Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday, Peace Symbol! Here Are Its True Origins.

In 2008, the year our beloved Peace Symbol turns 50 years old (on February 21!), some of our MySpace and Net brethren have been circulating false and inaccurate information about its origins. This is to set the record straight.

It actually comes down to whether you lend more credence to Christian fundamentalists and their associated right-wing revisionists with a religious axe to grind -- or to actual scholars.

The intolerance and hatred with which some superstitious folks view the Peace Symbol is breathtaking in its majestic ignorance. Having lived the first 38 years of my life in Alabama, it's sadly no surprise to me to learn the Konservative Khristian Kooks think peace is a problem.

But what's really disappointing is that even some supposedly "enlightened" people harbor some really strange views on the symbol. One marijuana advocate calling himself "Enjoy Cannabis" and also one new-age philosopher calling himself "Reality" on MySpace each told me that the peace symbol, as used for 50 years, stands for death! And they were serious. They think we need to turn it upside down, so it'll stand for life. That's the way they send it out in all their bulletins. (Never mind that their actual knowledge of rune symbology is, well, a little lacking... see below.)

When I attempted to acquaint "Reality" with reality, including the actual scholarship which shows the symbol's origins, he had this intelligent reply (his syntax, grammar and spelling, not mine):

"if you still believe then your allowing them to control you still...the proof is all there to minds that are open...just look at the Anarchy symbol...looks alot like a upside down peace symbol...it's about reading the matrix"

Umm... Reality? Meet reality. Second thought, never mind; you guys don't have much in common. Cool tinfoil hat you have there.

A friend in Tennessee tells me, "I even know of a 'Christian tattoo' parlor in Nashville that says in its adverts that it won't tattoo certain symbols that are considered to be against God....including the peace symbol." Hmmm... guess it's too late for me; I already got the "wrong" tattoos. I could always have my left arm and right leg cut off, I suppose. Double amputee for the Lord!

But that's not even the worst of it, my Tennessee friend tells me. "Some groups, especially here in the 'buckle of the Bible Belt' believe Christ taught a lesson, not of peace but of conquering. There is a Christian book store in Murfreesboro called 'The Sword of the Lord.' They preach that talk of peace was some kind of plot from the devil and Christ wants you to take up a sword and make you believe in 'the Word.' It's really scary shit."

Indeed! There you have it, folks... God Hates Peace! Oh, dear...

Peace! :-) ~ Steve Reality Catcher

True Origins of the Peace Symbol

The CND or Peace symbol

This forked symbol was designed for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) and was adopted as its badge by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Britain, and originally was used by the British nuclear disarmament movement.

It was later generalised to become an international icon for the 1960s anti-war movement, and was also adopted by the counterculture of the time.

It was designed and completed February 21, 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a professional designer and artist in Britain for the Easter march planned by DAC from Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in England.

The symbol itself is a combination of the semaphoric signals for the letters "N" and "D," standing for Nuclear Disarmament. 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. These two signals imposed over each other form the shape of the peace symbol. In the original design the lines widened at the edge of the circle.[3]

Semaphore 'N' and Semaphore 'D'

A conscientious objector who had worked on a farm in Norfolk during the Second World War, Holtom later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of 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 Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it."[1]

The peace symbol flag first became known in the United States in 1958 when Albert Bigelow, a pacifist protester, sailed his small boat outfitted with the CND banner into the vicinity of a nuclear test.

The peace symbol button was imported into the United States in 1960 by Philip Altbach, a freshman at the University of Chicago, who traveled to England to meet with British peace groups as a delegate from the Student Peace Union (SPU). Altbach purchased a bag of the "chickentrack" buttons while he was in England, and brought them back to Chicago, where he convinced SPU to reprint the button and adopt it as its symbol. Over the next four years, SPU reproduced and sold thousands of the buttons on college campuses.

In Unicode, the peace symbol is U+262E: ☮, and can thus be generated in HTML by typing ☮ or ☮. However, many browsers will not have a font that can display it.

Antagonism to the Peace Symbol

The fact that the symbol resembles a bird foot in a circle gave rise to spurious alternative interpretations, ranging from plain mockery of "crow's foot" or "The footprint of the American Chicken" (suggesting that peace activists were cowards) to a number of occult meanings, such as an upside down crucifix with the arms broken downward, suggesting the way that St. Peter was martyred (see Cross of St. Peter).

Others have claimed that the symbol resembles a medieval sign known as "Nero's Cross" that represents Satanism.

The Elhaz rune

Alternatively, some [including some who should know better on MySpace] have suggested that the symbol is an inverted Elhaz rune, which would reverse the rune's meaning, according to these critics, from 'life' to 'death' (although the Elhaz rune is actually thought to mean 'elk'[2]). Upside down elk, anyone?

As well, a commonly repeated conjecture during the 1960s was that it was an antichrist symbol: a representation of Jesus on the cross upside-down. Gerald Holtom's explanation of the genesis of the symbol and his first drawings of it, however, do not support those interpretations.[3][4][5][6]

1^ a b The CND logo. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Retrieved on 2007-07-17.

2^ Plowright, Sweyn (2006). The Rune Primer. LuLu, pp.18,33,123. ISBN 1847282466.

3^ The Origin of the Peace Symbol

4^ Christian Resource Centre: Peace Sign

5^ Subdivision bans peace sign Christmas wreath

6^ Pro-Peace Symbol Forces Win Battle in Colorado Town

A Tribute to the Peace Symbol and the Peace Sign

Peace Symbols

The Straight Dope: What Is The Origin Of The Peace Symbol?

International Human Peace Sign

Happy Birthday, Peace! 50 Years of the Peace Symbol

Wikipedia: Peace Symbol


Doug said...

I alway enjoy the research that you do on your blogs. And for your "Sword of the Lord" guy, He's wrong about the battle crap, Please don't judge all Christians by him. Some of us actually have some Brains. :)

☮~alapoet~☠ said...

I know you do, Doug! You still remembered the Grateful Dead tattoo on my arm after 20 years. :-)