The article ``Gorbachev Fights for Union Treaty,'' Dec. 20, reminds me of our own inglorious past at the time of the Civil War. President Lincoln, like Gorbachev, fought to hold our union together. Though our separate states were not republics as those in the USSR, they had many powers equal to republics, except, as Gorbachev desires for his central government, the power to issue money, a central army, absolute control over utilities, transportation, and the like.
As Lincoln said in 1861, ``We must settle this question now whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose.''
England and France seriously considered recognizing the Confederate states as a separate republic just as many nations today would prefer to recognize each sovereign state in the Soviet Union as an independent republic, especially the Baltic republics and the Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldavia.
The breakup of the USSR would likely weaken it as a major power to the same extent as the state-rights conflict in the South made internal divisions which weakened the Confederacy.
Even Lincoln during the war had his own dissents from Cabinet members, states' politicians, and blundering generals. President Davis of the Confederacy had similar problems with some governors.
In short, the situation in the USSR could lead to a civil war similar to ours if republics are permitted to secede.
D.T. Rogers, Whittier, Calif.
Still `a prison of nations' The editorial ``Gorbachev Stays the Course,'' Dec. 21, is puzzling. I don't understand the sanguine remarks about the KGB and the concentration of power in the Kremlin. The term ``nation'' is inappropriate for a country that has been held together by force and terror. The Soviet Union is successor to the Czarist empire and not much has changed since Lenin referred to it as ``a prison of nations.''
Ilvi J. Cannon, Bolton, Conn.
Little freedom in Romania The editorial `` ... and Floundering Romania,'' Dec. 19, says that Romania has been ``forced ... to introduce the most liberal economic reforms anywhere in Eastern Europe'' - for which the US should reward it with ``most favored nation tariff status.''
The Romanian price rises are a mixture of crass political repression (e.g., the huge price hikes on paper for such free newspapers as ``Romania Libera'') and the chaos of a still neocommunist government. But a genuine free market is nowhere in sight.
An editorial in the Washington Post notes that both in Bulgaria and ``in Romania, economic development is running backward, and the process of political evolution has hardly begun ... it would be a gross abuse to allow aid to prop up, in particular, the not-so-post-Communist regime in Romania.''
Juliana Geran Pilon, Washington, National Forum Foundation
Space: mankind's destiny Thank you for your editorial ``New Priorities in Space,'' Dec. 17. As one who holds deep beliefs in the necessity of space exploration, I think the editorial is thoughtful, although necessarily painful.
The next step should be to prove ourselves a reliable partner to other space-faring nations and use joint ventures and expertise with others to progress toward what I believe to be mankind's destiny - the exploration of outer space step by step until finally we reach for the stars as we were intended to do.
John Coombs, Salem, Ore.