The Peace Symbol

Have you ever wondered where the peace symbol came from? I know I have heard many stories about it being an anti religious, a Nazi, or a death symbol. They have also made claims about Bertrand Russell knowing it was some satanic cult sign. I have had an open invitation over the last twenty years for anyone to show me any proof the peace sign was used before the 1958 meeting and although I've had many people claim things not a single one has EVER provided any proof of it being used before then. So let me put all those other ficticious histories to rest. I am sure when you find out what it actually is you will be surprized!!

It seems the Peace symbol surfaced on letters from the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War in its original form as early as March 1958. Bertrand Russell was a member of this committee and, through his writings, has left us with an unmistakable history of when, where and who created the Peace Sign. Here are quotes from letters Bertrand Russell wrote in response to H. Pickles from Lichthort Verlag who wrote to complain that the peace symbol was a death symbol because the arms pointed downwards. Russell's reply: ``I am afraid that I cannot follow your argument that the ND badge is a death-symbol. It was invented by a member of our movement as the badge of the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War, for the first Aldermaston March. It was designed from the naval code of semaphore, and the symbol represents the code letters for ND. To the best of my knowledge, the Navy does not employ signallers who work upside down.''

So there you have it, the Navy code of semaphore is the flag signalling system. The letters
navy semaphore "D"


navy semaphore "N"

Surprized??? Well it does make sense in a way. But who created the symbol and why?? Read on,...

"Gerald Holtom [sic] is in fact widely credited with the design of the nuclear disarmament symbol (aka the peace symbol). The earliest reference I could find is in American journalist and playwright Herb Greer's "Mud Pie" (London: Parrish, 1964). Mr Greer has since written to me to corroborate my facts. A little before the first Aldermaston march at Easter 1958, Holtom showed up at the offices of "Peace News," in London, with drawings for banners and the symbol: "On a purple square was superimposed a white circle with a purple cross inside it, or almost a cross. The arms had slipped and were drooping against the lower sides of the circle. Holtom had made the design by combining the semaphore letters N and D: N for nuclear and D, naturally, for disarmament." (P. 30) Holtom was a commercial artist with, it seems, a "visual aid factory". Greer told me that he put his factory in Twickenham to making "lollipop signs" marked with the droopy cross. In correspondence through email he added, "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. The reason for the symbol being upside down (D over N) is that semaphore is a military code. Upside down, anti-military." For a much later account by a famous march organizer who witnessed Holtom's presentation, see Michael Randle, "Non-Violent Direct Action in the 1950s and 1960s", in Richard Taylor and Nigel Young, _Campaigns for Peace: British Peace Movements in the Twentieth Century_ (Manchester: Manchester U. Press, 1987), p. 134. The symbol was to appear at either end of banners stretching from one side of a streetful of marchers to the other."

Now you may say is there anything else you can tell us about the Peace Sign?? Of course!!

"From a design point of view, it is interesting to note that the original sketches are preserved at the School of Peace Studies, Bradford University (ibid., p. 159). The original symbol wasn't just sticks in a thinly bounded circle. The ends of the "arms" and "legs" thicken and splay out noticeably as they approach the circumference. And the circle itself is thick -- when it has an outer edge. (Thus there are at least 2 designs.) You can see the original symbol on the banners and "lollipops" of the marchers in plates in another book by Taylor, "The Protest Makers" (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980). The thickening itself has two versions: in one, all the straight strokes are thickened; in the other, only those in the lower half of the circle. Both are amply represented here in literature preserved by Bertrand Russell from his days at the head of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Committee of 100. Some are eminently scannable, too. The original designs are much nicer than what might be termed the sanserif abstraction that took over the banners by 1961."

So there you have it !

I thank the Bertrand Russell archives for supplying the quotations, and Herb Greer for his first hand corroboration of this history..

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