The phone rang all day. The calls were from those who've been protesting the war. I'd written a column asking them some questions. Where were they, I wrote, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, when Saddam Hussein nerve-gassed his own citizens in 1988, when he started a war with Iran that left a million dead?

Today I want to let them speak. If part of our mission in the gulf is to protect freedoms, we should honor the freedom of allowing dissent to be heard.Margo Murphy is 35 and works with Legal Aid. She laughed and acknowledged that many who see people like her standing in the cold with placards would conclude they're crazy. A better word, she said, is committed.

She began by saying she supports the troops - she wants to bring them home safe. She added: "I don't think Saddam Hussein is a sane person, I think he's insane."

If she truly feels Saddam is insane, I asked, why doesn't she think we should stop him?

"There will always be someone like him," she said. "We have to figure out ways to deal with that without wasting lives. I don't think we can call ourselves a civilization if we always resort to war."

Joyce Katzberg, a singer who also works with a health-care union, is another protester. A week ago, she and others marked their 10th anniversary of protesting U.S. policies - like our support of the Contras - weekly.

Why not protest Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds?

She explained there aren't enough hours to protest all the world's human rights violations. "I'm a citizen of this country," she said. "What is happening now is happening in my name."

Her protest banner: "Non-violence or non-existence."

I asked if she ever sees a justification for war.

"I think the weapons we have now are the enemies," Katzberg said. "What we have started here is a chain reaction of hate. The violence level will be upped."

Last week, while protesting, several people threw eggs at her. She thinks they were just a few haters. She believes that most Americans, even those who disagree, respect her right to dissent.

Richard Espeut is 43, a florist, Navy veteran and protester. He hands out yellow ribbons to his customers with a disclaimer: The ribbons are to support the troops, but oppose the policy that put them there. He, too, has spent years protesting such things as the U.S. invasions of Panama and Grenada.

He's back on the streets now because he doesn't believe we should be fighting for non-democracies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

I pointed out that there are few perfect democracies anywhere, and when fighting a threat, nations rarely get to pick ideal allies.

He went on to say the war will cost us at home. "The money we're spending on this war could feed a lot of hungry people," he said. "It could help a lot of homeless people." He added that a stable Middle East can only be achieved by resolving the region's problems at the table, not inflaming them with bombs. He said we created Saddam by arming him. In the future, he said, we should learn we will always pay a price for backing dictators.

He added this: "It's wrongheaded to think that force is the only way."

Everyone I spoke with - and there were a half dozen others - echoed that thought. They truly feel violence worsens all problems, never solves them; and that going to war is immoral.

Speaking with the protesters made me respect their idealism. Perhaps some day I can learn to be as idealistic. But now, I see the world as does a voice of peace who spoke on the gulf last week: Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.

He said that war is evil. But there are times in history when it is the only way to stop a greater evil. This, he said, is such a time.