Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Peace Symbol

Fifty years ago Easter Sunday, the peace symbol made its debut.


Contrary to what many, especially Christians believe, the peace symbol was never intended to be considered an upside down cross or a sign of satan. Apparently those rumors were started by the Birch society and spread quickly, unfortunately. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a myth.

The story of the peace sign began in the spring of 1958 when peace activists, clergy and Quakers in Great Britain organized a rally to draw attention to the testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons by some of the world's most powerful countries. Gerald Holtom, a textile designer and commercial artist from Twickenham, suggested the demonstrators carry posters and banners with a simple visual symbol he had designed. He created the symbol by combining the semaphore letters N and D, for nuclear disarmament.

On April 4, 1958, 5,000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square to show support for the Ban the Bomb movement, then walked the few miles to the town of Aldermaston, site of an atomic weapons research plant. The first peace signs appeared during that march and a second Aldermaston march the following year. From there it took flight, appearing on flags, clothes, even scratched on walls and signposts, all over Europe.


The symbol is still used today to protest war and promote peace.

The semaphore flag system was used as a means of communication between foreign ships and also at railway stations. Before the telegraph was invented, people would use the symbols on top of hills to signal another on a hill at some distance, and thereby send a communication.

Holtom also said that the symbol was a drawing of himself in despair.

I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.


National Geographic story of the peace symbol.

Semaphore Flags

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