Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Origins of the Peace Sign

According to the BBC, the peace sign is 50 years old. It was designed by Gerald Holtom, a British WWII conscientious objector who created the symbol for the London-based Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. As the chart at left shows, it was based on the semaphore codes for the letters N and D -- for "Nuclear Disarmament," surrounded by a circle that symbolized the earth.

He also said that it was symbolic of a person with arms spread down in despair, and later wanted to invert it to make it less negative. It took off with American hippies in the 60s and was criticised and mocked by conservatives as a symbol of communism, a chicken footprint, a runic symbol for death, and a Satanic version of a Christian cross with broken arms.


Blogger Matt said...

For years I was telling my students that Bertrand Russell designed it. Don't know where I got that idea.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Funny, I was going to email this to you earlier today. I guess you no longer need me.

But why not mention the comments people sent in at the bottom -- about its use as a SS regimental symbol?

I especially like this: "Known as the 'peace sign' throughout the 1960's and into the present day, this symbol is the Teutonic rune of death. 1950's peace advocate Gerald Holtom may have been commissioned by communist sympathiser Bertrand Russell to design a symbol to unite leftist peace marchers in 1958. It is clear that either Holtom or Russell deemed the Teutonic (Neronic) cross as the appropriate symbol for their cause."

11:58 PM  
Blogger The Masticator said...

Bertrand Russell's name keeps coming up. I've been looking around for a source to the rumor that he had something to do with it. A quick search seems to support the fact that he was involved with Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, at least through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

But this, from the Louisville Courier-Journal is spookier:

"In 1970, to discredit the symbol, a controversial article ran in the Birch Society's American Opinion Magazine.

"'The society was very anti-communist, and they thought communists were behind the symbol,' Kolsbun says. The article claimed 'that essentially the symbol is the sign of the Antichrist; the sign of the devil. The article also claimed the peace symbol was designed by Bertrand Russell.'"

That was Ken Kolsbun, who was also interviewed in the BBC article. He wrote a book called Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, published by National Geographic.

So it looks like the source of the Bertand Russell connection may be the John Birch Society.

11:11 AM  

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