The dove became a symbol of pacifism when Picasso's lithograph La Colombe was used for the poster of the World Peace Congress in Paris, April 1949.
If you are under the age of 50, it might come as news that there was once a time when the Democratic Party was not to the left of the Republicans on defense and foreign affairs. Foreign Policy's Passport blog has a piece today about how and when Democrats became doves:
Forty-four years ago this week, the senior senator from the state of Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, stepped to a podium in the Senate Caucus Room and transformed the Democratic Party. Angered by the war in Vietnam and his belief that President Lyndon Johnson would "set no limit to the price" he was "willing to pay for a military victory," there McCarthy announced his intention to challenge the incumbent president of his own party in four presidential primaries.
McCarthy didn't even bother to declare he was seeking his party's nomination -- after all, in the fall of 1967 everyone knew that Johnson was practically a shoo-in to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Democratic Convention in Chicago. McCarthy didn't end the war, but he ended Johnson's political career and in the process heralded the shift of the Democratic Party from Cold War hawks to anti-war doves. By creating a political opportunity for Democrats, opposed to the war in Vietnam, to directly engage in the electoral process McCarthy helped change the way that all political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- talk about national security policy. No longer could national Democrats ignore liberals skeptical of American power; and Republicans were given a renewed opportunity to cast Democrats as a party beholden to their anti-war base. Quite simply, McCarthy's quixotic presidential bid is the gift that keeps on giving.
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Two events would ensure that McCarthy's run would be far more than that. First the Tet Offensive on Jan. 30, 1968 ... the surprise Tet attack, which struck at every provincial capital in the country as well as the U.S. embassy in Saigon, shattered the illusion of progress. In the process it exposed Johnson and the members of his administration as serial liars about the war.
Tet set the stage, but it was the "Clean for Gene," anti-war activists that sealed the deal. Trudging through the snows of New Hampshire for the country's first presidential primary, McCarthy's army of well-scrubbed volunteers (no beards or long hair for this crew) spoke to two-thirds of all New Hampshire Democrats in just a six-week period.
[Robert] Kennedy attacked the war in Vietnam with great and laudable venom; but McCarthy became the first presidential candidate to take on the very conceits of American foreign policy. In perhaps his best speech of the campaign, at San Francisco's Cow Palace in May 1968, McCarthy aimed his verbal assaults at the assumptions underpinning the bipartisan consensus that had shaped America's view of the world since the dawn of the Cold War.
"Involvement in Vietnam," McCarthy said, "was no accident. It did not happen overnight. It was a direct result of America's conception of itself as the world's judge and the world's policeman." He ridiculed the beliefs held dear by both Humphrey and Kennedy: "America's moral mission in the world; the great threat from China; the theory of monolithic Communist conspiracy; the susceptibility of political problems to military solutions; the duty to impose American idealism upon foreign cultures" calling them "myths and misconceptions, so damaging in their consequences."
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Although the hawks won the battle in 1968, they would in short order lose the war, as a new generation of Democrats inspired by the campaign -- and its model of grass-roots anti-war activism -- would re-shape the party's views on foreign policy. In 1972, they nominated the dovish McGovern, who was as suspicious of American power as McCarthy. In 1977, a Democratic president -- Jimmy Carter -- focused on human rights as an overarching national security priority would take office; in the nearly two decades that followed the doves would maintain a tight hold on the foreign policy direction of the party, opposing the arms build up of the 1980s and the proxy wars fought by the Reagan administration in Central America. Their influence was so pervasive that the party's remaining hawkish wing would abandon the Democrats for Reagan's GOP.
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The liberal wing of the party still views Democratic elites and party leaders who supported the war in Iraq with contempt and suspicion (not unrightfully so). For many, it was the ultimate betrayal of the movement that emerged out of the tumult of 1968 and re-opened a wound first gashed by McCarthy in that Senate Caucus Room, 44 years ago. To this day, Democrats continue to be a party defined at its grassroots by reluctance to use military force, support for multilateral institutions, and opposition to the more aggressive elements of the war on terror. There is perhaps no policy issue where the divide between party and president is more acute -- from civil liberties to the war in Afghanistan.
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[T]he foreign policy shift that began in 1968 has consistently provided a political opening of its own for Republicans. It became an opportunity to tar Democrats with the broad brush of weakness and fecklessness on national security (a recurrent GOP political attack since the "Who Lost China" debate of the 1950s). This week came word that the Obama administration is reluctant to apologize for a recent cross-border raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, for fear of being portrayed by Republican presidential contenders as soft.
Even today, when Democrats debate national security -- torn between anti-war liberals and hawkish centrists, and reluctant to be cast as wimps and weaklings by Republicans -- they are arguing on a battlefield seeded by Gene McCarthy.
Ten years before Gene, that other Senator McCarthy, the one from Wisconsin, had already caused a shift in public perception about the Democrats and foreign policy. Historian Arthur Herman, my former professor, showed in his re-examination of Joseph McCarthy how the McCarthy era realigned working class, Catholic, and ‘ethnic’ (which in the 1950s meant southern or eastern European) voters from the Democrats to the Republicans over the issue of communism.
Fun fact: that other McCarthy was a great friend and political ally of the Kennedy family. Old Joe Kennedy contributed to McCarthy's campaigns, and frequently invited him to family gatherings at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. McCarthy was particularly close to Robert Kennedy, becoming godfather to his first child and hiring him as an assistant counsel for his Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (January 1953 to August 1953, after which Robert became chief counsel to the minority side until January 1955).
Have you ever seen the two of them together in a photo before? Probably not. The fact that the Kennedy-McCarthy political alliance has dropped down the memory hole of American politics is itself an indicator of how completely Democrats have denied their hawkish past.
FYI, you can browse through the official records of the McCarthy Committee's 1953-54 hearings here, courtesy of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee. There is so much misconception and convenient mis-remembering about those hearings that going to original sources is necessary.