Photo of the first peace badge made by Eric Austen for CND in 1958 from Gerald Holtom's original design

The Third of May 1808 by Goya; the outstretched arms of the peasant in the white shirt was referred to by Gerald Holtom as one of his inspirations for the peace sign

This article is about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) peace symbol and hippie peace hand gesture, both of which have spread worldwide, but whose origins are not always known by their users. For other peace symbols, see Wikipedia:Peace symbols and for other meanings of the V sign, see Wikipedia:V sign

Two symbols from the 1960s symbolize peace: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (WP) peace symbol and hippie peace hand gesture. Both of these have spread worldwide, but they spread so far, so fast, and without their origins being recorded in mainstream media. Users do not always know what the symbols mean, exactly, and many do not know where the symbols came from.[1]

"Peace!"[edit | edit source]

The peace hand symbol, with two fingers in a V shape and the palm extended forward, is almost synonymous with counterculture, even modern counterculture. And saying "Peace!" as a farewell is even more widespread than it was in the hippy era. But no one knows where the hand gesture originated. Peace and Victory's only connection are their opposition to each other as concepts, so if it came from Nixon and Churchill's use of the hand symbol, then it was the result of a misreading that only stand-up comics can believe hippies capable of. Perhaps the originator hippie(s)' imitated Nixon/Churchill as satire, and recipient hippies failed to see the sarcasm. Or perhaps the originators were reclaiming the gesture.

A 2003, Los Angeles anti-war (WP) protester making the V-sign for "Peace!"

The more likely possibility is related to the once extremely close, but now long ago decayed, relationship between hippie culture and Christianity-Jesus Freaks (WP). The peace symbol, with two fingers extended but apart, the thumb folded over the remaining fingers, has a close correlation with Jesus' sign of benediction; the only difference being the two fingers touching or close rather than in a narrow V.[2] The peace sign may even on occasion be given with the arm held upright from the elbow, as Jesus is pictured doing (and arguably this could be only because it is easier for untutored medieval iconographers to paint the arm in that position, rather than foreshortened), although it is more commonly given with the arm extended outward from the elbow[3]

As for the rapid spread throughout the hippie culture and beyond, entirely by peer example, and without intentional enhancement by mainstream media, the answer has to be in the meaning of the symbols, and a synergy therefrom. The synergy was between the people, members of the subculture; the meaning was Peace.

Peace was of prime importance to a movement spawned during the Vietnam War, and the immersion of the entire subculture in the concept, and the gap that that created between the subculture and the mainstream, is hard to overemphasize. However much of a divide there may be between reactionaries and progressives today, the viewpoints are still mostly a rehash of old arguments, informed by the viewpoints of each side; in the '60s, there were, as now, two entirely different languages being spoken, but the discussion between them was just starting.

John Lennon's (WP) song Give Peace a Chance (WP), for example, gave the peace protests added impetus and an anthem-the two fed back to each other. The song itself was inspired by Peace slogans on the windows of Lennon and Yoko's Bed-In (WP) peace demonstration-another connection.[4]

Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic

"It was during their week-long bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth, in Suite 1742, amid a constant flow of reporters and visiting celebrities, a local DJ broadcasting his radio show, and windows decorated with "Hair Peace" and "Bed Peace" signs, that the song "Give Peace a Chance" originated. Lennon decided to record it, since the media coverage they'd been getting had focused on them rather than their message."[4]

A crowd of protestors 250,000 strong all knew Give Peace a Chance well enough to sing it along with Pete Seeger (WP) at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam (WP).[5][6] This event led in turn to yet more publicity,[7] from an infamously contentious interview with Gloria Emerson with Lennon and Yoko Ono (WP) at the Apple Records (WP) headquarters in London,[8] During the interview, Emerson's political differences with Lennon were echoed by her cultural differences, and it showed. Perhaps she knew Lennon and Ono's anti-war campaign - undertaken at great professional and financial cost[8] - was succeeding,[6] or perhaps she did not believe that anymore than she could understand it. She tried repeatedly not just to dispute its effectiveness, but to make little of the effort required, and personally embarrass the couple.

She had only criticism for John's political gesture of returning his Wikipedia:Order of the British Empire (MBE). Lennon became irritated. He could have realized from the fact that she refused to credit him with dignity enough to have made a principled stand,[6] that she most certainly could not comprehend, let alone appreciate, what we know of now as "star power". But Lennon knew firsthand the power of rock culture to make converts, something we take entirely for granted today. He tried to use the example of the entire Moratorium gathering knowing Give Peace a Chance, as proof of his ability to make a difference, to change people's minds. To Emerson, this was at the very least a partially foreign concept; not so long ago, mainstream culture had no direct experience of it, had not even thought about it, let alone said or written about it.

John: If I'm gonna get on the front page, I might as well get on the front page with the word "PEACE".
Emerson: But you've made yourself ridiculous!
John: To some people; I don't care... if it saves lives!
Emerson: You don't think you've - oh - my dear boy you're living in a never-never land.
* * *
John: You tell me what they were singing at the Moratorium.
Emerson: [Confused] Which, which ........?
John: ...the recent big one, they were singing "Give Peace A Chance".
Emerson: A song of yours probably.
John: Well yes, and it was written specifically for them.
Emerson: Where are we and what is this? What do you have to do with the Moratorium? So they sang one of your songs - great song sure, but is that all you can say about that - the Moratorium?
John: ...I'm proud that they sang it at the Moratorium, I wouldn't have cared if they'd sang "We shall overcome", but it just so happens that they sang that, and I'm proud of it, and I'll be glad to go there and sing with 'em.
Emerson was rebuffed, and ruffled enough to lose her composure further. There followed yet another mismatch of minds; in the Establishment mindset there remains to this day the conception, perhaps a projection, of those who decry injustice as being humorless, or even joyless
Emerson: [Sarcastically] Make it jolly.
John: I will make it jolly.
Yoko: Yes, you know, we have to make it jolly.
The premise she had herself established, that The Left Is No Fun, had been flatly contradicted, and by Yoko too. It was too much for Emerson; she had nothing left but jumping onto the same train track her opponents were riding on to obstruct them, implicitly agreeing that it would be jolly and denying her earlier premise:
Emerson: Why?

The universally recognizable peace symbol amidst a frenzy of slogans written in French on a hippie-decorated bus at a demonstration

Thinking about peace, hoping for it, listening to songs about it, looking at symbols of it, hearing or seeing slogans about peace, and perhaps more importantly than all of these-having fun with it-hearing the peace words and peace music of the entertainers they loved-by these means, the symbol and the hand sign were branded on the synapses of an international consciousness.

"Peace!" in the far East[edit | edit source]

The spread of "Peace!" through Japan and elsewhere in the far East is in many ways different-there was next to no hippie movement as such, there. And it is in many ways the same - where in the US and England, the "Victory" meaning of Nixon and Churchill's V-signs had next to no impact on the hippies' concept of the peace symbol, there would seem to have been even less influence on Japan. It was entirely learned by non-verbal communication between peers in the subculture, or counterculture role models.

"A really odd thing is that most Japanese don't even realize they're doing it, and furthermore seem not to even notice them in their pictures.

I remember a high school girl showing me a group photo taken on a school trip. There were about 50 girls in the picture and about 70 or 80 peace signs. (We counted!)

Japanese boy giving a peace sign while eating the wrapped rice dish Wikipedia:sushi (WP), sometimes confused with the Wikipedia:Sashimi (WP) raw fish dish that may be used as one of its fillings

Though the photo looked like a huge mass of peace signs to me and it was the first thing that struck me, nobody else present who saw the picture (all Japanese) noticed them at all.

Getting posed photos of Japanese minus peace signs in many situations is pretty much a hopeless task."[9]

"One theory is that the gesture was popularised in Japan by the US figure skater, Wikipedia:Janet Lynn, during the Wikipedia:1972 Winter Olympics in Wikipedia:Sapporo. Although she came third in the event, and fell over on the ice, she captured the hearts of the Japanese public with her constant cheerfulness - Japanese children are also encouraged to be cheerful at all times. A peace campaigner, Lynn was photographed many times making the peace sign, and people began to copy her.

The V-sign has now spread to young people in Wikipedia:Hong Kong, Wikipedia:Taiwan and Wikipedia:Korea, probably due to the Japanese influence. One reason for its popularity is that it is so easy to do. Wikipedia:Seima Sekine, in Wikipedia:Japan Today, said, 'Even when I don't feel like I have to smile, I can easily make the V sign and show my desire for peace in a photo.' " -ICONS The V-sign[1]

Peace symbol[edit | edit source]

The internationally recognized symbol for peace was originally designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom in 1958.[10] Holtom, an artist and designer, made it for a march from Wikipedia:Trafalgar Square, London to the Wikipedia:Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Wikipedia:Aldermaston in England, organised by the Wikipedia:Direct Action Committee to take place in April and supported by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (WP) (CND).[10][11][12][13] Holtom's design, the original of which is housed in the Peace Museum in Wikipedia:Bradford, England, was adapted by Eric Austen (1922–1999) to ceramic lapel badges.[14][15]

The symbol is a combination of the semaphore signals for the letters "N" and "D," standing for "nuclear disarmament".[10] In semaphore the letter "N" is formed by a person holding two flags in an upside-down "V," and the letter "D" is formed by holding one flag pointed straight up and the other pointed straight down. Wikipedia:Superimposing these two signs forms the shape of the centre of the peace symbol.[10][16][17] Holtom later wrote to Wikipedia:Hugh Brock, editor of Wikipedia:Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater depth:

"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 Wikipedia:Goya's peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it."[17]

Ken Kolsbum, a correspondent of Holtom's, says that the designer came to regret the symbolism of despair, as he felt that peace was something to be celebrated and wanted the symbol to be inverted.[18] Eric Austen is said to have "discovered that the 'gesture of despair' motif had long been associated with 'the death of man', and the circle with 'the unborn child',"[14] possibly referring to images in Wikipedia:Rudolf Koch's The Book of Signs, (Das Zeichenbuch, 1923) an English edition of which had been published in 1955.[19]

Semaphore November.png
Semaphore Delta November.svg.png
Semaphore Delta.png
Semaphore for "N" - " November" Symbols combined Semaphore for "D" - "Delta"

The symbol became the badge of CND and wearing it became a sign of support for the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament (WP) by Britain. An account of CND's early history described it as "a visual adhesive to bind the [Aldermaston] March and later the whole Campaign together ... probably the most powerful, memorable and adaptable image ever designed for a secular cause."[14]

Not patented or restricted, the symbol spread beyond CND and was adopted by the wider anti-war movement (WP). It became known in the United States in 1958 when Albert Bigelow (WP), a pacifist protester, sailed a small boat fitted with the CND banner into the vicinity of a nuclear test.[20] Buttons with the symbol were imported into the United States in 1960 by Philip Altbach, a freshman at the Wikipedia:University of Chicago. Altbach had traveled to England to meet with British peace groups as a delegate from the Student Peace Union (WP) (SPU) and on his return he persuaded the SPU to adopt the symbol. Between 1960 and 1964 they sold thousands of the buttons on college campuses. By end of the decade it had become a generic peace sign,[21] crossing national and cultural boundaries.[22]

Peace web.jpg
Fremont Solstice Parade 2010.jpg
Arborsculpture achieved by grafting Richard H. Springman, U.S. Army, wearing a peace symbol necklace, speaking with a North Vietnamese Army officer, 18 February 1973, after the Paris Peace Accords (WP) Flashing the peace sign hand gesture, a Solstice Cyclist at the Summer Solstice Parade and Pageant (WP) in 2010 also has a peace symbol in body paint (WP)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 ICONS The V-sign
  4. 4.0 4.1 Give Peace a Chance, Revolutionary Music, PBS, page 1
  5. Perone, James E. (2001). Songs of the Vietnam Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-0-313-31528-2.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Give Peace a Chance, Revolutionary Music, PBS, page 2
  7. The interview was featured in the 2006 movie, U.S. vs. John Lennon (WP) and the 1988 film Imagine: John Lennon' (WP)
  8. 8.0 8.1 "The World of John and Yoko: A BBC Television Documentary from 1969"
  9. Mike Cash, The V sign
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Breyer, Melissa (21 September 2010). "Where did the peace sign come from?". Shine. Yahoo!. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  11. "Peace Symbol". The Peace Museum's Collection. The Peace Museum, Bradford. 
  12. "First use of the peace symbol, 1958". Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  13. Lacayo, Richard (27 March 2008). "A Piece of Our Time". Time Magazine.,9171,1725969,00.html. Retrieved 2 April 2008. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Christopher Driver, The Disarmers: A Study in Protest, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964
  15. W. J. Mc Cormack (17 July 1999). "Obituary of Eric Austen, ''The Independent'', 17 July 1999". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  16. "The CND symbol". Hugh Brock Papers. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 "The CND logo". Wikipedia:Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Retrieved 3 April 2008. 
  18. Westcott, Kathryn (20 March 2008). "World's best-known protest symbol turns 50". BBC. Retrieved 20 March 2008. 
  19. "Koch, R., ''The Book of Signs'', Dover, 1955". Google Books. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  20. Lawrence S Wittner. "The Struggle Against the Bomb: Volume Two, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement". Stanford University Press. p. 55. Retrieved 24 July 09. 
  21. Ken Kolsbun with Mike Sweeney (1 April 2008). "Peace: The Biography of a Symbol". National Geographic Books. Template:Hide in printTemplate:Only in print. Retrieved 28 August 2008. 
  22. The Peace Museum, Bradford

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External links[edit | edit source]

Peace symbols : Wikipedia:Peace symbols

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