Pete Peterson can only imagine what is happening to the American pilots captured by Iraq. But he thinks he has a pretty good idea.

First, they're elated to be alive. Then, they blame themselves for their predicament."You always feel like in some way you failed. It's a natural human instinct, a problem for every prisoner," said Peterson, who spent nearly seven years as a POW in Vietnam. "You have to get your self-confidence back. You have to be prepared for a great deal of suffering, pain and isolation, and at the same time plan to survive in spite of it."

Peterson, a freshman congressman from Florida, said he doesn't talk about it much, but the experience remains vivid and colors his life to this day.

He was a 19-year-old in Nebraska when he joined the Air Force in 1954. He was still young when he volunteered for Vietnam, and just 31 when he was captured.

That part is always the greatest shock, Peterson said in a recent interview. You were in the middle of direct combat, part of the big plan, on your way to drop a bomb, and suddenly "the bus just stopped, you got off and you're in enemy hands."

So then what happens? They start to torture you. They want to know all about forces and targeting and weapons and timing. Was he tortured?

"Oh yes," Peterson said matter-of-factly. Is Iraq torturing its captive Americans? "No doubt about it," he replied. "If they're not, it's probably the first time in warfare that it hasn't been done."

And how do you survive?

"It's just a matter of personal determination," Peterson said. "You have to decide if you want to stay on the planet or get off. I've seen men go into a corner and die because they didn't want to have to continue to resist."

It's essential for a prisoner to continue to feel as if he's part of the battle plan, according to Peterson - to engage in "minor psychological warfare." Resist the enemy. Give out deceptive information. Don't comply with requests.

And, maybe even more important, "take your mind out of your body. You place yourself somewhere else mentally, doing other things - fantastic, complex challenges that keep you alert. You create some sort of dream reality."

In his case, in his mind, he envisioned innumerable idyllic family outings. He vowed to go to the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl and race-car driver school.

"I built a house," Peterson recalled. "I opened up businesses. I went through investment schemes. I had various career plans mapped out within the military and outside the military." Did he map out Congress? "I really didn't," said the Democrat, who ousted an incumbent to get there.


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74% in poll expect long conflicts

Optimism that the Persian Gulf war will end quickly has sharply fallen in a matter of days, according to a public opinion poll published Monday that found three out of four people now believe the war will last a month or more.

A USA Today poll taken Sunday by Gordon S. Black found 74 percent of people think the war will last a month or longer, the newspaper said. On Wednesday, only 43 percent said a month or more.

Other opinion polls have found Americans upbeat about the progress of the war, but two out of three remain worried the conflict will spread.

The USA Today poll also found 76 percent of people support President Bush's decision to attack; 63 percent felt Israel should not retaliate for Iraq's missile assault on the Jewish state; 50 percent said war protests angered them; and 7 percent said the protests made them proud.

In a poll taken by the Gallup Organization for CNN on Thursday and Friday, 29 percent said they were very worried, and an additional 38 percent were somewhat worried war could spread throughout the region or to other parts of the world.


Home-front woes bring mom back

A soldier who left her children with a sitter when she and her husband were sent to the Persian Gulf has returned since the sitter was charged with murder and says she'll ask the Army for a discharge.

"I'm not going back to Saudi Arabia," Pfc. Michelle Lawrence said Saturday in Beckley, W.Va. "If I could stay in (the Army) without leaving my children, I would, but my children are more important to me than the Army."

Lawrence and her husband, Army Spc. Rodney Lawrence, were stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, when they were sent to the Middle East in August. They left their three sons with Demerise Ann Smith, 39, of Fairdale, W.Va., the mother-in-law of a soldier they knew.

On Thursday, Smith was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in the 1989 drowning of her husband, Jackie Dale Smith.

The next day, Lawrence was reunited with her sons, Tony, 4; Brandon, 2; and Rodney Jr., 5 months.