Monday, April 07, 2008

The peace symbol is 50 years old

While reading about the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death last week, I came across something I had never heard before: The peace symbol was brought to our country by one of King's associates. It became a prominent feature during civil rights marches before migrating to protests against the Vietnam War.

I also learned that the peace symbol turned 50 years old in February. Amazing! That simple symbol of peace has been around for half a century, but it wasn't always an anti-war symbol. It was designed by Gerald Holtom for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (CND) and was originally used by the British nuclear disarmament movement.
[Holtom]...was one of many intellectuals in Britain during the 1950s who were deeply agitated first by having witnessed the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but then watching their own government, despite being in a time of postwar material hardship, race to join the nuclear club. [...]

At its basic level, the design combined two letters from the semaphore alphabet of flag-signalling, N (flags at eight and four o’clock) and D (flags at six and 12 o’clock), to indicate nuclear disarmament. A circle signified the earth.

But to Holtom, who had been a conscientious objector in the Second World War, there was more to it. “I was in despair,” he later wrote, “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.”

The newborn symbol premiered in the world’s first anti-nuclear march on Good Friday of that year, shortly after Britain’s first H-bomb tests in the South Pacific. Some 10,000 gathered first in Trafalgar Square, then over four days marched 80 kilometers to a place called Aldermaston where the nuclear program was — and still is — headquartered.
No longer focused solely on nuclear disarmament, since 2001 the CND started organizing resistance campaigns against U.S. and British policies in the Middle East.

It's sad to think that 50 years later men are still waging wars and peace is still as elusive as ever.

(Image by Flickr user NoHoDamon and used under a Creative Commons license.)


Lew Scannon said...

The symbol for war is $$$$$.

Kathy said...

Lew, you won't get an argument from me on that one.