TO GET an idea of the carnage in El Salvador over the last dozen years, imagine a guerrilla war in the United States killing 3.6 million people. Proportionately, that's equivalent to the Salvadoran war's estimated 75,000 dead in a population of 5.2 million.
The Salvadoran peace agreement signed at U.N. headquarters last Wednesday doesn't quite end this appalling bloodshed -- four more killings occurred the next day -- but it does lay a solid foundation for further talks in Mexico next month. Both El Salvador's government and the five guerrilla groups that signed the accord seem optimistic about a cease-fire before year's end.
If they're right, Salvadorans will soon begin an ambitious attempt to remake the oppressive government of their beautiful tropical country. Among other changes, the eight-point U.N. agreement calls for reduction of the 56,000-member armed services, integration of the guerrillas into a new civilian-controlled police force and distribution of land to the landless. If the agreement holds, it will be less because of good will than sheer exhaustion.