They're blue-blazer guys, who manage to come back from Florida pale, who lived a floor below you in college but you never noticed. Even their names sound ordinary: Marshall Harris, Jon Western, Stephen Walker. "Works well with others."

We never should have heard of them. They were mid-level bureaucrats, dots in the State Department matrix. But they've gone and done something extraordinary in Washington: They quit their jobs on moral grounds.

They are protesting U.S. policy in Bosnia and have created the most public dissent in the department since the Vietnam War. Men schooled to analyze and keep their opinions quiet are clanging frying pans. They have demanded intensified diplomatic efforts, an end to the arms embargo against Bosnian Muslims, a commitment to bomb the mean out of the Serbs.

They were three fine young specimens with promising futures in senior slots, until they opened up their mouths and cried "principles."

What happened?

Now that you're here, he'll click off U2's "Zooropa." Otherwise the stereo must play, constant thumps, drumming out the lurid noise in his head.

He hadn't been into music. This year, though, Jon Western slipped out every day at lunch, clamped on headphones at Tower Records and dissolved some pain. He didn't use to have trouble sleeping. But this year, nights, he kept his eyes open.

"You close your eyes and get holograms of the carnage in your mind," Western says.

The 30-year-old's task at State was to compile reports on the atrocities, sift through thousands of documents, examine photos, screen videos of "human beings who look like they've been through meat grinders."

Western's job as an intelligence analyst was to look for patterns in Serb behavior toward Bosnian Muslims. He found one, he says: "Genocide."

His voice is taut, as if he were gripping each word too tightly in his throat. He has fine blond hair, and a soft, fair face that would seem boyish if it weren't so serious.

Western is twisting his fingers in the living room of a rented home in Arlington. Behind him, boxes clutter the floor, the wine rack is empty, the picture hooks bare, as he packs up to move. This fall he'll start a PhD program in political science at Columbia University. He and his wife, Jennifer, are dumping the money they'd saved to buy a house into $17,000-a-year tuition. No choice, he believes.

"My wife and I decided if I stayed here another year ..." Western can't figure how to finish the sentence. So instead he blinks blue eyes that have taken in too much lately, and flushes.

He grew up in North Dakota, surrounded by ICBMs, wondering why, curious about international affairs. After several government jobs, State hired him as an intelligence analyst. This is the job I've always dreamed of, reads his journal entry on his first day, July 15, 1990.

When he first began investigating war crime accusations against Serbs, he had his doubts.

"You're taught to be objective," Western says. "You're trained not to believe everything you hear."

But the evidence piled up, he says, as he pored through reports, often till 10 at night: There were the Serbs who forced Muslim prisoners to carve crosses in each other's skulls; the preteen girls raped in front of their parents; the 65-year-old Muslim man and his 35-year-old son forced at gunpoint to orally castrate each other. The son relented. The father took a bullet in the head.

"It isn't a civil war," Western concluded. "It's the systematic slaughter of civilians."

He read and reread the 1948 U.N. Convention for the Prevention of Genocide, and decided that what the Serbs were doing fit the definition. He voted for Bill Clinton, hoping the candidate would live up to his pledge for a stronger stance against the Serbs. He was disappointed.

He started pacing at night. He stopped running his daily five miles and had to buy new pants a couple of sizes larger. He trudged from the Metro each evening, bitter, muttering. When he got home he agitated over it endlessly to his wife of four years. They stopped renting drama videos, only comedies. They declared "no-Bosnia nights" and would go out, but all it took was a radio headline on Sarajevo to fill the car with gloom. At a wedding, he was talking about the Detroit Tigers with some friends when one asked, hey, how's your job. Western went off about the children being shot and women tortured.

"It got really quiet," he says.

The back broke on July 21, when Secretary of State Warren Christopher said the United States was doing all it could in the Balkans. From that day on, Western began leaving the office by 5 p.m. "I was done," he says. "I was basically tired."

After yet another sleepless night, he handed in his resignation on Aug. 6, writing, "I am personally and professionally heartsick by the unwillingness of the United States to make resolution of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia a top foreign policy priority." He entered the letter into his daily journal, describing his mood as "thoroughly demoralized and depressed."

The telephone rings.

"Yes," Western informs the caller, "the washer is seven months old." They're trying to sell it. Jennifer is moving in with a friend, so she can keep her job as a legislative aide for Sen. Byron Dorgan from North Dakota. It is their only source of income since Western gave up his $50,000-a-year salary.

On Sunday they will leave the little brick home, with their plants, cookbooks and furniture divided. They're trying to figure out what to do with Stan the cat. "Just one more thing to stress out about," Western says. The ordeal has put a lot of strain on his wife, he says, rubbing his eyes.

He walks into his study. The bookshelves are empty and his attache case is now filled with forms from Columbia. He plans on spending life as an academic, exploring why states end up like Yugoslavia.

Propped against the wall is a plaque from the department -- "In Recognition of Your Extraordinary Analysis." Next to it sits a globe.

"It's old," Western says, rotating it till his finger rests on an orange country labeled Yugoslavia. "It's back from when the world was nice and safe."

His hands might be trembling a little and his eyes might be fixed on the office table, but this backroom boy is stepping out.

"I resigned on principle," says Marshall Freeman Harris, 32, formerly a leading Bosnia monitor on the department's Yugoslavia desk.

Harris is sitting in the office of his new boss, Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.), perched on the same black leather chair McCloskey sat in earlier this month when Harris asked him for a job. The congressman is a critic of Clinton's Bosnia policy. Harris now works in a similar cubbyhole and manic atmosphere as he had at State. But here the ceilings are higher, and so are his spirits.

"What we were doing was not only wrong," says Harris. "It was something I couldn't participate in."

He wears sober ties. He has an unrehearsed smile and a brown tousle of hair, lacking any apparent shape or vanity. He reads Australian poetry anthologies for fun and keeps a slight crease between his brows when he speaks, as if he were simultaneously calculating mileage between foreign capitals.

"We would write stuff we knew bears no relation to what's happening," he says. "We'd say the Serbs will negotiate in good faith when we knew they were on a rampage. We'd look at the policy points and burst out laughing. And ultimately you wanted to cry."

Humor helped Harris and his office mates cope. When the cable traffic got heavy, they called it "a bad hair day." Although he never talked openly about resigning, Harris did meet with Western and others at lunch to debate possible courses of action.

In the spring, he and 11 other Foreign Service officers sent a letter to Christopher, demanding U.S. intervention. When Harris resigned Aug. 4, State Department officials said he was frustrated at being left out of the policy process. Christopher himself called it the act of a "young officer."

"Christopher may be 67, but he can make mistakes, and he is dead wrong on this issue," Harris says. "I have the courage of my convictions."

He also has the support of hundreds of other officers who disagree with U.S. policy, Harris says. The system at State breeds caution over independent thought, its critics say. There's a culture of expedience and euphemism. And if your views vary with U.S. policy, you're still bound to go out and faithfully defend it.

Yet dissent on Bosnia is wide open, Harris says -- walk the halls and listen. Within hours of his resignation, colleagues flooded him with calls and notes saying well done, he says. Older members have been less willing to go public, Harris says, because they have become more insular in their relationships, have more seniority at stake and carry greater financial responsibilities.

Harris had his own domestic pressures. By June he was ready to check out, but his wife, an engineer who grew up in London, liked the Foreign Service lifestyle. She urged him not to quit until he had another job. His father owns a timber company in Virginia; neighbors joked that the poetry aficionado could always making a living chopping down trees. He flip-flopped: Should he, could he, resign?

Meanwhile, he compounded his misery by immersing himself in histories of World War II. After work, after 13-hour days of Bosnia grief, he would crawl into bed, flick on a lamp and read "The Rise & Fall of The Third Reich" or a biography of Ribbentrop,. Hitler's foreign minister.

"There are bone-chilling parallels," says Harris. "I was like, here we go again. There's genocide taking place and we have an obligation to prevent it."

Finally, a friend hooked him up with Rep. McCloskey, who offered him the foreign policy adviser position for roughly the same salary. Two days later, he left State, after eight years in the Foreign Service, including postings to Macedonia, Bulgaria and England.

The night before he resigned, Harris called his father to break the news. His father winced. Quit? Are you sure?

"I said, I'm sure," Harris recalls, by now master of the black leather chair. The tremble has left his hand and his eyes have let go of the office table. "I said, I'm doing the right thing."

The sound technician loops a mike under his arm and clips it to his tie.

"Hey!" says Stephen Walker. Before his resignation Monday, Walker, 30, hadn't been on television since he was 6 years old, rollicking on a Boston show called "The Boomtown Kids." "I was the sheriff once," Walker says, in a reference that seems to escape NBC's State Department correspondent, John Dancy.

The men are seated under a fir tree on the front lawn of the NBC bureau, in the crossbeams of lights and cameras. Walker has just pulled up in an NBC courier car. It's melting hot out. Someone brings him a Diet Coke. Walker has round cheeks, wide brown eyes with thick lashes, and a mustache combed with gold. He looks like a friendly forest animal.

"Fascinating, dealing with all the attention," says Walker, a Croatia specialist. "It's heartening to know there's interest."

George Kenney, the former desk officer for Yugoslav affairs -- the first to leave State in protest last August -- arrives for the joint interview. Dancy claps his hands and calls, "Rolling!"

Several questions and several bobs of Walker's Adam's apple later, Walker states, "There's no reason to think the administration is going to follow through on its commitment -- "

Cut. "Could everybody just blot for a minute?" a technician asks,

and out fly the handkerchiefs. "We're trying to cut the shine."

All week, the State Department dissenters have danced the media polka. Far from spotlight-chasers, they felt their resignations would effect change to the extent it raised public awareness. This administration, more than past ones, bases policy on public opinion, they say.

Department spokesman Michael McCurry acknowledges that within State, "there's a lot of frustration, people here saying, we wish there was more we could do." But, McCurry says, "you talk to your relatives, I talk to mine, and they think {Bosnia} is a horrible problem, but they don't think we should be getting in the middle."

Walker asks: How can we not?

"We came out of the '80s thinking our generation was driven by ambition and money," he says. "This shows we haven't lost our principles."

Walker had taped a fictitious newspaper article to his desk at State, headlined "Hitler Agrees to Negotiate With the Jews," drawing ironic parallels with the Serb-Muslim talks. He confided in the guys who already had resigned. The Foreign Service is the only job he has known since college. He agonized constantly -- while he was shaving, staring at his newspaper, walking the Mall and bumping into Jon Western on his way back from Tower Records -- over whether to break ties with his "Foreign Service family."

But by last week, Walker had decided he no longer had a choice. "It felt like I was filing for a divorce," he says sadly. When Walker submitted his letter to a senior official, he recalls, the man looked at him aghast and said, "My God. Why are you doing this?"

And almost immediately, there was the Associated Press jangling his phone. "At first I thought, O God -- the press -- call the public affairs officer," Walker says. "Then I was, no, wait -- don't call him -- talk to me -- it is me."

After eight years of indoctrination on avoiding journalists, of security clearances and classified documents, of institutional lockjaw, Walker felt jittered by reporters. During the first few interviews, he clutched his resignation letter to keep his thoughts clear. But by the time the BBC rang at 11 p.m. and he had spoken to all the majors, he was fine.

"Connie Chung saying my name on the news," Walker says. "That's a thrill."

He's moving up to Stamford, Conn., where Marissa, his commuter wife, has her podiatry practice. Monday, he'll print out resumes and start looking for a new job. No offers so far. They're going to have to cut back on luxuries. They have already agreed to give up their favorite, Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

More sacrifices lie ahead, some anticipated and others they haven't even begun to imagine. But this evening Walker feels the rush of speaking his principles, and an NBC courier car is waiting to take him home.