Northeast Washington resident James Moon spent 21 years in the Army, and when he heard of President Bush's deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf, he felt a "twinge of nostalgia" and a touch of regret that he wasn't going.

Moon's friend, 20-year Army veteran Johnny Johnson, of Silver Spring, had a different reaction: He feared young American men and women, particularly a large number of blacks, would die over a conflict that was none of our business.

"I feel that President Bush is meddling," said Johnson, a medical technician. "The majority of the troops over there who will fight on the front lines are blacks, and it's a white man's war."

The different reactions of Moon, 44, and Johnson, 45, reflect the dichotomy among blacks on the Persian Gulf crisis. A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that while 84 percent of whites support the deployment, only 63 percent of blacks do. Those results reflect a marked shift from a poll taken the day Bush announced the deployment, which showed 57 percent of blacks disapproved of sending troops.

Among blacks who disagree with the military involvement is a widespread belief that deployment will do more harm than good by usurping money that would be better spent on social programs, education and affordable housing. Many had looked to the peace dividend -- possible savings from cutbacks in military spending -- as the way to bolster such programs. According to government estimates, the cost of the deployment is exceeding $1 billion a month.

"There is panic in the black community as people look at the scourge of drugs, increasing murders, economic disparity and a lack of decent health care," said Russell Owens, director of the National Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies of Washington. "There is that feeling that, with the decline of the threat of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, we should realign our priorities."

But, said insurance company owner Edward Turner, 60, of Adelphi, both blacks and whites would be negatively affected if U.S. oil interests are endangered. "Black is beautiful, but business is business," said Turner, an Army veteran. "I think the president was right, but I think we should have gone in there and finished it."

Alvin Thornton, an associate professor of political science at Howard University, said many blacks feel the United States is not a "world police agency."

Nevertheless, said Manassas City Council member Ulysses X. White, 60, a 30-year Army veteran, Bush, as "the leader of the Free World," was right to send soldiers. "Our country is the only one capable of deploying forces of that magnitude, and {the president} was correct in exercising the leadership people expect of him."

Many blacks, recalling the death toll among blacks during the Vietnam War, expressed concern that black soldiers would die disproportionately should shooting start in the Persian Gulf.

"The difference between me and some of the white people I know is that I have a cousin over there and my girlfriend's brother is over there," said a Silver Spring man, 19, who asked not to be identified. "Most of the black people I know know someone who {is} over there, and that makes you scared for something to happen."

Statistics from the Joint Chiefs of Staff show that blacks, about 13 percent of the population, constitute more than 22 percent of the military. The Army, which would provide most of the front-line soldiers in a war, is 30.7 percent black. In Vietnam, where 47,244 U.S. service people died, about 5,700, or roughly 12 percent, were black, according to the Vietnam War Almanac.

"If there are disproportionate numbers of blacks in the service it is because society as a whole needs to address the reasons behind a lack of opportunity for blacks in private business," said Moon.

For many blacks, the U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf is another mobilization against a Third World country by a government that preaches democracy but does not always practice it by treating all of its citizens equitably, said Joslyn Williams, president of the Metro Washington Council of the AFL-CIO.

Williams said that "there is no great love lost in the black community for {Iraqi leader} Saddam Hussein," but that many blacks feel a kinship with Arabs because of ties that bind Arab and African countries.

"First Grenada, then Libya, then Panama, but I notice we did nothing in Afghanistan," said Tonia Marshall, 23, an unemployed mother of a baby girl who lives in Southeast Washington. "It seems like whenever we decide to take action, it's always against a poor country where the people are black or brown. For white countries who do something we don't like, we just talk."

Ron Walters, chairman of Howard University's political science department, said the deployment had served to remind blacks that they have been victims of police power, which at times included soldier involvement. "Police-related violence against blacks from the mid-1970s to the 1980s has been an increasing phenomenon, and police public relations has notoriously been what has set off riots," Walters said. "The policing power of the military has been one that blacks have borne the brunt of."

Thomas Prince, 63, an attache' to Iraq from 1965 to 1967, said he opposes the invasion of Kuwait but believes Saddam was motivated in part by what the Iraqi leader believed was a lack of good faith from Kuwait.

For years Iraqis have accused Kuwaitis of pumping oil from Iraqi territory; the two nations were also at odds over Kuwait's decision several years ago to increase the amount of oil it sold, which Iraqis felt resulted in a loss of revenue for Iraq, Prince said.

Former U.S. representative Barbara Jordan, now a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said she believes Bush was justified in deploying troops. "I can see profound folly in having a person like Saddam Hussein having control over that much oil," Jordan said. "A person who controls that much oil will be able to jerk around the economy of the Western World."

Jordan said opposition from blacks is not caused by lack of patriotism. Many blacks, she said, feel the Persian Gulf conflict is a "business and oil concern and not the concern of the average person."

Some blacks have begun to organize their opposition to the deployment. A petition drafted by five Howard professors demanding the withdrawal of troops is circulating among faculty members, said Rodney Green, who helped write the petition.

Virginia Del. Kenneth R. Melvin (D-Portsmouth), who supports the deployment, said the government sends a mixed message when it is "reluctant to use the stick when it comes to apartheid and sanctions against South Africa, but is willing to pull out all the stops" in the Persian Gulf.

Ras Baraka, 21, vice president of the Howard University Student Association, agreed.

"Sometimes it seems we are only American when it's time to pay taxes and go fight," he said.