It was late 1983, and the small band of affluent, well-educated Silicon Valley couples thought they had found a way to end war.

First, it needed a road test. How about Iowa?

A half-dozen men, some of the best minds from this nest of high-voltage entrepreneurs, piled into a van and headed for Des Moines. They frantically worked out their strategy on a Sharpe computer in the back while they bumped along Interstate 80.

Today, this unheralded offshoot of the antiwar movement, a group now calling itself "Beyond War -- A New Way of Thinking," has 400 activists in Iowa and a mushrooming mailing list of 1,400 other supporters in that state alone. It has taken root in 12 states beyond its California base and planted organizational seeds in 14 others, including the District of Columbia and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Its technological virtuosity is better known in some foreign capitals than here at home. Last year Beyond War established a San Francisco-to-Moscow "spacebridge" satellite link to give -- months before the same group won the Nobel Peace Prize -- its Beyond War Award to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. This year, it is spending $750,000 on an eight-satellite hookup with six foreign countries to present the award to the six heads of state spearheading the Five Continent Peace Initiative. The award recipients come from Mexico, Argentina, Sweden, Greece, India and Tanzania.

Yet, it is the group's low-tech organizing techniques and difficult philosophy, rather than its love of electronic extravaganza, that have sent the movement spreading rapidly through California's wealthier suburbs and into Iowa and beyond. The doctrine of peaceful resolution of conflicts, from marital spats to thermonuclear standoff, is carried from one living-room meeting to the next, producing puzzlement, consternation and quick retorts about the foolishness of trying to reason with Muammar Qaddafi or the Soviets.

But the message bearers, including several who were millionaires before their 40s, are often so personally impressive, and their pitch so free of the slogans of the mainstream antiwar movement and partisan politics, that converts are steadily pouring in, each willing to spread the message a little farther.

"I wake up every day thinking it is in some ways a very fragile process," foundation president Richard Rathbun said of the group's growth. "There's been a fantastic expansion, but it's too early to tell" whether it will continue.

Beyond War members decline to attack the usual targets of the antiwar, antinuclear movement: The MX missile, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Midgetman and the SS20 are not the issue, in their view. Arms-control talks and the recent Geneva summit talks are fine, they argue, but reducing nuclear inventories is less important than changing the way people think about international conflict. They believe that the nature of such tools of destruction should be decided by international tribunals rather than hostile governments jockeying for position. They believe such tools should not be used.

Attacking human thought processes, rather than government policy, avoids the frustration of the protester "who demonstrates for months to stop the placement of Pershings in Europe and then finds they are placed there anyway," said Craig Ritchey, an attorney and former White House fellow coordinating the movement in San Francisco. He said Beyond War's nonpolitical approach allowed him and other members to visit Grand Forks Air Base in North Dakota and discuss their views with officers there.

An officer Ritchie knew from his Washington days set up the session. Ritchie said the Air Force officers "felt they were after the same thing we were. They felt the way to keep these weapons from being used was to make sure ours were well-maintained and ready to go."

In the Washington area, where concert-producer Ken Fischer, 40, and his flutist wife, Penny, 41, serve as Beyond War coordinators from their Falls Church home, the idea of changing human thinking seems far removed from the usual range of bureaucratic options. The introductory meetings organized by the Fischers and about 40 other area activists are based on their recognition that "a lot of people in Washington are looking for short-term answers," Fischer said, "But we're in this for the very long term." Human beings once felt human sacrifice and slavery were inherent parts of their culture, but that changed. "That's the hope for me," Fischer said.

In every presentation, Beyond War members lean heavily on a notion of social change developed by a former Stanford University communications professor, Everett M. Rogers. "When approximately 5 percent of a population adopts a new idea it becomes 'embedded,' " a Beyond War pamphlet says. "When the new idea is accepted by 20 percent of the people, it is said to be 'unstoppable.' "

Beyond War demonstrates the overwhelming need for change with its trademark "BB drop." A speaker drops one BB into a metal canister to represent all the firepower used in World War II. Then, to represent all the firepower in today's nuclear arsenals, he drops 6,000 BBs into the canister, a long, deafening rattle that often leaves listeners shaken.

Having begun with about 60 volunteers based here in 1983, Beyond War now has 400 full-time volunteers, many of them couples in mid-career who have taken leaves of absence or sold stock to support themselves. Several of the California couples have moved to other states to spread the word. The group estimates that it has at least 8,000 active supporters throughout the country and many more on its mailing list.

Linda Marten, 31, a family therapist, became a full-time volunteer in the group's Los Angeles regional office in Glendale last year. She said she was drawn by the group's creed, developed when the core participants were part of a "human potential" organization called Creative Initiative:

"I will resolve conflict. I will not use violence. I will not preoccupy myself with an enemy. I will maintain a spirit of good will. I will work together with others to build a world beyond war."

The philosophy struck her as particularly apt when she recalled a group she had joined to change U.S. policy in El Salvador. "There were terrible battles between our group and another group that wanted to do the same thing, but in a different way," she said.

Some veterans of the antiwar movement express doubt about Beyond War, particularly their middle- and upper-income membership and their disdain for confrontation politics. "I'm suspicious of any group that takes a nonconfrontational position," said David McReynolds of the New York-based War Resisters League. But antiwar activists are in such short supply that few opportunities arise for friction between Beyond War and other groups.

Beyond War raises money as it tries to raise consciousness. Don Wurtz, a former Arthur Andersen and Co. partner who serves as Beyond War's treasurer, said the group raised $2.1 million to support its activities in the last fiscal year. He estimates that it will raise more than $3 million this year, not counting the millions of dollars worth of free labor.

The Dec. 14 live satellite link, to be broadcast at special gatherings in 27 states and in the Hall of Flags at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, is likely to further the group's international reputation; Rathbun and other staffers have just completed a grueling tour of the countries involved. The Five Continent Peace Initiative to be honored in the award ceremony is a Third World plea for superpower conciliation that has received little attention from the U.S. news media.

Rathbun sees the award as a vital part of a very long and patient effort to change the national mindset. The Steuben Glass crystal award, the $10,000 prize, the satellite links and the speeches of six heads of state "give form," Rathbun said, "to what has been an abstract and very idealistic idea."