The Pentagon celebrated the Bill of Rights bicentennial this year by announcing that it was going to restrict the most precious right of them all - the people's right to know.

For 200 years, the First Amendment has been imbedded as a fundamental of the American system. But the military brass, as the clock ticked down toward a confrontation with Iraq, announced a replacement for the Bill of Rights - self-serving regulations to hobble war correspondents.This not only inhibits the right to report, but the greater infringement is on the people's right to an unofficial version of events. The First Amendment entitles Americans to a rival account of the news, an independent measure by which to judge how their leaders handle a crisis.

Yet the Pentagon decreed that correspondents would be shepherded around the battle area by military escorts and that their reports would be subject to security review. Plain and simple, the brass would love to draw a curtain of secrecy between foreign operations and the people back home.

In past wars, working reporters were turned loose on the battlefields without any, except voluntary, restraints on their reporting. They were tolerated because they served as the eyes and ears of the people. Why, then, does the military brass of the 1990s want to impose more restrictions upon the media now than during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War?

There is no military necessity for it - no requirements of secrecy or sensitivity that should supersede the people's First Amendment rights. The reasons are twofold:

First, the military was badly burned by the Vietnam experience. The United States got bogged down in a backwater war that turned stagnant. When military tactics failed to dislodge the Viet Cong and when Americans at home lost their stomach for the bloodshed, the generals blamed the media.

Second, the Pentagon has invested billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry that may not perform well under battle conditions. Battlefield command-and-control centers could malfunction. Troops under fire could mishandle their fancy equipment. Poor results on the battleground could jeopardize multibillion-dollar defense contracts. The Pentagon could be tempted to suppress news that endangered the military-industrial complex.

Of course, the military censors will deny that they are really censors and will swear that their interventions are intended solely to safeguard our fighting men and women. But history has demonstrated that troops will be safer, not in the tender care of the military, but under the watchful eye of the public through the media.

This is an issue that invites the response of Americans who value their First Amendment rights enough to exercise them. If you want to comment, we'll collect and tabulate your views. Then we'll transmit them in bulk to the Pentagon. The more letters we receive, the more weight they will carry.

Let the Pentagon know how you feel. Address your letters to: "Press Censorship," Jack Anderson, P.O. Box 2300, Washington, DC 20013.

RICE POLITICS - Before the trade embargo was placed on Iraq, that country was the largest market for rice grown in the United States. Now many trade analysts believe Japan will face increased pressure from the United States to open its markets to American rice. For years, Japan's 4.2 million rice growers have leaned on their government to keep all foreign-produced rice out of the country. But their influence is waning, and an increasing number of elected officials in Japan are calling for market liberalization. Not long ago such a stand would have been political suicide in Japan, but not today. The opening of Japan's rice market could help soothe the bitter feelings between the United States and Japan over trade issues.