American leadership has been deeply divided over the decision to go to war with Iraq. America's black leaders are no exception to that. This war is one on which reasonable persons disagree, and it is unreasonable for Juan Williams to castigate black leaders who have expressed their heartfelt opposition to the war {"Race and War in the Persian Gulf," Outlook, Jan. 20}.

As did we, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King and Joseph Lowery witnessed the destructiveness of the Vietnam War. We must speak out against the use of America's resources -- material, human and financial -- for violence and destruction. We have supported nonviolent strategies to rid the world of atrocities such as apartheid, and we support nonviolent strategies to reverse the occupation of Kuwait.

The leaders criticized by Williams are all fine examples of American leaders who are black and have taken up the cause of full equality for black Americans. We challenge the assumption that they are the leaders of black people only. The manager of Jesse Jackson's Minnesota campaign was recently elected to the U.S. Senate.

While Williams may disagree with Jesse Jackson, he must surely remember that Jackson's presidential campaign was based in large part on an internationalist foreign policy that would affirmatively engage the Third World in development. His opposition to this war is fully consistent with positions taken in the campaign and affirmed by millions of American voters.

For American leaders who have championed full equality for black Americans, it is impossible to ignore the contradictions of this war. The legacy of American racism and cultural arrogance permeates the war. The disproportionate number of persons of color in the U.S. military must not be dissociated from the actions of the Bush administration in the arena of social justice. While African Americans go to war at the orders of the president, President Bush has shifted resources and protection away from our communities. He has abandoned the cities, vetoed the Civil Rights Bill and attacked minority scholarships. He has played on racial divisions for political gain.

This is a replay of a historical irony for African Americans. Valor in war, patriotic service and sacrifice for the freedom of others is a tradition dating back to Crispus Attucks. At the same time, blacks have had to struggle with the same segregation, racism and cultural arrogance in the military that they face in the society. Black soldiers have returned from foreign wars to face discrimination, rather than adulation at home.

We also see the telltale signs of racism and cultural arrogance in the events leading up to this war. Iraq was a tool of U.S. policy so long as it was fighting Iran. Saddam Hussein's aggression was abetted by the administration's failure to elevate human rights in foreign policy considerations in the Third World and its focus on military security rather than economic development. While Iraq bears full responsibility for the invasion, the failure of American intelligence and diplomacy to comprehend Saddam's intention is not unrelated to the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our foreign policy establishment. A U.S. foreign policy that valued human rights for all people of color could not have found an ally in Saddam Hussein.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that bombs that exploded in Vietnam would explode at home in inflation and unemployment. He called for a transformation of America away from materialism and militarism. He called for a beloved community based on justice and brotherhood. He did not call for black Americans to become part of some imagined mainstream.

Integration is necessary, but not sufficient. Assimilation into a dangerously flawed American mind-set is a betrayal rather than a fulfillment of Dr. King's dream.

-- A. Knighton Stanley -- Andrea Young A. Knighton Stanley is senior pastor of Peoples Congregational Church in Washington. Andrea Young is associate for foreign policy advocacy for the United Church of Christ.

The Persian Gulf war, like every other war we have fought, has its legitimate racial aspects and other matters that invite fair criticism. Juan Williams, however, has accused black leaders of driving ''a wedge between black America and its troops in combat as well as mainstream America.'' In my case, Williams took a facetious TV comment (in answer to a question asked of me before the war began) to the effect that I would have my son's head examined if he wanted to volunteer to go to the Persian Gulf. (Would all parents of 18-year-old college freshmen who can identify with this comment please raise their hands?) And Williams trivialized my concern that blacks, who are 12 percent of the population are nearly 30 percent of the armed forces.

I have spoken three times on the House floor concerning the war and many times since for the record. The major thrust of my remarks has been to address the unfairness that is apparent in the District's disproportionately large volunteer contingent in the Persian Gulf while our city has no voting representation on war or any other issue in the House or Senate.

Given Williams' reasoning, District leaders and The Post, which editorialized concerning this injustice {"When They Call the Roll for War," Jan. 15}, had best be quiet. Such comments could ''drive a wedge'' between Washingtonians and ''mainstream America.'' Actually, the reaction from my congressional colleagues has been encouragingly positive on both the District and the racial issues.

Like voting representation in Congress, race should not be and never has been off limits during wars. A. Philip Randolph's call for a march on Washington in the midst of Hitler's aggression was initially greeted as unpatriotic, but FDR reacted by signing the first fair employment legislation. Today it is regarded as one of the milestones in civil rights progress.

On the House floor, I pointed up the unusual disproportion of both District residents and blacks serving in the Persian Gulf, but I also said that nevertheless they could be counted on to be there ''disproportionately and patriotically.'' Although I strongly supported international sanctions rather than all-out war, I said on the floor the first day of the war that I respected the role Congress had given the president and our troops by majority vote. Ironically, despite my continuing criticism, a Post news analysis {"D.C. Leaders Bite Tongue About War," Jan. 26} used this statement to draw the conclusion that I support the war, thus contradicting Williams' criticism. The truth is that like all who believe in democracy, I respect rule by majority decision, but I regard minority criticism of the war and its aspects as inherent in the American concept of democratic toleration of minority views.

I also praised the armed services for the opportunities they offer, but called upon the Army, which is the only service where disproportion is troubling, to consider ways to achieve greater racial diversity among the troops most at risk in combat situations. I am encouraged in this suggestion by the Army's own admirable responsiveness to similar problems in the past. During the early years of the Vietnam War, 20 percent of the casualties were African Americans; the Army diversified the position of blacks, bringing their casualty rates down to 13 percent. During the 1970s, the Army had a considerably lower economic composition than the general population; the Army adopted recruiting techniques that have mostly corrected this disparity. I am confident that the Army can meet the remaining racial challenge as well.

This issue needs exposure, study and action. None of us should feel comfortable with a peacetime volunteer army with large racial disproportions that can suddenly be converted to a wartime army in which those who die also could be greatly disproportionate.

For some time to come, larger-than-expected numbers of blacks will choose the armed forces, in part as a faster way to obtain what others achieve in civilian society. For this, the Army deserves our respect, and civilian society needs our criticism and reform. Citizens' armies, at least roughly representative, were one of the great achievements of the modern democracies. So was a vote on the issue of war before commiting troops to combat. Both issues deserve continuing vigilance -- and criticism.

-- Eleanor Holmes Norton The writer is D.C. delegate to Congress.

The Kuwait I came to know as a businesswoman in the years prior to the Iraqi invasion belied a host of prevailing American stereotypes. As a female traveling regularly to this tiny, quiet emirate, I faced far fewer barriers than at home, where I had grown weary struggling to convince male colleagues that a woman could indeed do business in the Middle East. As an African American I enjoyed the psychologically liberating comforts of Kuwaiti society, which made no distinctions based on color.

However, now that war has erupted, personal fears for Kuwaiti friends still trapped inside their country are compounded by the specter of American casualties in this conflict, a disproportionate number of which could be African American. While composing a mere 12 percent of the civilian population, blacks account for more than 25 percent of the American contingent in the Gulf. And yet that issue, disturbingly valid and in desperate need of correction, in no way negates the legitimacy of America's military presence in the Gulf.

During the debate in the House of Representatives on whether to go to war, the Congressional Black Caucus fastidiously hewed to the Democratic leadership position that sanctions be given more time to work. African-American politicians failed to reflect the diversity of opinion on this issue within their own community, or even the fact that 52 percent of black voters (a number significantly lower than the 78 percent of white voters but still a majority) supported President Bush's decision to go to war.

Now that hostilities have begun, African-American antiwar sentiment has taken on an air of isolationism verging on raw self-absorption. The war is criticized because it redirects public attention away from crucial social problems. There is certainly legitimacy in that argument. But that perspective still suffers from a disturbing unidimensionality. Saddam Hussein ceases to exist as a figure propelled by his own historical impulses which demand an international response. That is, the Iraqi leader's brutality and aggression lose their searing reality and fade into mere appendages of the Bush administration's policy to reallocate budgetary resources from butter to guns.

I do not believe the claim of peace activists that this war is merely being fought over the price of oil. Saddam Hussein represents a venomous turn toward unbridled militarism, which if not checked could precede a nightmarish parade of copycats. He prefers building an army out of all proportion to the size of his small nation than to pursuing economic, social and political measures that could lead his oil-rich, but culturally backward, society on the legitimate path to modernity.

Wrapped in the shroud of pacifism, the black antiwar movement searches for legitimacy in the proud traditions of the civil rights struggle. But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his brilliance, understood that nonviolence could profoundly affect America precisely because the American public possessed a moral conscience capable of being swayed. But what is nonviolence pitted against a conscienceless adversary? The value system of one's adversary ultimately determines the appropriate modus of struggle. And Iraq's treatment of its own minorities -- mass graves into which the bodies of Kurdish women and children killed by nerve gas were dumped -- might also demand moral examination on the part of America's minorities.

In today's debate over the validity of the Gulf war, legitimate preoccupations with issues of race should not be allowed to degenerate into racial narcissism. African Americans can least afford the moral insensitivity that ignores or denies the humanity of Saddam Hussein's victims for the mere sake of keeping the klieg lights of public attention trained at all times on blacks' domestic agenda.

-- Constance B. Hilliard