Doves and Hawks

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DOVES AND HAWKS are terms applied to people based upon their views about a military conflict. A dove is someone who opposes the use of military pressure to resolve a dispute; a hawk favors entry into war. The terms came into widespread use during the Vietnam War, but their roots are much older than that conflict. The association of doves with peace is rooted in the biblical story of the Great Flood: the dove that Noah released after the rains had stopped returned with an olive branch, the symbol of peace and a sign that the waters had receded from the ground. "War hawk" was applied to advocates of war in the United States as early as 1798 when Thomas Jefferson used it to describe Federalists ready to declare war on France.

The juxtaposition of the two terms originates in a 1962 account of the Kennedy administration's decision making process during the Cuban missile crisis. The hawk-dove antithesis quickly became a popular way of labeling partisans in the Vietnam debate. But it also oversimplified their differences. The term "dove" was applied both to those who supported U.S. intervention to stop the spread of communism, but who opposed military means, and to those who opposed U.S. intervention altogether. The latter were also sometimes called other names such as "peaceniks."

Use of the terms declined in the post-Vietnam years, but reappeared in the 1990s during debates over U.S. policy in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.


Anderson, David L., ed. Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945–1975. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

Egan, Clifford L. "The Path to War in 1812 through the Eyes of a New Hampshire 'War Hawk'." Historical New Hampshire 30, no. 3 (Fall 1975): 147–177.

Gerster, Friedrich Wilhelm. "Linguistic Aspects of the Vietnam War." Amerikastudien/American Studies 20, no. 2 (1975): 307–319.

Jacob E.Cooke

Cynthia R.Poe/h. s.

See alsoWar Hawks ; War of 1812 .