The peace sign was a well-known emblem of the hippie movement, and is currently a well-known emblem to teenagers and neo-hippies. Since its creation, the peace sign has taken on many different meanings and colors, although it started out as a symbol of the British anti-nuclear movement.
On February 21, 1958 a man named Gerald Hortom sat down at his desk and created the popular peace sign. It was made to represent an individual in despair, with the hands down and outward in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad, and symbolize the letters ND (for nuclear disarmament). The circle surrounding the N and the D represent the concept of total and complete, signifying total and complete nuclear disarmament. The peace sign was declared as the badge for the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War.
Holtom’s main regret in the final version of the peace sign was that he did not draw the peace sign with the joyful symbol of arms up toward the sky. Throughout his life he drew the upside-down peace sign, and he requested that this version of the peace sign be put on his grave. Unfortunately, his requests were ignored.
Despite the original meaning of the peace sign, it has been used for evil many times throughout history.
Satanic and Anti-Religious groups use the peace sign (or the upside-down cross) to represent everything that is anti-Christian. The Saracans used it as early as 711 A.D. on their shields to symbolize the breaking of the Christian cross. Nero, the fifth Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty is well remembered for his cruelness to the Christians. The most remembered person that was believed to have been prosecuted by Nero was the apostle Paul. Peter requested that he be crucified with his head to t he ground in order to symbolize humility and his unworthiness compared to Christ. As a result, the upside down cross was used by Christians as a positive symbol of peace.
The peace sign has also been used as support for communism, because it represented a peace without God.
Anton LaVey, the Church of Satan, uses the symbol behind its altar to represent the death of a man. When placed inside of the circle, it represents the death of all men.
Despite all the negative meanings that the peace sign has held, it has also been used for positive. During the 1960’s and 70’s, the hippies used the peace sign as a symbol of peace (which is what it was originally designed for) during their Anti-War movement.
The War in Iraq has brought on another uprising of the peace sign, holding much the same meaning as it’s original creation. Also, in the UK, the peace sign is still used for the Ban the Bomb Movement.
So next time you see the peace sign, remember its history, but also remember what it was originally created for, and perhaps you’d prefer to draw it with the arms up, as Holtom requested.
Dave Dionisi “Peace Sign History”
Kathryn Westcott “World’s Best-Known Protest Symbol Turns 50”
Ken Kolsbun, Mike Sweeney “Peace Symbol :: The Biography of a Symbol”