Three years ago, a Rhodesian army major made a gung-ho speech at a parade for new recruits: "It is true that there are terrorists in the country at present, but there are not enough to go around -- so please get yours early."

Today, there are plenty to go around. The guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front within this country have grown from fewer than 100 men at the end of 1974 to more than 14,000 today. Other thousands wait to be called from base camps in Zambia and Mozambique.

The ragtag band of the recent past has also gotten its act together -- sort of. The army of Robert Mugabe, one of the front leaders, in Mozambique has divided the central and eastern two-thirds of the country into 12 military sectors, each with its own command structure. Within each sector, 10 to 12 detachments of about 100 men each go about the business of waging their particular kind of war.

From Zambia in the north, troops of Joshua Nkomo, the other Front leader, have spread out all along the border and in the western third of the country -- Matebeleland -- which supplies most of Nkomo's forces. They operate in four "fronts," equivalent to sectors, with detachments carrying such names as "Havana," "Moscow," "Lenin" and "Vietnam."

Six years ago in Lusaka, the late Herbert Chitepo, Nkomo's chief of staff, laid out certain objectives for the guerrilla forces: "The strategical aim is to attenuate the enemy forces by causing their deployment over the entire country. The subsequent mobilization of a large number of civilians from industry, business and agriculture would cause serious economic problems. This would have a psychologically devastating effect on the morale of the whites, most of whom had come to Zimbabwe, lurded by the prospect of the easy, privileged life promised by the regime."

Some of these objectives have been achieved. The Salisbury government has, in fact, been forced to scrape the bottom of the white manpower barrel to contain the situation. Tens of thousands of civilain reservists -- including men up to the age of 60 -- are forced to divide their time between their jobs and military service. The younger ones give nearly half the year to the military, six weeks on, eight weeks off. The older ones spend less time in uniform. But the effect on them all is severe.

A businessman in his 40s remarked that "it's almost impossible to run a business this way. I just about have to shut down when I'm on callup."

The effects on family life are often devastating.Divorce rates are rising, especially in the cities. In rural areas, woman have assumed the major burden of operating isolated farms with large black labor forces. "When you come home," a farmer said, "you get the feeling you really aren't needed. The roles have changed and it's hard to adjust to each other."

At a blue-collar beer bust in Salisbury the other night, a young wife with a four-month-old baby had a few drinks and insisted fiercely that I listen to her story: "I'll tell you about this bloody war. My baby was only four days old when they called up my husband again. So I sit there, week after week while he's out there in the bush killing gooks (guerillas). And all I do is wait for the man to come and knock on the door and tell me Kenny's dead. I wait and wait and when he comes home he stays out all night drinking with the boys. They drink all the time. What kind of a lift is that."

The host is a chunky machinist in his late 30s, whom I met a few days earlier at Fort Victoria when he and a black trooper were blasted by a land mine. They were not badly hurt but his face was grotesquely swollen and bruised by the blast. The party was another homecoming for him. He had survived again.

The pressures on the people from this life style are suggested by the fact that consumer expenditures for alcohol and tobacco far exceed expenditures on any other products -- $194 million a year -- compared with $139 million for durable goods of all kinds including automobiles and trucks.

The guerrillas have achieved other objectives. They have not, as Chitepo hoped, seriously disrupted the economy. Industrial and agricultural production is being maintained. But there is little growth and inflationary pressures are strong. The good or "privileged" life goes on but at a heavy emotional cost.

Early this year, Mugabe, laid out 11 tasks for the guerrillas in 1979. They included more attacks on economic targets to "get settler business grind [sic] to a halt," assaults to "create a hell for the enemy in every [town and city]" and to "clear out farms still under occupation by unapproved settlers."

The results of these operations have been very limited but the impact is clearly being felt. Mugabe's troops have gotten astride of the main highways and rail lines. They have not cut them off but they have forced the use of armored convoys which are often ambushed or punched up by land mines.

The exodus from farms in the most exposed areas continues, not as a hemorrhage but as a steady trickle. Farmers who remain are a particularly tough and stubborn lot and the harassment on them is growing. Donnie Theron, a big rancher at Gutu, north of Fort Victoria, had 2,400 head of cattle on one of his farms early this year. Today only 77 head are left; the rest were rustled by guerrillas and tribesmen.

The exodus from the country itself also continues and it is more than a trickle.Since 1976 more than 40,000 out of white population of 250,000 have emigrated to other countries. This outflow seems to be slowing down but even so 8,000 have left this year.

The chief strategic purpose of both Mugabe and Nkomo, however, is not to demoralize and intimidate the shrinking white community. It is, in Mugabe's words, to create "a complete identity between the party and the [black] people." In short, to win the struggle for hearts and minds.

The distribution of the land in this country by its white rulers years ago facilitates that task. Roughly half the acreage -- the better half -- went to the whites, the other half to the black millions who were given tribal trust lands, scattered in patchwork fashion across the country. This has given the Patriotic Front a potent and emotional political issue. It has also given them shaky sanctuaries whereever there is a trust land. And it has placed the people living in those lands in a murderous situation.

They have been terrorized, robbed, killed and raped for failing to cooperate with the guerrillas of the Patriotic Front. If they do give their cooperation, they are liable to receive the same treatment from government forces. Not a day goes by without the murder of pro-government "sellouts" in the tribal trust lands for the murder of Pro-Patriotic Front "collaborators" or the death of civilians in "crossfire."

The guerrillas have wiped out the old district councils that once provided a measure of civil administration in the trust lands. Nearly 1,500 primary schools have been destroyed or closed, affecting 385,000 children and 9,000 teachers.

Refugees, estimated by the International Red Cross at between 500,000 and 1.5 million, are pouring into squatter camps and urban townships. Perhaps a million or more have been uprooted by the government and placed in "protected villages" which, in Vietnam, were called "strategic hamlets."

Beyond the terror and turmoil on the trust lands, beyond the breakdown of civil administration and the constant mining of dirt roads, the ultimate devastation has happened here -- the breakup of families, the setting of brother against brother, father against son.

A British writer, David Caute, is one of the few journalists -- possibly the only one -- who has met up with guerrillas in the field.His intermediaries were two brothers and a sister whose father had been killed by Patriotic Front troops. Caute recorded this conversation:

"I hear you want to meet the 'boys'," [Joseph] chuckled grimly, twisting his fingers into knots. "Perhaps you'd like to meet the ones who killed my father. . . For many years he worked as a government district assistant under the orders of the white district commissioner in Kazi. He was responsible for the arrests of many young people who had helped the 'boys.' Two of them were executed, hanged last year in Salisbury jail. My father was much hated in our district."

Caute later talked to the sister.

"He deserved to die," she said. "He clung to his bad ways. We tried to warn him but he was proud and stubborn. One night the . . .'boys' came to our house and dragged him from his bed. They killed him with axes and iron bars, then they warned us to leave him there, lying in the open. . . My father lay there for two days. It was a job keeping the vultures and jackals away."

A couple of weeks ago I was with a military force at Sinoia, 65 miles northwest of Salisbury. The radio got busy and a trooper soon showed up with two weapons, one of them with part of a finger in the trigger guard. Another unit had gotten to the body first and the trooper was upset. His own unit wanted the corpse to haul around the nearby villages both as an object lesson and for identification purposes.

Incidents of this kind have raised fundamental questions about the nature of this struggle. Is it a "war of national liberation" or is it "terror" at work or is it simply a deadly power struggle between ambitious politicians? These questions are involved in the use of language. Are the Patriotic Front guerrillas "freedom fighters" or bandits and "terrorists" as the government insists? Are the government troops "security forces" or murderers and oppressors, as Mugabe and Nkomo would have it?