The war against Iraq is on its predictable course, already arriving at the familiar milepost where one of the most American of our rights - the right of public protest - is called un-American.

Patriotism's call is heard again, and the protesters are rebuked as usual by risk-free warriors who wrap themselves in the sacrifice of others whose duty now places them in the path of war.Already that harshest and most cutting of the condemnations against the protesters is repeated: that once the nation is committed to war, any criticism of the decision - however wrong and dangerous the decision may be - signals lack of support for the young Americans who'll fight and die.

Someone should protest. Someone should protest to support those trusting and willing young Americans who serve with no protest of their own, whose lives and futures are now at risk in a conflict pumped all out of proportion to their country's real national interests.

Someone should protest the decisions of a wrong-headed president whose administration embraced and then demonized a nasty-tempered dictator and crafted the fiction that a Third World border fight over oil had become a potential "stranglehold" to the planet's well-being.

Someone should protest a cowardly Congress that couldn't bring itself to declare war, as the Constitution provides, but rubber-stamped a request by President Bush. It was a legislative action that took care to sanitize war and its awful consequences, not even authorizing the president to wage war but to use "force."

Someone should protest this war waged in the name of Bush's glorified "coalition partnership," an actual collection of countries - some of them bought and bribed - who've taken on only so much of the war with Iraq as they choose.

Predictable as in all the rest of it, the risk-free warriors question the motives of the protesters, calling into question not only their patriotism, their politics, even their courage and - not to overlook anything - the appearance of some protesters who've come obviously prepared to be dragged off and jailed.

There can't be any doubts that some of today's war protesters are the rabble of almost every public outburst, tired anarchists, Marxists, nihilists, the hangers-on whose comradeship is in opposition of everything.

But there is also in this protest, as there was in the Vietnam protest, the mainstream honest bravery of Americans who don't want to see Americans killed, who - for that matter - don't want to see Iraqis or other people killed for reasons so vapid the president must resort to hyperbole and bombast.

It can't escape notice in this protest against war that among the dependable infantry of anti-war protesters are parents of young men and women in the military. They are mothers and fathers not simply fearful for the lives of their children but fearful their lives will be wasted for no national purpose.

And Americans not inclined to protest, even opposed to protesters, might themselves be wary of Vice President Dan Quayle and other risk-free warriors, bold enough now to lecture Americans on patriotism and its responsibilities.