Old soldiers never die - they become TV military analysts.

From the moment the first shot was fired in anger in the Persian Gulf, you can't turn on your set without seeing some guy with the word "(Ret.)" after his name chatting up some anchorman. That's "(Ret.)" as in "Retired," not as in "Reticent." There hasn't been so much brass in one place since the clearance sale at the candlestick store. Isn't there anybody left in the Officers Club?Some of them, these sudden experts, seem to belong exclusively to one network or another. Some of them make the rounds, telling Peter or Dan or Tom or Reid or anyone else who asks what the latest nugget from the front might mean. Some of them are talking heads, sitting in a chair, staring into a camera. And some of them do their best work with a display board and a pointer:

"You've got your primary defensive forces deployed here and here, you see, and so the point of attack can come here or here or here. Now, of course, that assumes that you can shift into a more aggressive formation right here, and split the seams against the zone coverage here, and send the halfback out of the backfield here, and . . ."

I'm not complaining, mind you, just noticing. War is a complicated business, and anyone who can shed a bit of light on it, laser or otherwise, is worth a few minutes of my time. You don't want to fight the last war, no, but there's a lot of highly trained talent that's gone out to pasture since then; we might as well get the benefit of their experience. Or as our vice president would say, "It's a terrible thing to waste your colonel, or not to have a colonel."

There's another reason, of course, for all these people filling up the airwaves: They're filling up time. Once you've committed to extensive coverage - smart bombs replacing the networks' usual bombs - you'd better have extensive news, and you don't, not always. So you talk to the former military men about the little bit you do know. And when you've wrung the last possible analytical word out of each and every one of them: You bring in the academics.

Poison-gas experts. Terrorism experts. (Can you major in these things?) Experts about Saddam Hussein's psyche - psychologists. Experts about Saddam's underground bunkers. (Bunkerologists?) And on and on. All these people who've spent years studying subjects the rest of us never thought about for even a moment, people you'd probably avoid at parties, in fact, and suddenly here they are, popping up on some producer's Rolodex, getting us through another day in Tubeland.

I swear I heard these words on CNN last night: "There have been no further developments in the Persian Gulf War over the past quarter-hour." Good thing they're not covering the Thirty Years' War. Not yet, anyway.