We are at war.

The Washington Post says so. The New York Times says so, too. So does Newsweek, Time, the Christian Science Monitor, various members of Congress and even Barry Goldwater. Only the administration, as coy as Machiavelli's Prince, says not really. Or it is not sure. Or it will not comment. Or it cannot comment.

I use the word "war" loosely and I apologize for it, but it is a device to catch your attention. The fact of the matter is that you really have to pay attention, close attention, or you would not know--because the government will not tell you--that your country is supplying money, arms, and maybe men to help overthrow the government of Nicaragua. This may not be war, but it sure as hell is not peace, either.

But just what it is, the administration will not say. Before the United Nations, it argued so speciously that the war in Nicaragua was strictly a civil war that even our allies--Spain, Pakistan and the Netherlands--blushed for us. We sounded like the Soviet Union talking about Afghanistan--a different liar, a different part of the world to lie about. It is nice company we keep.

The evidence, though, is that we have gone to war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. That war was first reported in The Washington Post a year ago in an article saying the president had authorized covert operations against Nicaragua. The ostensible purpose was to interdict supply lines to El Salvador but since it seems that the supplies usually don't come by land and are not that important to the guerrillas anyway, we are entitled to wonder if the administration had a grander purpose in mind.

The Post story was followed by a more extensive Newsweek article published last November. It said that the operation to restrict the flow of arms into El Salvador had expanded "into (here comes the grander purpose) a larger plan to undermine the Sandinista government in Managua . . . ." Since then, there have been similar reports in other publications and, when asked, confirmation from key members of the congressional intelligence committees, like Sen. Barry Goldwater.

You may ask, since you are a citizen, taxpayer and, maybe even a veteran to boot, what in the world is going on? You will not be told, though. It is not your business. This is even the case if you are a member of Congress, the more studious of whom can do nothing more than read the press to find out what the government they are supposed to control is actually doing in Central America.

In some ways, the anti-Sandinista operation is reminiscent of the secret bombing of Cambodia. It was not a secret, you will recall, to the Cambodians, who were getting blown to bits, nor to the North Vietnamese, who like the Cambodians, may not know much, but know when they are being bombed, and, of course, it was no secret to the Soviet Union. To whom, then was it a secret? Well, it was a secret to you and me.

It is the same now in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguans, of course, know what's going on, and so do the Hondurans and, of course, parts of our government. The party being kept in the dark is the American people who ought to know what the government is up to in Central America. After all, not to put too fine a point on it, people are getting killed.

There are so many things wrong with this covert operation that it's hard to know where to start. In the first place, it is illegal--illegal under international law and probably under a law passed by Congress in December, the Boland amendment. Second, it confirms the worst stereotype of the Yankee from the north, giving the Sandinista regime an internal legitimacy that it might not otherwise have. This is the favor America did for Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs.

But the larger mistake is for the government, as it did in Vietnam, to play cutesie with the American people, to no-comment the very ones who pay the bills and who, always and always, wind up paying with either honor or lives for decisions made by a handful of men in the closets of power. We are forever being told that they know more. As the Nicaraguan operation makes clear, that's only because they make sure we know less.