His father lay under a flowered sheet -- half his head blown away and spattered along the sidewalk -- and Francisco Semsch, 27, holding his mother to him and clenching his teeth.

"This country is going to have violence, a massacre that has not even begun," he said. "Who did this? Communists? Capitals? Oligarchs? Who knows? Nobody ever knows."

"They're killing us one by one," said the wife of the dead man, who was a well-known, well-liked psychologist. "In this country nobody has control."

It was just another killing, the murder of Rodolfo Semsch, 56, this afternoon. Just as the serious wounding of Olivier Rebbot, a photographer, in the town of San Francisco Gotera today was just another injury in this country swept by civil war, this country so bloody that 10,000 people were killed last year even before the real war began.

Rebbot, 31, was among six photographers accompanying a government patrol that came under fire, apparently from a sniper. A French citizen long resident in New York, Rebbot was shot through the chest while taking a picture, his companions said. He was listed in critical condition in a hospital at San Miguel, 25 miles away, but was expected to recover and be flown to the United States as soon as his condition permitted. One journalist has been killed and now three wounded since Saturday.

But the agony and anger of the Semsch family is typical here among a people sick of death, where everyone is looking for someone, anyone, any way to end the self-perpetuating, self-consuming violence.

Propogandists at the poles of the political spectrum have tried long to capitalize on this emotion, claiming the only way out, the only way to have peace, is to destroy the other side. The guerrillas call on the people to rise up behind them, build barricades, take whatever arms they can find to finish off the government as quickly as possible. President Jose Napoleon Duarte calls for an "offensive of peace" while his troops march shooting through the countryside.

But since guerrillas announced their long-anticipated "final offensive" Saturday night, politicians on both sides have been careful to allude to, to proffer -- with few specifics and perhaps less hope -- the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Duarte told a press conference yesterday, for instance, that he would accept Guillermo Ungo, leader of the guerrilla-allied Revolutionary Democratic Front, as president if he won the office through elections.

Ungo, for his part, said in Mexico yesterday that the front seeks negotiations to end the conflict. He specified, however, that the front wants to talk to the U.S. government, not Duarte's.

In fact, there appears to be little likelihood of negotiations in the near future. The military -- whether one talks of the government of the guerrillas -- apparently is unwilling to negotiate away what it thinks it has gained. And both sides appear to believe they are winning.

The government seems confident that there is no popular insurrection and the leftist guerrillas contend that they are rapidly tiring the government's troops.

Firsthand observation suggests that both sides are right in their estimation of events, but wrong in their conclusions. Everyone is losing.

At the moment the government is in a defensive posture, and is concentrating on protection against whatever objectives the guerrillas decide to attack.

The leftists, meanwhile, have not taken any significant site. They claim victories when a barracks is surrounded and the government does not send reinforcements to rescue it. But the barracks have not been falling.

Tonight the government asserted that its troops were in control of the entire country after scattering the concentration of guerrillas at San Francisco Gotera.

The allies of each side -- the United States behind the government and the Nicaraguans and Cubans alongside the guerrillas -- instead of openly encouraging negotiations appear to be waging a parallel propaganda war, accusing each other of intervention.

Ambassador Robert White said today that the United States "will be doing everything we can to help the Salvadoran government interdict the supply of arms to the guerrillas. He did not specifiy the kind of action that could be taken.

Washington, White said, is drawing the line in El Salvador against a Marxist-Leninist takeover.

The prospect lingers of regional confrontation. As one diplomat put it today, "Nicaragua is a weak, backward country. If they're going to act like agents of the Soviets they're going to be in a lot of trouble."

In the propaganda battle, the real war sometimes appears to get lost. The reality is a lot of death, like the bodies reported rotting in ditches around the city of Zacatecoluca or the psychologist mowed down in front of his clinic, and a lot of injuries, like Rebbot's, and a war that may only end when both sides are convinced, as seems to be the case, that no one is winning.