Paul Berg's essay of Aug. 1 made some valid points about the uses of war in American politics. However, I think he gave too much weight to politicians' history book motivations and ignored their far more significant motivations of immediate electoral or governing politics.
America was involved in Vietnam on so massive a scale only to give the conservatives a foreign policy bone to buy them off from opposing Lyndon Johnson's liberal domestic agenda.
Whether through war, executions, lynchings or inadequate health care, conservatives love nothing more than turning live humans, except wealthy humans, into corpses.
In the 1960s if conservatives were to be convinced not to derail Johnson's initiatives to provide medical care to senior citizens, ease poverty and malnutrition in American, and guarantee civil and voting rights to blacks, then they had to be convinced by an opportunity to create completely unnecessary death. Johnson provided conservatives with the Vietnam War, and they took full advantage, killing more than 58,000 Americans and many hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.
Richard Nixon could have ended the Vietnam War in early 1969, just after taking his first oath of office. But he didn't end the war until early 1973 just after his reelection, and under the same terms available in 1969. Expecting another close election in 1972, he saw the electoral need to keep the war going for four more years so he could announce its end just before the 1972 election. This crass political calculation cost many thousands of Americans and who knows how many Vietnamese their lives.
Similarly, following their loss in the 2000 presidential election, the Republicans saw the electoral advantage in marketing George W. Bush as the "wartime president" for the 2004 election.
Afghanistan and Imam Omar were too remote and obscure for that purpose. But the conservatives had planned since early 2001 to start a war with Iraq. And the overwhelming negative name recognition of Saddam Hussein made starting a war in Iraq out of nonsensical fabrications and outright lies a marketing natural: 70 percent of Americans initially fell for it and George W. Bush barely squeaked through his 2004 election. And 1,700-plus American soldiers are dead, 13,000-plus are maimed and tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis are dead because Bush, the Republicans and conservatives simply needed a war for political advantage, as did Johnson and Nixon before them.
Donald R. Douglas