Welcome to the war.

Never before has a war so completely permeated our daily lives.Not only do we have loved ones participating in it with the resulting dislocations in our families, but we hear emotionally charged reports around the clock.

This is a new generation, far removed from the one that lived through the Vietnam War on television, but all of that came back to me this week.

The Vietnam War did not begin dramatically the way this one did. It just grew insidiously, like a disease, and we watched it every night on the network news.

We had such a steady diet of war then that we almost missed its escalation. The meaning escaped us.

This time it hit with such force that it was more frightening - even without pictures.

Maybe because there were no pictures.

Knowing it was going to begin, then hearing reports of the first aerial attack, then hearing descriptions of what it was like from reporters in Baghdad, then hearing them describe the actual damage seemed more frightening than watching it all might have been.

Having it take over television so completely was like a Blitzkrieg for children, who not only had their regular programs removed but had little understanding of what it meant.

My youngest son became hung up over the failure of some TV reporters to call it the "Persian Gulf WAR" instead of the "Persian Gulf CRISIS."

He was confused about how many different nations were participating and what they were accomplishing, but he understood the dramatic change that had taken place.

It made an important difference to the prayers of everyone - who had to stop praying that negotiations might preserve peace - and start praying for a short war with the least possible loss of lives.

I found myself feeling terribly depressed by the war - even when the first reports of the success of aerial bombardment starting rolling in.

I watched the president's initial report to the nation and was uncomfortable when he actually smiled when quoting several members of the armed services in Saudi Arabia who agreed with his policy.

It didn't seem like the right time to smile.

I remembered how uncomfortable Richard Nixon had always seemed when addressing the nation on television about the Vietnam War his eyes nervously lurching from side to side and his upper lip beading with perspiration and occasionally breaking into a smile. None of his television messages was completely satisfactory - and neither was that of Bush.

He said he would bring back our service people as soon as possible, but he failed to say that the war was a wrenching experience for him or that he was saddened by the necessity for it.

I wanted him to embrace idealism and equal the majesty of a Franklin D. Roosevelt in time of crisis.

The message had a certain smug quality that offended me. I wanted him to feel it on television - to radiate some compassion.

The local TV stations had some trouble figuring out what to do. They kept interrupting the networks with mundane information of their own - and Channel 5 even jumped back and forth between CBS and CNN for no apparent reason, stopping interesting reports in mid-sentence. I kept wishing they would just watch the network reports with the rest of us.

And as we watched TV throughout the evening, then got up and watched it again in the morning, we could see that this generation could become the most war-torn in our history - at least psychologically. I wondered how many parents were making any effort to explain the war to their children.

We should - even if any explanation must be incomplete. We have an obligation to our children to read the newspapers so that we can discuss it with them intelligently.

Increased understanding always helps to alleviate fear - and we need as much understanding as we can get right now.