THE preparations for a ground war involving British troops may seem a million miles further away from our front rooms than the 3,500 miles, or so, which actually separate us from Afghanistan.

It's our guess that most people, linked to the military action by nothing more binding than a TV screen, isolated from it by the events of domestic life, won't even have thought about the consequences of the months to come.

It comes down to how our minds have been conditioned.

There's a dwindling number of people in the Faithful City, and its surrounding communities, who remember with clarity what it was to live through the Second World War, and how they dealt with bad news. Korea likewise.

The Falklands and the Gulf have given most of the middle-aged population an inkling of what may follow, but they were short wars.

The thing we must remember - a point underscored by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's admission that finding Osama bin Laden will be akin to seeking needle in a haystack - is that both campaigns were short and sharp.

Today, it's emerged that the Marines are more likely to be involved in sustained attacks, rather than the lightning strikes made by special forces. In other words, more Western Front than Boy's Own.

Failure to find bin Laden would be a major setback for a coalition which made him the focus of world attention from September 11 onwards.

We must decide now how we're going to deal with the bad news that comes with picking up the gauntlet dropped by terrorism.

It's thousands of miles from our own backyards, but we all have to be prepared for the moment when we start paying a price.