the truth behind the peace symbol
50 years had passed. Another 100 will pass and there is always going to be someone who is wondering what is that mark standing for. It started life as the emblem of the British anti-nuclear movement but it has become an international sign for peace, and arguably the most widely used protest symbol in the world. It has also been adapted, attacked and commercialised.Many people have speculated on just what the symbol represents; some religious zealots even claim it signifies Christ on the cross with arms broken, or a Teutonic rune representing death and despair. But the truth is not so mysterious.
What does it mean?
One of the most widely known symbols in the world, in Britain it is recognised as standing for nuclear disarmament —and in particular as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). It was designed from the naval code of semaphore, and the symbol represents the code letters for ND which means Nuclear Disarmament.The circle, representing the concept of total or complete, surrounds the N and D signifying total or complete nuclear disarmament.
In the United States and much of the rest of the world it is known more broadly as the peace symbol. It was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a professional designer and artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Arts. He showed his preliminary sketches to a small group of people in the Peace News office in North London and to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, one of several smaller organisations that came together to set up CND.
The Direct Action Committee had already planned what was to be the first major anti-nuclear march, from London to Aldermaston, where British nuclear weapons were and still are manufactured. It was on that march, over the 1958 Easter weekend that the symbol first appeared in public. Five hundred cardboard lollipops on sticks were produced. Half were black on white and half white on green. Just as the church’s liturgical colours change over Easter, so the colours were to change, “from Winter to Spring, from Death to Life.” Black and white would be displayed on Good Friday and Saturday, green and white on Easter Sunday and Monday.
The first badges were made by Eric Austin of Kensington CND using white clay with the symbol painted black. Again there was a conscious symbolism. They were distributed with a note explaining that in the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno. These early ceramic badges can still be found and one, lent by CND, was included in the Imperial War Museum’s 1999/2000 exhibition ”From the Bomb to the Beatles”.
Later, in a letter, Holtom also admitted that the symbol reflected his mood at the time. “I was in despair,” he 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. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle around it.”
American journalist and playwright Herb Greer adds support for the Holtom explanation. He reported, “I was actually there on and before the first Aldermaston march for which it was created. I visited Holtom, I saw the original sketches and discussed it with him.”
Ken Kolsbun, author of the book Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, reported that Holtom expressed regret in not designing the peace symbol with the joyful lifting of arms towards the sky. For most of Holtom’s life he would draw only the upright peace symbol. Holtom requested that the upright peace symbol be placed on his tombstone in Kent, England. If we take a look on the picture of his tombstone, we’ll see that his wish was unfortunately ignored.