Change is the essence of life and so is the case with two major political parties in the United States. The inflection points for both the parties were World War II and The Vietnam War. Both events had a profound effect that is evident even today.
It has been said in jest that the difference between the US Constitutional Republic and an authoritative dictatorship is that the US offers you two choices instead of the one that an authoritative system offers. Over the course of its history, the US has had a very involved political process with more than two parties, especially during its very first years.
The political landscape evolved and the parties eventually coalesced around the Republican and Democratic parties. How World War II and the Vietnam War affected both parties is a good basis for trying to determine who they currently are.
Like people, political movements also carry lessons from their formative years into the latter stages in life. The evolution of both vis-à-vis the two wars focuses on defense and foreign policies, and how these two conflicts shaped them.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the United States since its inception in 1776 made great efforts to not get heavily involved in international affairs. It began as a rural, agrarian, and relatively poor nation in its early beginnings.
Briefly in 1800-1802 it contemplated the likelihood of a French invasion of the Caribbean and the Louisiana Territory under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1812 the United States was again at war with Great Britain where the British marched on the capital, sacked it, and left it in ruins. President James Madison had to leave Washington, DC to avoid the destruction and potential capture by the besieging British forces.
With the fall of Napoleonic France, the emergence of the Pax Britannica emerged with Great Britain being the preeminent world power from 1815-1945. The United States remained inward looking, only to be setback by the American Civil War (to this day the most costly conflict The United States has ever fought is when American fought American).
Traditional suspicions over European intentions regarding them became even sharper when the European Powers intently watched the slaughter of the American Civil War, hoping for demonstrative Confederate victories where they could give diplomatic recognition to the breakaway southern states and break the US in two. It was here where the US began to think more outwardly and their place in the world, but this though process was still slow-moving and very cautious.
The Americans were shocked by the loss of life incurred in World War I, and both parties resolved to not get the country involved in any protracted conflicts, especially European ones. Isolationism ruled the thinking of the American People from 1920 until the late 1930’s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) watched the emergence of Germany and Japan and knew that the United States would not be able to live in a world where these two belligerent powers were victorious.
He began to slowly prepare the country for war even though the populace was still largely isolationist. The American People were predominantly against any American involvement in World War II, on any scale at all, prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The Democrats under Roosevelt championed defense and international presence globally in foreign affairs, especially towards The Japanese Invasion of China. The Republican Party was the exact opposite, isolationist, arguing for no intervention, and as minimal a global presence as possible.
With German dominance in the beginning of World War II, and Japan’s attack on the United States it showed that the United States must play a role in the world and could no longer isolate itself. It would now begin to emerge on the global stage. From 1945 to the present day the Pax Americana has defined the world.
President Truman (D) had fought the Korean War and throughout the 1950’s The Cold War heated up. The Vietnam War would sharply change both parties. From around 1965 onwards the Democratic Party’s constituency did not like the war, and the anti-war movement would be born from its masses. Within the party itself a serious challenge to President Lyndon Johnson would be mounted in the Democratic Primaries of 1968 by the anti-war left.
The candidacies for the Democratic Nomination for President of Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy would be born of the anti-war left. It is here where the Republican Party in contrast would begin to emerge stronger on the issue of foreign policy and national defense. It is at this point where the trajectories of both parties would diverge and separate.
For the remainder of the Cold War, and even afterwards, the Republican Party would be the party of defense and strong foreign policy presence where The Democratic Party would be one more oriented to domestic politics.
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