THE first thing that keeps bothering me about the current United States undeclared war against Nicaragua is that this is the sort of thing we object to and wax moral about when done by the Soviets.
What are we Americans doing? We are subsidizing Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries, now known as contras, in their attempt to overthrow the existing government in Nicaragua.
The contras, operating from bases in Honduras, stage raids into Nicaragua where they blow up power stations, burn schools and barns, kill teachers and doctors, and generally disrupt civilian and commercial life. They also take small naval mines from a US ''mother ship'' cruising outside the 12-mile limit and run them by small boats into the harbors where the mines have damaged a dozen or so non-Nicaraguan ships, including one Soviet freighter.
A justification advanced for doing all this is that the revolutionaries in neighboring El Salvador do the same kind of things to the government in El Salvador.
It is correct that the Marxist-led contras in El Salvador do the same kind of things. They have recently blown up the biggest bridge in the country, thus disrupting commercial and civilian transport. They have damaged the economy enough to cause widespread hardship and inflation. They have used murder and various other forms of terrorism.
In other words, terror and violence are being used in Central America today by the government of El Salvador in attempted suppression of rebellion, by the revolutionaries in El Salvador in their battle against the government of El Salvador, and by the counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua against the government of Nicaragua.
The US is funding the first and third of these categories of people employing terror and violence. The Nicaraguan government and presumably Cubans and Soviets are helping to fund the revolutionaries in El Salvador and the government in Nicaragua. Everybody is doing it. What the US is subsidizing is no worse than what the Soviets or their associates are funding.
It can be called fighting fire with fire. But does the US really want to put itself in the same category as the Soviets? This is both interference in the internal affairs of another country and the use of force and violence in an undeclared war. It violates all the higher standards and principles of international conduct. The Soviets do it in their neighborhood in order to keep Poles, East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and other captive peoples in subjection.
Does the US have to employ the same methods to enforce its discipline in its own neighborhood? Is there no way of protecting American interests that could achieve the desired results by ethical and legal means?
More important, and this is the second thing that bothers me about the undeclared war on the government of Nicaragua, are these methods achieving their purpose?
This arming of the contras and the support of violence against the people of Nicaragua has been going on for the better part of three years. It has caused hardship in Nicaragua and has damaged the economy. But it has also apparently strengthened the grip of the Marxist-led government on the people and has tended to increase popular support of the regime.
It has brought disapproval of American behavior by two of its most important allies - Britain and France. Both have protested formally. The French have even offered to send in a mine-sweeping operation to the Nicaraguans to clear those American-built and -supplied mines. And add that the Security Council of the United Nations voted 13 to 1 to condemn military intervention in Nicaragua. The US cast the one dissenting vote.
What of the long run? Soviet methods applied in the Soviet neighborhood have established one fact about this world. Except possibly for Bulgaria, the captive peoples held in subjection by Soviet armed force would, if free to do so, seize their independence. They are not now free to do so. But someday their chance will come. Moscow will have few friends when that day comes.
The US can, by use of its enormous military power, impose conformity upon its neighborhood. But it is not going to make long-term friends by so doing. It can only reimpose dictatorships that will rule by force over increasingly resentful peoples, who will blame the US for deprival of the freedom to chose their own governments.
This is not the way to be a good neighbor.