PROTESTERS in Washington, Seattle, London, Paris, and Moscow have one thing in common: They all abhor the use of force to settle disputes. That fundamental motive is twinned with a profound sadness that a world which only months ago seemed roughly on course toward reliance on peaceful means for the resolution of crises has swerved back toward violent confrontation. That sadness may be deepest in the Soviet Union, where thousands of protesters turned out in Moscow's Red Square to voice their disgust with the killing of civilians in Lithuania. They're keeping the spirit of glasnost and democracy alive despite the Kremlin's reversion to the tactics of intimidation and the ``big lie.''
Protests against war in the Mideast are bigger in scale, but somewhat more diffuse in their political coloring. In Paris and in London, nearly 50,000 took to the streets to decry the resort to arms. Antiwar demonstrations in the US are multiplying; Vietnam-era teach-ins and sit-ins are being revived. Many in this movement see the Gulf crisis as a simple matter of economic imperialism, of spilling blood for oil.
A catchy slogan, but it's not that simple. Significant questions of international order and resistance to aggression are at stake too. Major protest organizations in the US can't agree on whether their condemnations should include the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, or focus solely on what's perceived as a warlike policy in Washington.
That note of ambivalence is inherent in the conflict itself. Millions find themselves opposed to war in the Gulf, but strongly of the view that Iraq's ruthless invasion of its neighbor ought to be reversed.
Perhaps that invasion, the precipitating event, should have spurred popular protest at the time. Perhaps future such actions, seen in their explosive implications, will. Perhaps diplomats and national leaders will now be more alert to defuse regional tensions before they ignite.
Immediate prospects for a diplomatic solution in the Gulf are faint. The prospects of Moscow quickly retracing its steps and returning to reasonable negotiation of the Baltics issue are not much better. The conviction remains, however, that such confrontations should be solvable through diplomacy, respect for basic rights, and compromise.
Thus the deepest protest should be a positive one: That mankind, with its resources of intelligence and compassion, has the capacity to find means other than war, and will yet.