Friday, March 21, 2008

The Peace Sign Turns Fifty

**

Many of you may know this, but I didn’t: the peace symbol first made its appearance fifty years ago at a Good Friday march against nuclear weapons in London.

It was designed by an Englishman named Gerald Holtom, a conscientious objector to World War II who grasped the fact that the anti-nuclear movement would benefit greatly from a clearly identifiable visual image. What he came up with was a combination of letters from the semaphore alphabet—a man with hands stretched down and out (N, for nuclear) and with right hand raised (D, for disarmament), within a circle that symbolized the Earth. Holtom later said he was also inspired by the famous Goya anti-war painting, where a despairing man about to be shot stands with his hands down and out to the sides.

Of course, the symbol took on a life of its own in the sixties and seventies, when it crossed the Atlantic and was adopted by the anti-Vietnam War movement, and by the movement for racial equality in both the United States and South Africa. Now I understand the symbol has come to be viewed by many as somehow emblematic of Communism and of opposition to militant American Christianity, with many seeing it as a symbol of a broken cross. A couple in Denver were actually threatened with a fine when they used a peace symbol as a wreath at Christmas.

Kinda makes me want to run out and stick one in the front yard. Happy birthday, peace symbol!

6 comments:

Steve Malley said...

Ooooh, first comment!

Neat, informative post. Not even 8am here, and you already taught me stuff! :)

And that broken cross thing reminds me of when I was a kid, and the rumour ran wild that you could read 666 in peanut-butter labels. Buncha damn chuckleheads...

Shauna Roberts said...

Fascinating story! I had not known the history of the peace sign. And just when I think the radical right couldn't get loonier, something proves me wrong.

Charles Gramlich said...

So weird how symbols can morph. to imagine someone being threatened with a fine for it. Bizarre.

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