Alex Molnar, a tenured professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee whose Marine Corps son has been in Saudi Arabia for three months, wrote a letter to President Bush on Aug. 22. No reply has come. While checking the mail every day for a White House envelope -- by now he'll settle for a postcard from an underling -- Molnar has been inundated with thousands of other letters.

They come from fellow relatives of soldiers, many of them parents of young men and women who agree with the professor's Aug. 22 letter to Bush, as it was reprinted in the New York Times: "In the past you have demonstrated no enduring commitment to any principle other than the advancement of your political career. This makes me doubt that you have either the courage or the character to meet the challenge of finding a diplomatic solution to this crisis. If, as I expect, you eventually order American soldiers to attack Iraq, then it is God who will have to forgive you. I will not."

The unexpectedly large response to Molnar's letter led him to form the Military Families Support Network. Nearly 3,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and relatives of gulf-deployed soldiers are members. They agree with the network's position, that diplomacy, not slaughtering, must be the solution to the standoff: "We believe that an American offensive would be a personal tragedy for thousands of American families and a disaster with unforeseen consequences for our country at home and abroad."

Molnar's life has been radically altered by the response to his letter. Where he once stood in a classroom sharing thoughts with students on educational theory, now he addresses anti-war rallies. He is a fresh voice, too new a face to be dismissed as a '60s holdover hot to hit the streets with signs saying Kuwait is Arabic for Vietnam.

By his political philosophy, Molnar is not a pacifist opposed to all wars. His position on the gulf encampment -- a defensive exercise now turned offensive -- is that it promises to be a war for the slimiest of causes: to restore the opulent lifestyle and undemocratic regime of the emir of Kuwait. "Should our loved ones be killed," he asks, "to put a despot back on his throne?"

Many of the letters coming into the offices of the Military Families Support Network -- P.O. Box 11098, Milwaukee, Wis. 53211 -- are from citizens who ask for anonymity or don't sign their name. "They are afraid of risking retribution for their loved ones in the gulf," Molnar believes.

A mother from Wisconsin sent a copy of Molnar's letter to her Marine Corps son in the Gulf. After saying that mail from Aunt Helen and Uncle Ralph had come through, he wrote: "I believe that the professor at UWM is right. All we are doing here is protecting oil. ... The politicians don't have to fight and die but they look good when they talk and act tough. Bush is trying to save his career and get the people's mind off our problems at home. The problems there are worse than the problems here. You and I both know that."

Three-fourths of the letters to the network are supportive, one-fourth critical. Much of the latter focus on one question: The soldiers in the gulf volunteered to join the armed forces, so they have no right to complain. What did they expect?

Molnar answers: "What they expected was political leaders who would act morally and constitutionally, and who would not put soldiers' lives in jeopardy for policies inconsistent with this country's values and Constitution. If this country does go to war, then I want to see my senators and representatives getting up and voting yes or no and accepting the consequences of that vote."

No congressional hearings, debates or votes are planned. Grumblings have been heard but they are mostly Sunday gab-show statements of cautious distancing from Bush. Instead of standing right behind him, which has been the patriotic pose since Aug. 2, boldness is now to stand five feet behind him.

Bush's unilaterally sending 200,000 troops to the gulf meant that the United States was involved. With 200,000 more troops, it is now mired. Saudi sand is becoming quicksand. No Kissingerian talk of "surgical" strikes against Iraq is heard anymore. Mutual butchery now looms.

When they enlisted, were U.S. soldiers told to expect that? Were they told that Bush, his yes-man Cheney and their generals could act on their own, with no accountability to Congress? Prof. Molnar and other military families in his network have tried to get an appointment in the White House to ask Bush those questions. The emir from Kuwait has been in for a chat, but not them.