Maybe it will be known as the "Six Weeks War." If so it will conjur up memories among historians of the "Seven Weeks War" between Austria and Prussia dating back to the 19th century.

Who would have believed that a war fought in 1991 could be restricted to six weeks with relatively few casualties?Regardless of what it is called, George Bush's foray into the Persian Gulf has changed the 20th century approach to war - and maybe the 21st century approach too.

Prior to the Civil War, it was possible to regard war as a necessary tactical maneuver that might have some minuses or losses but probably some pluses too and would be over in a few weeks.

The carnage of the Civil War changed all that. The two world wars seemed to teach a final lesson - that war is so inclusive and so destructive that it is to be avoided at all cost.

The final heartbreak came in the stalemates of Korea and Vietnam - limited wars for limited objectives that went on and on. We had reached a truly awful point in the history of war - we either fought demoralizing, limited wars that could not be won - or we risked all-out nuclear war that could end the human race.

So when Bush made his crucial decision in the gulf, people who had Vietnam memories burned into their psyches could see it all happening again. Non-stop war with no advantages. Protests. The returning veterans who got no respect.

Even many of those who supported the president held their breath - hoping it would be a good war - a short one that would end with victory. But they weren't optimistic, and the news restrictions didn't help.

Then last week, Bush appeared on national television and said, "Kuwait is liberated and Iraq's army is defeated." Amazing. In fact, said the president, "This war is now behind us."

For a president who knew what the Korean War had done to Harry Truman's presidency and what Vietnam had done to Lyndon Johnson's, those must have been sweet words. Not only is Bush's popularity secure for the forseeable future (an unprecedented 91 percent reported in USA Today), but there are also no Democratic candidates waiting in the wings to oppose him in 1992 - except for the gutsy George McGovern.

Bush is a cinch for '92 - and whoever the Democratic candidate becomes will be a sacrificial lamb. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell, and General Norman Schwarzkopf have also attained national prestige that might be parlayed into political careers - if they can wait until '96.

In 1944, General Eisenhower told the Allied expeditionary force prior to the Normandy invasion, "I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."

The Korean and Vietnam Wars did not seem so noble.

But General Schwarzkopf's forces freeing Kuwait in a blaze of glory captured the sense of nobility our wars had lost. Surrendering Iraqi soldiers hugging their captors was an unforgettable sight.

For a nation that has worked since the end of World War II to be militarily prepared for any eventuality, it was a chance to see how prepared. New weapons that had never been used in war were used successfully, and the young men and women of the armed services turned out to comprise a highly effective professional force.

Those who feared the almost certain reinstatement of the draft could heave a sigh of relief and recognize that the all-volunteer force does work in time of national crisis. A half-million men and women rose to the occasion.

And those who faulted Bush for his broken promise of "no new taxes" and distrusted his pledge that the Persian Gulf would not be another Vietnam can take comfort in a president who kept a very big promise this time - even if it does restore America to a position of unquestioned authority in the world.

It's hard even for us pacifists to complain about the outcome.