Integrity and character are not relative terms. No one can be a little trustworthy or partially true to moral values. These traits are judged purely on a pass-fail basis, and while someone who is dishonest in one area may tell the truth in another, that person's every move ought to be considered suspect.

This may be considered old-fashioned logic by today's standards. Politicians argue that personal infidelities are irrelevant measuring rods for public fidelity. So do many other people in a variety of professions. This notion, though flawed, is receiving widespread acceptance. But when lives and the security of the nation lie in the balance, there can be no room for doubt.The military has proposed downgrading adultery, making it a crime only when it disrupts the morale or smooth functioning of a unit. If President Clinton approves this change, discipline will take a body blow, and the nation's security will suffer.

Not that the change itself is so drastic. Adultery, when it is proven to have hurt morale, still would be grounds for dismissal for officers. Enlisted personnel would receive a bad-conduct discharge, which is hardly desirable. The act still would be a crime. No, the destructive part of this change is the subtle message it would send to military personnel and civilians alike.

Don't forget, this proposal comes against a backdrop of some highly publicized cases of military immorality. The Pentagon hasn't always been consistent in the way it metes punishment in these cases. For example, Air Force 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn was more or less forced to accept a less-than-honorable discharge rather than submitting herself to a court-martial. But a man with a much more powerful title, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, escaped discipline for adultery. His only concession was to withdraw his name from consideration for chairmanship of the joint chiefs of staff.

Such inconsistencies do present problems. The answer would be to impose a strict punishment across the board. Instead, the proposed change is a charge ahead in a different direction. It would encourage the idea that adultery is a minor and relatively insignificant indiscretion.

It is not. Adultery is a serious form of deceit. It is a blot on a person's character. To be effective, soldiers must learn to trust each other with their lives. Even if adultery is committed outside the military unit and is not considered a hindrance to morale, it raises doubts about a person's moral discipline.

To be strong, a military must require more than just physical discipline. Dishonesty should be cut out like a cancer.