William Raspberry's op-ed column of Jan. 23, ''Support, Not Protest,'' in which he maintains that all Americans should support the war now that it has begun, is a call for Americans to sanction the usurping of their rights and responsibilities that has characterized U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf since August.

Congress chose not to debate until Jan. 10 whether it should send this country to war. By then, President Bush had already completed the largest military mobilization in the postwar era, with the result that much of congressional debate focused not on the question of waging war but on supporting the 400,000 Americans already stationed in the Gulf.

Now, Raspberry would tell the American people that their belated protests are irrelevant and that they offer ''no policy alternative that makes sense.'' Raspberry is here referring to our policy in the Middle East. The larger issue at stake is whether the president and Congress can deliver us into war and rightfully expect the American people to support it simply because it is too late to stop it. Demonstrations against the war should remind us all of the ''policy alternatives'' that the U.S. government is founded on: freedom of expression and accountability to the electorate.

-- Joanna Hamilton

William Raspberry said he "didn't get . . . what motivates the drum-beating, chanting, sign-waving antiwar protesters camped out" in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Before war began, he said, he could see the point of arguing against starting it, but now that we have committed the troops we should "Support, Not Protest." He concluded by making the analogy that "you can warn your {teenage} daughter to take every precaution against pregnancy . . . help her understand the long-term implications . . . But once the baby is born, warning against pregnancy makes no sense."

To compare war (no matter how legitimate) to a newborn child (no matter how illegitimate) is morally and aesthetically obscene. As for the legitimacy of drum-beating, chanting, and sign-waving, I think a far more beautiful analogy was made by Frederick Douglass about his protests on behalf of African Americans before, during and after this nation's most divisive war, the Civil War.

In his "Speech in the Caribbean," Douglass wrote that those who love freedom while deprecating agitation are like those who would have rain without thunder and lightning, crops without tilling the soil and the ocean without the terrible roar of its waves.

-- John Peacock

William Raspberry implies that because some of today's protesters use '' '60s-style slogans'' such as ''Give peace a chance,'' protesters of today are all somehow out of touch. Perhaps he thinks the protesters in April 1970 were out of touch and should have all just gone home once President Nixon decided to bomb Cambodia.

By Raspberry's logic, all African Americans should have given up their dreams of equality under the law once the Supreme Court ruled to uphold then-legal segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

If Raspberry's point is that once government makes a decision citizens should fall into lock step chanting, ''my country, right or wrong,'' then history has proven him, in this case, anyway, to be foolish. If he was trying to make some other point, he should try again.

-- Darren L. McKinney