Anti-war activists held protest rallies around the country yesterday, a handful involving civil disobedience and arrests, while other Americans found less demonstrative ways to voice their support for Operation Desert Storm.

One of them was to flood military recruiting offices with inquiries about enlisting. "People are coming in left and right," said Sgt. James Terell, in charge of an Army recruiting station in Boston. "Some of them are saying, 'I want to serve my country.' "

The largest anti-war demonstrations were in New York, San Francisco and Boston, where protesters numbering in the thousands massed at public buildings, blocked traffic and engaged in sporadic scuffling with police. A cross-generational crowd of about 200 people gathered in Lafayette Square across from the White House; the demonstration was smaller than those held before the Mideast bombing began.

"I'm surprised there is any water left in the peace glass at all given the past American history and the tendency to gather around the president," said Leo Ribuffo, a professor of recent American history at George Washington University, who was not at the rally.

Anti-war rallies held on dozens of college campuses were mostly small and quiet; they bore little resemblance to the demonstrations that gripped the country at the height of the Vietnam War, as students went out of their way to voice support for U.S. troops. On some campuses and in some cities, there were counter-demonstrations in support of the war.

Meanwhile, the nation's radio talk programs were flooded with callers expressing pride in American troops and euphoria over the initial reports from the war zone.

"My calls today were 20-1 in favor of the war," said Gil Gross, host of a show on New Yorks's WOR. "It was amazing. Leading up to the war, they were running 3-1 against. I've never seen such a turnaround so fast. If the accents weren't the same, I would have sworn I was in a different city, doing a different show."

"People called up wanting to talk about their pride in America," said Gene Burns, host of a show on WRKO in Boston. "There was a great deal of excitement that the country seemed to be working again -- the weapons worked, the command worked. Bush, Cheney and Powell all projected a quiet competence, and didn't seem venal."

"The only unsettling thing was that I heard so much honeymoon talk from so many callers," said Carole Arnold of KTOK in Oklahoma City. "I'm not sure the reality of war has set in yet."

It has for anti-war activists, who were out in force all over the country, seeking to striking a balance between their support for U.S. soldiers and their opposition to the policy of the Bush administration.In San Francisco, a mostly youthful army of anti-war protesters roamed the streets for the second straight day and night after forcing the city's main federal office building to close most of the morning.

Police arrested about 400 demonstrators to break a "chain of humanity" around the Philip Burton federal building. They were quickly released and then police took a similar number into custody when the demonstration moved to the front of the Pacific Stock Exchange in the afternoon.

"This is a signal to the U.S. government," said David Raymond, a 35-year-old office worker active in the Bay Area Pledge of Resistance organization. "There is going to be a cost for what they have done in the Persian Gulf."

The wandering body of up to 3,000 protesters appeared to represent a hard core of social activists involved in many of San Francisco's favorite causes; it was the first American city to offer official sanctuary to any service member refusing to fight in the Middle East. Of 10 demonstrators interviewed at random, nine said they were veterans of previous demonstrations -- three against U.S. involvement in Central America, three for abortion rights, two for protection of redwoods and one for the homeless. In Boston, where about 1,000 protesters gathered at the John F. Kennedy federal building, the largest banner read: "We Love and Support Our Troops. Bring Them Home . . . Now!"

The protesters, mostly in their 30s and 40s, heard retired Boston University professor Howard Zinn, a leading critic of U.S. policy in Vietnam 20 years ago, admonish: "A war that was wrong before it began does not become right once it has started." Authorities said at least 40 people were arrested for trying to block entrance to the building.In New York, protesters starting from Times Square early last night marched down Broadway chanting new slogans they said they'd been preparing since the war started: "Love the troops, hate the war," "Send Neil Bush," and "All it means is Arab slaughter, we don't want your new world order."

Martin Dietz, 64, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, said: "I'm glad to see this. In the Vietnam War, it took 10 years for the movement to be this large. But this war began with anti-war protests."

One marcher, Rebecca Aranoy, carried a flag. When asked why, she said in sign language, "because I love America and want peace."

Police estimated there were about 4,000 demonstrators; organizers said there were at least twice that many. Here in Washington, signs such as "Bush is Now the Butcher of Baghdad" filled Lafayette Square at the evening anti-war rally sponsored by a broad coalition of clergy, civil rights and peace activists, environmentalists and nuclear-freeze proponents.

"I stand here in solidarity with millions of people around the world who deplore the action taken yesterday by President Bush," Molly Yard, the president of the National Organization for Women, told the cheering crowd.

Longtime peace activist Daniel Ellsberg, speaking in a voice hushed by a sore throat, also implored the crowd to continue their protests. "We must be here in streets across the country," said Ellsberg, who was joined at the speaker's lectern by the president of the environmental group Greenpeace, the anti-nuclear group Sane Freeze and the co-chairman of the African American Network Against U.S. Intervention in the Gulf. In Chicago, 2,000 anti-war protesters gathered in a plaza across from the federal building and held the fourth straight day of demonstrations. But for the first time this week, standing on the fringes of the anti-war protesters, a small group of mostly young men shouted chants in support of Operation Desert Storm.

"You've got to fight to have freedom," said Rory Ohse, 18, a high school senior whose father, a master sergeant in the Air Force, has been in Saudi Arabia since August. "We want to support our troops," he said, gesturing toward the anti-war protesters. "We don't want this getting over to them. That will totally destroy their morale."

Besides the big cities, there were scores of demonstrations in smaller cities and rural areas. In St. Cloud, Minn., 29 people were arrested for trying to close down a federal building. In Athens, Ohio, 103 people were arrested following scuffles between demonstrators supporting the war and those opposing it. Four people were arrested in a similar incident in Eugene, Ore. In Atlanta, Georgia state legislators streamed off the floor of the state House of Representatives when Rep. Cynthia McKinney began a speech attacking the U.S. bombing. "I just don't think it's appropriate," Rep. Newt Hudson said as he marched out.

The protests on some colleges campuses yesterday were larger than those held during the Persian Gulf troop buildup, but they lacked the edge of acrimony that characterized campus protests of a generation ago.

At Kent State University in Ohio, where National Guardsmen shot and killed four students protesting the Vietnam war in 1970, a noon rally called to oppose the Persian Gulf war drew about 700 students, making it the largest campus protest in years.

But the rally turned into a balanced forum. Counterdemonstrators held aloft a large American flag, chanted "Liberate Kuwait" and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Antiwar students responded by chanting, "No War for Oil."

The tense showdown eased after leaders of the opposing groups, about equal in numbers, agreed to rotate speakers.

If the intention of demonstrations was not to stir the wrath of the majority of Americans who, polls show, support the war, it didn't seem to work.

"A lot of callers are angry that we're reporting on the protests," said Jim McConnell, news director of KGO news talk radio in San Francisco. "As soon as we do a report, we get a half dozen calls right away."

"I told my callers that there is a country where you aren't allowed to protest, where you can get executed for disagreeeing with the government -- and that's the country we're bombing right now," said Gross of New York's WOR. "But they don't seem interested. They want those protesters to go away somehwere and hide for a long time."Staff writers Lou Cannon, Patrice Gaines-Carter, Laurie Goodstein, Jay Mathews, Eric May, Paul W. Valentine, Edward Walsh and Elsa Walsh and special correspondents Christopher B. Daly and Jill Walker contributed to this report.