Pope John Paul II has turned the land of the free into what looks like a police state. It has been that way since he landed in Miami, where the airport was ringed by somber National Guard troops in battle fatigues. The international press corps was struck by the docile, unspontaneous nature of that first crowd and by the massive deployment of security forces.

Along the parade routes, rifles have often outnumbered flags. Helicopters hover constantly. Green Army jeeps and shiny black police motorcycles scoot about. Main freeways have been closed for hours. Parade crowds were unexpectedly thin in Miami and New Orleans because roadblocks and military checkpoints made it so hard to get anywhere. In San Antonio, where the atmosphere was more relaxed, the crowds were bigger and more buoyant.

Tight security for world figures is a part of modern life -- especially for Pope John Paul II, who has survived two assassination attempts -- but not even President Reagan gets this kind of protection. For a trip whose themes have been human dignity and the responsibilities of freedom, it seems odd that the dominant images are uniforms, guns, ropes, badges and, now and then, a glimpse of a white-robed man standing inside a glass-bubbled jeep, looking like an animated wax figure as he disappears.David Maraniss PAPAL VISIT STATION