To play or not to play? That is a question not worth considering. Yet we have a debate about whether NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue should call off those two big playoff games this weekend, and also rub out Super Bowl XXV. All of this to avoid showing disrespect for our men and women in the Persian Gulf.

It should not be an issue for several reasons, some of which will be mentioned later. Let the football shows go on.

On the home front, this isn't to be confused with World War II. Nobody blindsided us like the Japanese did, evoking the fury that gripped all citizens when all those ships were sunk and all those Americans were killed. There has been no Pearl Harbor, and there are big buckets of sentiment to the effect we are fighting somebody else's war. Untrue as that may be. Whatever, there isn't the same enthusiasm.

This is not 1941. In 1941, we didn't even have a two-minute warning. This time, there were five months to contemplate Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. We made the decision when to strike.

And contrast the final moves to war with the situation in 1941 when the Senate, by an 82-0 vote, and the House, 388 to 1, gave President Franklin Roosevelt the word to move against Japan. How different was the mind-set last week when President Bush had to muscle Congress hard to give him his slim majority approving U.S. actions.

It is curious why pro football seems to have been fingered as the target for showing our solemn concern for the sacred lives of our men and women in the desert. Other businesses and activities seem to have escaped this responsibility.

The stock market appeared to believe an opening prayer was all that was necessary to fulill its obligations to sentiment. And at a time when 430,000 U.S. troops were facing the Iraqis, 10 U.S. congressmen staged their own desert maneuvers with an all-expenses-paid golf junket to Palm Springs. And the newspapers are filled with all those ads about dreamy Caribbean cruises to counter any depression about the war in the desert.

Not everyone seems to be caught up with the same war fever that prevailed in 1941-1945, when Americans were cautioned, "Loose lips can sink ships." And when men from 18 to 45 were registering for the draft; a second draft for many, who, like Hank Greenberg, had served his time and was called back again after Pearl Harbor.

The luck of the draw affected everybody. My younger brother, Bernard, phoned to asked what number I drew. It was, as I remember, somewhere in the 4,000s. He said: "You lucky stiff. There you are with a wife and three children and you get that big number. I'm single, no dependents, and draw No. 42." It led to four rough years in the Army, including time in New Guinea's jungles.

Into the service went a parade of baseball's biggest names -- Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and his little brother, Dom, Bob Feller and so many others who left their teams decimated. Leo Durocher had a punctured eardrum and stayed out of it. Joe Louis and Billy Conn went in, as did Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Graziano, both of whom got in trouble with officers and got early retirement.

The big leagues were populated with 4-Fs, the Army's physical rejects. And even so, the ranks became so thin that in 1945 the Browns signed a one-armed outfielder named Pete Gray, who had a decent 77-game big league career. So driven were the Senators they signed an outfielder named Ed Boland, fresh out of the New York City Sanitation Department leagues.

There was no call to suspend baseball. President Roosevelt gave the game the official green light. The fans responded and, brace for this: the Senators led the American League in attendance in 1945.

All of this happened before the antismoking crusades. Camels, Chesterfields and Lucky Strikes were the big sellers, but they became hard to come by because of some kind of squeeze. Lucky Strikes began to be packaged in a white pack, a move the manufacturer explained this way: "Lucky Strike Green has gone to war."

In times, the big brands became totally unavailable, and we were grateful for any kind of cigarette. We responded to rumors that smokes could be bought at Whalen's, around the corner from The Post building. We raced to buy off-brands called "Home Run" and "Twenty Grand," bitter things at the new inflated rate of 25 cents a pack, not the 15-cent cigarettes we knew.

A standing joke in wartime Washington was the new, cavernous Pentagon building, and the stories of how Western Union boys got lost there and were never heard from again. It was where Vincent Flaherty of the Herald and I received our credentials as war correspondents on the same day, he for the European theater and I for the South Pacific.

We were given escorts and badges to turn in when we left the building. Later, during the Battle of the Bulge, when Flaherty was not heard from for a long period, his worried publisher, Cissy Patterson of the Herald, asked the Pentagon for help in trying to locate him.

Eventually, they phoned Mrs. Patterson with this message. "Our records show that Mr. Flaherty never turned in his exit badge. As far as we are concerned, he's still in the Pentagon."