Most people aren't heroic most of the time. This is the axiom the Polish military government is counting on in breaking strikes and resistance to martial law.
But, Poles have a penchant for martyrdom.
This is the contrary axiom the Solidarity strike leaders who are still at large are counting on.
These two axioms sum up the view in Bonn from the fragmentary and contradictory information leaking out of a Poland that has sealed its borders and its airspace. And - contrary to international law - blocked travel by Western diplomats inside Poland.
The military government has the advantages of surprise, advance organization, and a monopoly on weapons, information, and all but the most rudimentary means of communication.
It has the disadvantages of having torn up Poland's tenuous social contract, resorted to brute force for the first time in a year and a half, and forfeited what little remained of the government'smoral authority.
The government is therefore banking on the weariness of hungry women in snowy lines to lead to a realistic acceptance of the facts of power.
It is also banking on pacifying the country quickly enough so that only the old-guard elite security forces - and not Army conscripts - will actually have to suppress strikers.
The strikers' top union leadership has been rendered powerless. The strikers are also isolated from one another, since the Polish security forces managed to prevent a repetition of the Czech experience in 1968; at that time the Czechs and Slovaks took over the emergency radio and TV network and ran it for a week without detection by the Soviet Army.
The only advantages the strikers have are their decentralized organization, their aura as the carrier of Polish nationalism, fury over one more government betrayal - and young members' feeling they have nothing to lose.
The Solidarity strike leaders are therefore trying to gain time - to reorganize, to shame the conscripts into joining with Solidarity, to show the Army is not invincible, and to appeal to that profound sense of very idealistic but unrealistic Polish honor.
The military government thus faces a delicate task of using enough force to persuade the strikers that their cause is hopeless - but not so much that ordinary Poles will be blinded to common sense by their outrage.
The Solidarity strikers face the delicate task of persuading the workers that strikes really can moderate policy - or at least avert the humiliation of acquiescence in repression.
Reports indicate that the Army has succeeded in evicting students and strikers from many dormitories and factories. Reports also indicate, however, that new and better organized strikes are spreading. At this writing 150 plants are said by Western diplomats to be under military control.
It is not yet clear how much violence - or restraint - has been exercised in the process. (French television quoted French Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy Dec. 16 as saying nine people have been killed and some 45,000 arrested since the Dec. 13 takeover in Poland.)
Diplomatic sources have confirmed reports that Solidarity chairman Lech Walesa, under house arrest in a Warsaw suburb as of Dec. 15, was refusing to cooperate with the military government.
Information thus far suggests that the final decision to implement martial law the night of Dec. 12/13 was made suddenly - probably after the late Dec. 12 Solidarity meeting calling for a referendum on the Polish government-military alliance.
Analysts here infer further that the decision was made by Polish commander Wojciech Jaruzelski and only one or two others. The timing and the small number of decisionmakers may be explained by the report reaching diplomats in Warsaw that Politburo hard-liners Tadeusz Grabski and Stefan Olszowski had planned a mid-December coup of their own. If this is true, the declaration of martial law may have been a preemptive move against hard-liners, too.
A key target of both government and strikers is the vast middle ground of waverers. This was epitomized in the Dec. 14 antistrike action in Gdansk reported by a Dutch journalist in an account smuggled out of Poland. Troops surrounding the Gdansk shipyard gave strikers one hour to leave the yard or be evicted. ''Thousands'' of workers streamed out, the report said. Strikers who remained, and their supporters outside the gates - a much smaller group than when Solidarity was founded there 16 months ago - began singing the Polish national anthem with its poignant opening line: ''Poland is not yet lost.'' Those who abandoned the strike did so with bowed heads.