For weeks, Anthony Lawrence, an economist with the U.S. Treasury Department here, struggled with how to take a stand against U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf. With two sons in the military -- one of them in Saudi Arabia -- he told friends he could not live with himself if one of them was killed or injured.

Yesterday, in an instant, Lawrence got his anti-war message out to millions of television viewers around the world.

Standing in the daylight sun of Baghdad, Lawrence said in an interview broadcast by Cable News Network that the war is an "imperialistic attempt to wrest the oil resources of this region."

"I encouraged my sons to join the U.S. military, and I believe the United States of America needs a very strong military," Lawrence, 44, said in the interview with CNN correspondent Peter Arnett.

"But my sons did not volunteer to go halfway around the world and kill Arab people in a war of aggression."

Lawrence arrived in Iraq about three weeks ago and helped set up a "peace camp" made up of tents in an area of Iraq near its border with Saudi Arabia.

About 150 other people from 16 countries joined the effort, organizers said, to act as human shields against military action.

Four days ago, the Iraqi government moved Lawrence and the others in this so-called "Gulf Peace Team" from the border to a Baghdad hotel, camp organizers said.

The group planned to leave Baghdad today for Amman, Jordan, Lawrence told CNN's Arnett, from where they will return home.

"We will form the core of a very, very strong movement for peace on this planet," he said.

While in Iraq, Lawrence said the group had been "very well-treated." But he said, they had "seen the devastation here, we've seen the bodies, we've seen the maimed children in the hospitals, we've seen the amputees, we've seen rocket attacks here. We ourselves have been under them for several nights now."

In Washington and elsewhere, those who know Lawrence reacted to his newfound repute with a mixture of surprise, concern, pride and resignation.

His wife, Terri, from whom he is separated, and his older brother, Gary, worried about the impact on his sons. Charles, a private in the Army Air Cavalry, is in Saudi Arabia; Mark, a Marine, is based in Japan.

"I've been concerned from the beginning about how my husband's presence would affect" the son in Saudi Arabia, said Terri Lawrence, director of special operations for the American Red Cross here. "I think it's bad enough that he's there, being in the war and facing the moral dilemma. But to have his father be on the other side of the border . . . puts him a bad position."

Still, Terri Lawrence said, she had to admire her husband for "his willingness to stand up for what he believes in."

When told about Lawrence's statements about not wanting his sons to kill Arabs in a war of aggression, his brother Gary had a different interpretation: "I tell you I wouldn't want to be one of his kids on the front line and find out my father is out there doing just the opposite."

Asked about Lawrence's statements, a White House spokesman had no comment, and a State Department spokesman cited President Bush's recent statement that dissent is part of the American tradition.

Anthony Lawrence's sister and his daughter said it was concern for his sons that pushed him to take such a bold stance. "He said if he didn't do something, he could never live with himself if his sons died," said Susan Myszewski, a sister who lives in Boston.

His daughter, Nicole, of Boulder, Colo., said her family had a special affinity for Arab people, developed during the year her father taught at American University in Cairo. "I think we tend to care about the Arab people a lot more than the average American."

His longtime friend, economist Ray Squitieri, cautioned against typecasting Lawrence. He said Lawrence had misgivings about going to Baghdad with the "Gulf Peace Team" because its "political affiliations are liberal."

Squitieri described Lawrence as more libertarian than liberal, not anti-military. "If you met him at a party, you'd say this guy is very conservative in economic matters, and he's an anti-interventionist."