One number which was important was the count of American KIAs, military personnel killed in action. During the Kennedy years, the numbers were small and represented professional soldiers; from 1966 on, they increasingly represented ordinary citizens: the boy next door or somebody's son down the street. As the scale of operations mounted, so did the numbers. By the end of 1965, the total was 636; by the end of 1967, ft had risen to 16,021, and Americans were beginning to ask why. In fact, the communists were being hurt: their casualties far outnumbered those of the U.S. and ARVN, their main force units had been driven deep into base areas along the Laotian and Cambodian borders, far from the centers of population, and by mid-1967 U.S. air power was doing serious damage to the North Vietnamese transportation net. In May the controversial and dynamic Robert Komer became Westmorland's Civilian Deputy and brought the myriad civilian assistance and development programs together under the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support Program - CORDS; rural pacification began to make headway. The average combat performance of the ARVN, always good in elite units, was improving; during 1965 General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Marshall Nguyen Cao Ky, both with solid combat credentials, ousted Nguyen Van Khan from power, ending the chronic instability which followed Diem's overthrow; the Saigon government was proving surprisingly robust, holding inflation effectively in check despite a massive infusion of dollars. But quantitative indices of nation-building and the ghoulish calculus of body count ratios were meaningless abstractions to ordinary Americans. They saw little on their television sets to convince them that the sacrifice was worth the cost and active opposition to the war was growing. On 21 October, some 50,000 anti-war demonstrators ringed the Pentagon. The previous week's editorial in Life magazine summed up America's frustration:
The U.S. is in Vietnam for honorable and sensible purposes. What the U.S. has undertaken there is obviously harder, longer, more complicated than the U.S.leadership foresaw ... We are trying to defend not a fully born nation but a situation and a people from which an independent nation might emerge, we are also trying to maintain a highly important- but not in the last analysis absolutely imperative - strategic interest of the U.S. and the free world. This is a tough combination to ask young Americans to die for. Meanwhile, North Vietnam's leaders, in some ways
as out of touch with the situation on the ground in the South as their American opposites, had decided that the moment was at hand for the long-awaited General Offensive and National Uprising, an all-out attack by regular Viet Cong and PAVN units which would spark a general uprising against the Saigon regime. It would be timed for Tet, the traditional Vietnamese celebration of the new year, falling at the end of January. In November, as their plans gelled, General Westmoreland embarked on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. to testify before Congress and drum up support for the Johnson Administration. "With 1968," he said, speaking before the National Press Club in Washington, "a new phase is starting .. we have reached an important point where the end begins to come into view." In a televised news conference, he used the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" to describe improved U.S. fortunes, repeating almost word- for-word a prognostication made by French General Henri Navarre in May of 1953.