Exploring the Meaning of the Peace Sign: Several symbols deals with the peace sign meaning… doves, an olive branch, the Calumet (Native American peace pipe), but the circular peace symbol is seen in this article is perhaps the most recognized globally in the twentieth century.
Peace Sign Meaning
Sometimes, discredited as an anti-Christian symbol (an upside-down broken “Nero-cross”), a satanic character, or even a Nazi symbol, the iconic peace sign is not so innocent to anyone. Thankfully, the symbol has a clear history, and its origins are not so controversial.
The modern peace symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958 for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The lines down on either side represent the semaphore signal for the letter N, and the vertical line in the center represents the flag semaphore signal for the letter D. “N” and “D”, for nuclear disarmament, enclosed in a circle. Holtom also described the symbol as representing despair, with the central lines being the hands of a human questioning its sides against a white earth background.
It is said that Holtom originally considered using a Christian cross, but disliked its association with the Crusades and eventually chose something he considered more universal.
Peace Sign History
On Good Friday 1958, thousands of people gathered in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest against nuclear weapons. They were responding to several test explosions conducted by the United Kingdom, the third country to join the nuclear club after the US and the USSR.
For the next four days, the bravest of them marched to Aldermaston, a small village 50 miles west of London, where British nuclear weapons were designed and stored.
A new symbol was appearing for the first time on the signs and banners of the protesters. Gerald Holtom, a designer, and pacifist developed it specifically for March a few weeks ago. He believed that a symbol would strengthen the message.
He was right: the symbol was soon adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and became one of the most widely recognized designs in history.
“It’s a small masterpiece with a major provocative power,” design guru and cultural critic Stephen Bailey said in an email. “It speaks very clear about an era and a sensibility.”
“It is, simply, a good period piece: ordinary work done exceptionally well.”
Peace Sign Symbol
Holtom made 500 copies of the peace sign and distributed the emblem on lollipop wrappers as well as flyers for anti-war causes. Because of this impressive distribution of the peace emblem and its associated anti-war message, the emblem went viral.
Kolsbun has spent decades photographing the symbol in 1960s California. He said “It came at the right time,”. “It too, like a chameleon, took on many different meanings for peace and justice.
“It’s an amazing design. Big corporations tend to die for something like this – just look at how many of their logos are in a circle. Not surprisingly, some people draw it the wrong way, without the bottom line, And inadvertently create the Mercedes logo.”
In America, the symbol was first used by the civil rights movements. It was probably imported by Bayard Rustin, a close associate of Martin Luther King Jr., who participated in the 1958 London March. Crossing the Atlantic, the emblem lost its association with nuclear disarmament and generally became a symbol of peace: “In 1960s America, it was primarily anti-war,” said Kolsbun. “I didn’t even know it mean nuclear disarmament.”
As the Vietnam War progressed in the mid-1960s, the peace symbol was adopted by anti-war protesters and the counterculture movement, finding its conservative place on Volkswagen buses and acid-wash T-shirts. Intentionally kept free of copyright, it traveled far and wide, appearing as a symbol against Soviet invasion in former Czechoslovakia and opposing apartheid in South Africa.
As the peace sign symbol’s popularity grew, it also faced opposition. “Some hated (it), such as the far-right group John Birch Society,” Kolsbun said. “He put out a monthly magazine and, in 1969, he did a story denouncing the symbol, saying it was a sign of the devil. It ended up all over America and the New York Times picked it up. It got a lot. Propaganda that some still see as a satanic sign even after all these years.”
Peace Sign Semaphore Alphabet
The design is meant to represent the letters “N” and “D” – standing for “nuclear disarmament” – as they appear in the semaphore alphabet, used by sailors to communicate with flags from a distance.
But according to its creator, there is another meaning. In a letter to Hugh Brock, editor of the British magazine Peace News, Holtom wrote: “I drew myself: a representative of a man in despair, hands palms out and down like a goya farmer of a firing squad. In front, I formalized draw the drawing in a line and draw a circle around it.”
The symbol has been the subject of various interpretations since its inception. Bayley said, “All good graphic tools should be clear and capable of applications in a variety of media,”. “But a good meaning of it has the advantage of ambiguity: it can be read in different ways. A missile at lift-off? A person waving in despair? A druidical reference? But it bypasses interpretation: It’s a thing unto itself.”
Peace Emblem historian Ken Kolsbun believes that the simplicity of the design played a role in its continued success. He said in a phone interview, “You can draw this a 5-year-old,”. “It’s such a powerful symbol with a kind of hypnotic attraction.”
Upside Down Peace Sign
Kolsbun and Holtom corresponded in 1975, while the former was researching for a book that would eventually be published in 2008, the symbol’s 50th anniversary.
“He came back with a lot of great ideas and some of his sketches,” Kolsbun said. “He was a dedicated man. He knew what sport was all about. He was a very inventive person.”
According to Kolsbun, Holtom produced an upside-down version of the original, in which the letter “N” was replaced with “U” to denote “unilateral” disarmament, and he regretted not using it.
“He preferred the inverted version,” said Kolsbun. “I think in the beginning they saw it as nuclear disarmament, but as time went on, I believe they thought it really should be universal or unilateral disarmament. It would take care of all weapons. He wanted the reversed version to appear on his tombstone, but unfortunately, this did not happen.”
Over its 60-year history, the symbol has been used in support of environmental movements and women’s and gay rights, as well as featuring merchandise of all kinds. It has appeared on Moschino T-shirts, Tiffany pendants, US stamps, and even Lucky Strike cigarette packs.
Its legacy lives on and is constantly updated. After the 2015 Paris terror attacks, French artist Jean Julien reimagined the design using the shape of the Eiffel Tower, creating a symbol of worldwide solidarity.
But according to Kolsbun, one thing may have been lost along the way: the original meaning.
“Many people still don’t know what it means: no nukes. Most believe it means peace.” But I think it is important to know its true meaning because the nuclear threat is not averted. It’s stronger than ever.
Conclusion Peace Sign Meaning in the United States
Later, the peace sign meaning gained influence in the United States as a symbol of peace rather than war. During the late 1960s–70s the Holtom peace emblem was reintroduced and widely distributed as a symbol opposing the Vietnam War.
Your research on Holtom’s peace symbol meaning may lead you to some deeper associations. The symbol was heavily discredited by supporters of the Vietnam War.
Regardless, the meaning of the peace sign is alive and well today. It is still strong as an easily recognizable symbol representing harmony, union, and the idea that love, not war, is a perfect concept for the world.
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As always, thanks for reading.