside of this high-mobility life is that people do develop survival skills--they've got no choice. Another plus is that in places like Arlington, they don't have to put up with the standoffishness and social stratification found in more settled communities.

For example, after Patt Magge arrived in Arlington a few years ago, a single parent with one child, she took a job as a checker at Kroger's. She wanted to buy a house, but had just $1,200 in the bank, less than a fifth of what the mortgage company said she needed in order to qualify for a loan. Her co-workers pitched in, took money out of their accounts, put it into her account, and the house was hers.

The kicker: She'd been at Kroger's only two months.

Stories like that speak volumes about the people who live in Arlington. But even a toughness and a welcoming spirit can't mask some of the growing pains of such a sustained population explosion.

At rush hour, Arlington's north-south streets are host to monstrous traffic jams--the kind that people came here to escape. Its schools are crowded; one junior high is booked for double shifts this fall. "Old" neighborhoods--built in the 1950s--are in need of renewal. There is a shabby look to some stores and fast-food joints.

"We've got dead shopping centers out there. Biggies, very quickly, that are only a decade old," said Geisel. "Now that's a shocker. That's a very rapid aging phenomenon. We've got the transition here before we had a chance to fill in the space in the first place."

The strain of growth has even gotten to the bankers, developers and Rotarians who constitute Arlington's business and political establishment.

"When do we stop? I've been on trips when we were soliciting Yankee companies to relocate here and when we prepared our slides about the quality of life, how good it was, it made me think sometimes maybe we ought to build a fence and close the door," said Ernest Wilemon, president of Texas Commerce Bank, whose assets have shot up tenfold in the last 16 years.

Surprisingly late in its growth cycle, Arlington is seeing the beginnings of a neighorhood movement. It is weak and has yet to show staying power, but it's taken up the banner of no-growth--and the city fathers are taking notice. Slowly, the mayor and City Council (who are still synonymous with the bankers and the developers) have begun to apply some brakes, especially on multi-family units that until a few months ago were multiplying like rabbits.

But there are larger issues that can't be resolved with a single City Council vote. Laissez-faire capitalism has driven the growth, both here and all throughout the burgeoning Southwest. Can it be tamed by government? Should it be?

For now, the animus against government runs as deep among the new Texans as it did among the ranchers they displaced.

"I would hope that the community could rise up" to solve its problems "and not turn to government," said R.G. (Wick) Alexander, an orthodontist, former City Council member and respected community leader.

But the future poses no end of troubling questions--and not just about the role of government. Until now only the "right" kind of people have migrated to Arlington. Suppose, one day, the "wrong" kind should start coming?

"The people who have come from the North so far have been white-collar professionals . . . . If we build shoddy housing and let it deteriorate, the people who burn the neighborhoods they live in will start coming down here," said Kenneth C. Grove, an architect and former City Council member who was one of the few debunkers of growth ever elected to office in Arlington.

Billie Farrar, a prominent local real estate agent, remembers the day last winter when she gave a lift to a young mother who'd just moved to town from Syracuse, N.Y., with an extended family of 21. She admired the family's gumption, but still she worried: the woman was on her way to pick up food stamps.

"I hate to see an influx of dependent people," Farrar said. "It's not that I don't have mercy in my heart, but I just feel like, do we owe it to the world to keep them up? I mean, what does it take to break the bank?"

And there's another kind of immigrant that concerns Arlington, too--the kind who comes from Mexico and Central America and speaks a different language.

Already Arlingtonians have seen a trickle of Hispanic immigrants. They expect more. Each night the television news brings scenes of poverty in Mexico and unrest in Central America.

And people of Arlington, a city of immigrants, wonder if they will see their adopted home town changed into something completely new--all over again. Chapter III: The World

At first, the view of the world here appears simple and direct: America is good and the Soviet Union is bad. A freeze on nuclear weapons is a fine idea, but who can really trust the Russians? A strong defense is the best offense, and for it we must pay any price. These matter-of-fact attitudes are an outgrowth perhaps of the strong military-industrial presence in the region and the patriotism felt by native Texans and new ones alike.

But find something Arlingtonians can relate to directly and a more complex picture emerges. There are connectors everywhere: Someone has a father in the military, someone took a trip to Japan, someone had a clothing supplier in El Salvador, almost everyone uses the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, knows someone who works for the international companies that do business in Arlington and its periphery, reads the Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers and, even more important, watches the television networks that bring the world into the living rooms here.

Many people here assert that they don't pay much attention to the world at large. But listen:

Glenda Fanning, a sales representative for Ramada Inns, sits with a cup of coffee and a friend in the living room of her home in one of Arlington's comfortable subdivisions. She is like many Arlington residents--busy, economically motivated and, when asked, not terribly interested in the rest of the world. The Japanese? "I don't know any of them," she says.

Then the conversation turns to Central America.

"I'm 33," Fanning says. "I graduated from high school in 1967. My 10-year reunion showed me how many of my friends were killed. My fiance was killed in a helicopter bringing some wounded back. The copter was blown up. My husband now was in Vietnam and every four to five months, he goes through Viet syndrome . . . breaks into cold sweat, chills, he has flashbacks.

"I saw what [Vietnam] did and I know what hell all of us have gone through. That is something I can relate to directly. As far as what's going on in Central America, my fear is that it's going to turn out like another Vietnam."

That is something I can relate to directly.

In a city without a collective history, there is nevertheless a common memory. It is of Vietnam. Arlington is barely 1,500 miles from El Salvador and just an instant in the mind's eye from the jungles of Southeast Asia. Central America has captured the attention of people here, and Vietnam--a war some say we had no business getting involved in, or a war in which we handcuffed our troops and led them off to die, or a war we . . . lost--colors the way the residents of Arlington look at America's role and how Reagan is handling it.

For the president it presents perilous choices. People who thought it was a mistake to get involved in Vietnam now fear a repeat in Central America. People who thought we should have gone all out to win in Vietnam feel we may no longer have the will to fight and thus are doomed to replay events of two decades ago.

It is mid-morning at the Vought Corp., a major defense contractor, and a small group of workers is talking about Central America.

"I think our interests should be in a supportive role, but I can't see any actual . . . combat," says Richard Garcia. "We represent to the free people of the world a way to go, something to look forward to. But I don't believe economics allow us to be the watchdogs for the entire world anymore."

Norris Rogers speaks up. "On the other hand, if we stay hands-off in that area, I think it's going to be taken over and we're going to regret it. I may be a little bit of the old school, but I certainly support a stronger intervention down there."

"I agree with Mr. Rogers," says Shoong Dun Chew. ". . . The next thing we know, we'll be fighting . . . in our own country."

"I don't think the administration really knows what to do," Garcia says. "I think they're indecisive. That goes for our foreign affairs throughout the government. I don't think we know what to do, and our government portrays that to other people."

Sharon Hosek enters the discussion. "I don't believe a lot of what I hear and read after Vietnam, and the thought of a Vietnam in Central America ....frightens me." She says the United States made a mistake in Vietnam by not trying to win and says, "I think it would probably be handled about the same way again."

When she is asked how she would feel if the president asked for authority to send troops to El Salvador or Nicaragua, she replies, "I would say do it, if it really was a threat. But I don't think Congress would ever approve it."

Later, Bud Laughlin says, "Our self-interest is to support the Monroe Doctrine. When it truly affects the security of this nation, then some level of intervention . . . is appropriate, but that's not obvious yet. And there are all forms of intervention. Military is always the last."

Make no mistake. Arlington has not rejected President Reagan's policies on Central America. But neither has it bought them. A Washington Post poll found that 39 percent of those surveyed here approve of Reagan's handling of Central America, 33 percent disapprove and 28 percent have no opinion.

Residents see American policy as confusing, and they don't particularly believe what they are being told by the media or the government--more memories of Vietnam. Parents talk about their sons being called to war; young men say their conversations now include questions about whether they will have to go and fight.

Mostly, people are sorting out self-interest versus national interest and looking to Washington for a clear sense of direction. They know that if Central America falls to the communists, they will be the first to feel it in the form of more immigrants heading north across the Rio Grande; but they are divided on whether there is anything the United States can or should do to prevent it. And they are troubled by their inability to distinguish between the good guys and the bad.

In Arlington there are sharp divisions on whether the conflicts are the result of communist intervention or the legacy of poverty and oppression. Arlington fears and distrusts the Soviets, but it does not see "communism" as a monolithic threat. Nor does it see the Soviets and the Cubans as the root cause of the problems in Central America. By a margin of almost 2 to 1, people here believe the problems are fundamentally internal.

Charles J. Deahl, an Arlington City Council member, spoke for many here as he described his conflicting attitudes on the topic. "I have serious concerns about what we're doing in Central America," Deahl said. "No nation in Central America has ever had a stable government that wasn't a dictatorship. I worry that no matter how much money we send down there, it's going to go right down a rathole into some leader's pocket. I worry that no matter how much we do, those countries are going to go communist anyway.

"If we get involved in Central America, friend, we better get ready to walk in and say we're taking over. Either we go whole hog or keep the hell out. The trouble is, there is no political consensus right now for getting in. I'd support him Reagan , but he's got a tough selling job to do on the opposition."

If there is confusion over Central America, there is none over Japan. In a city shaped by the work ethic and a keen sense of economic vitality, the success of the Japanese economy is a thing of wonderment. "Awesome" is one word used to describe the Japanese.

"You can hand them something, and they'll figure it out and hand it back to you better," said Yvonne Harper.

There is some dissent, especially from union workers at General Motors or some of the other plants in the area. They believe that the Japanese have taken unfair advantage of the United States. "They have barriers against us and we don't have any barriers at all against the Japanese," said Bill Bennett, president of the United Auto Workers Tarrant County Community Action Program. But that sentiment is not universal. "Greed," said Alan Sweat, a General Motors assembler, "greed of the companies, the people and possibly even the unions caused the problems . We got to the position where we thought we were best and we didn't have to listen to what people thought."

At a time when the Democrats are talking protectionism, few here seem to want to follow that course. Instead, according to the Post poll, there is an overwhelming sense that Japanese companies are managed more intelligently (59 percent agree); that Japanese workers work harder (68 percent agree); and that the Japanese firms make better products (59 percent agree).

In this right-to-work state, unions get more of the blame than management, but fundamentally the people here blame themselves. "I just wonder if the United States can ever be equal to Japan as far as their manufacturing and the way they treat their people," said Susan Brown, a homemaker.

"The Japanese companies seem to put more effort into pleasing the employes," said Teresa Rudolph. "The wages may not be terrific, but they seem to have benefits, such as nursery schools. The parents work side by side and the children are right down the hall. I think that's good. I think Americans should do that."

But in spite of the admiration for the Japanese, there is little support for the establishment of a Japan Inc. in the United States. That cuts too deeply against the free-enterprise spirit of Arlington. Instead, as one person said, "We should go back to what made America great," and there is a clear sense that it is about to happen. "We'll beat them at their own game," said Rich Ashton, a young developer.

On the broad issue of war and peace, however, the attitudes of Arlington's residents are more ambiguous.

It would not be stretching it too much to say that many people here distrust the Russians more than they fear a nuclear holocaust, which is why they continue to support a defense buildup by margins greater than Americans in other parts of the country. The Post poll found that 31 percent of Arlington residents surveyed believe the United States should seek military superiority over the Soviet Union, compared with 22 percent nationally.

"The minute we lay down our arms and turn them into plowshares, the Russians are going to drive us into the ground," said Martha Walker, a City Council member for 10 years and now a local banker.

Most people here say they deal with the threat of nuclear war by not thinking about it. There is no nuclear freeze committee in Arlington, and the letter by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops on nuclear weapons was met in many churches here with polite restraint. But increasingly the nuclear issue comes back to them from where they least expected it--their children.

Time and again during a week of interviews, people told of their children worrying about the arms race--a 7-year-old boy waking after a nightmare in which the world was destroyed; a 13-year-old girl expressing her fears since the third grade, or another girl being found crying by her father after reading a magazine article about the arms race.

Some parents dismiss these fears as expressions of immaturity, but others are clearly troubled by what they mean, that the world that once appeared so distant here in the heart of Texas has closed in, that the future adults of Arlington and America are being shaped by world events in ways their parents never were.

"I don't think things will be as easy for my grandchildren as they've been for us," said Iva McAlpin as she finished her coffee in Glenda Fanning's living room. "The nuclear situation, it's scary as hell. I'm crazy about my grandchildren. I want for them peace and a measure of happiness. But I don't know . . . . It's tough. Whereas I didn't think these things could happen so fast, they did." Chapter IV: The Future

They had gone around the room, talking about President Reagan, whom they all want to run again, and Susan Brown had been the most positive of all.

"When I hear his name, I hear his voice," she said. "He's the only president that I listen to every word he says because he holds my attention. I can understand him. He's not confusing. He doesn't speak in riddles."

Yet, minutes later, when the Saturday morning neighborhood conversation turned to Central America, Brown suddenly spoke up and, in a tone that sounded as if she were surprised at herself, said:

"The other day I said to Andy, 'Maybe he is a warmonger!' Even though I do like the man and a lot of the things he's done and everything, all of a sudden that started to frighten me. And I thought maybe what everybody said about him was really true."

Although many Arlingtonians seem as solidly behind Reagan as they were in 1980, the city nonetheless holds evidence of problems for the Republicans, and perhaps even for Reagan. Two key elements of the American electorate--women and workers--say they feel strongly, and negatively, about Reagan today.

Those emotions exist in Arlington, too. Some women who voted for Reagan last time say flatly that they will not do so in 1984. Union members, distinctly a minority in this right-to-work state, are even more passionately anti-Reagan.

Still, the Democrats have not been able to win over the great majority of people with their stands on the middle-class issues of growth and prosperity, less government and taxes, and rewarding hard work with the ability to retain individual profits. At this stage of political development here, the Democrats are seen as special-interest pleaders. One Democrat said, typically, "I'm real disappointed in the Democratic Party because I associate them with getting us in debt and developing social programs that don't encourage people to do the best they can."

Something more significant, for Arlington and the region, is already beginning to reshape the face of Texas. That is the explosive change in the makeup of this state's population. Ten years ago Texas had a million Spanish-speaking citizens. In the 1980 census that figure almost tripled to 2.9 million. People talk about a tidal wave of immigrants "pouring in the back door so fast it will make you dizzy."

University of Texas urbanologist Paul Geisel said, "At the present time, the population of Mexico will double in 27 years. In Texas, with natural increase alone, the Hispanic population will double every 21 years. That's if nobody else comes. Blacks will double every 37 years and Anglos will double one more time in 50 years.

"Texas will have shifted from solidly Anglo, Protestant cities to color blocs that are essentially Catholic. These are macro shifts. Any politician in this state who doesn't realize the minority vote is the crucual vote in this state, and is populist in his politics, doesn't know what's going on. If the Republicans don't shift gears quickly, they can forget it."

Perhaps, but on one fact there is no dispute. Even greater change lies ahead of Arlington and this region, and it is coming at an accelerating pace. If the demographers are correct, within the next 40 years Arlington will have doubled in population to 400,000 and the Dallas-Fort Worth region will hold 7.5 million people in a huge, powerful, unified political-economic base larger than Massachusetts.

At Arlington High School, James Crouch, the principal, an Arlington native, remembers poverty and war, and all the changes since.

Crouch is a conservative but he doesn't indulge in nostalgia about a simpler past. To him, Arlington has become woven inseparably into the fabric of the United States.

"I think if you got problems in Arlington, you got problems in the United States," he says. "I think if you got problems in Chicago, you got problems in Arlington. We're becoming very sophisticated here now. See, Arlington is made up of people from all over." He spoke of his grandchildren and the future, delivering an epilogue for this story of past and future in a dramatically changing part of America.

"When I think about my granddaughter, I think about how the world could destruct. If you invent an atomic bomb some damn fool's going to want to use it to see if it works. When I think of my grandson, I think he will live in space. He's excited by it. He'll go out there and explore space, and live in it. I feel like we ain't seen nothing yet if we don't blow it up."