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The Surprising History of the Peace Sign

The peace symbol: something that we are all familiar with. The circular figure with a vertical line in the center and two diagonal lines pointing downwards has become a common figure in our day to day lives. Seeing this symbol in so many different places, I started to wonder, where did it come from? Did it always represent peace or did it originally have another meaning? I decided to search for these answers.

According to Laila Meyrick from Nobel Peace Center, the symbol was created by the British artist Gerald Holtom in the year 1958 for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).  The organization was going to do a 52 mile march from London to a town named Aldermaston, located in the southern part of the island nation. Aldermaston was selected because it was the location of an atomic bomb research center and factory. 

Holtom created the peace symbol, which incorporates the flag semaphore symbols for the letters “N” (the two downward diagonal lines) and “D” (the vertical line). A flag semaphore signal is a system that uses the waving of hand held flags to send a message across a long distance. These two letters would be an acronym for the message of nuclear disarmament (or ND). The circle that both of these symbols are in would represent the earth. Here is an image showing the two letters. With this, the symbol not only has a direct reference to the organization of origin, but also presents its message to people all over the world: Nuclear Disarmament for the Earth. 

While the symbol originally meant this, it came to have its association with peace when it reached the United States with the civil rights movement. It is believed that the civil rights activist Bayard Rustin is responsible for bringing it to the US, since he attended the march to Aldermaston. The symbol was quickly adopted by the american anti-war movement, in order to protest the Vietnam War. Thus, the symbol would continue to travel the world, being the representative for the cause that needed it. But the meaning of peace stayed, and would be forever linked to this meaning.  

The next time that you see the peace sign, remember its origin and the reason for its creation. But also remember that peace is not only a logo, it is something that all of humanity should strive to have. Since peace is a harmonious relationship between people without any confrontations or conflicts. Parents and teachers should educate for peace, not for war. Just like the american essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.”

University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez Student English Major International Relations Minor International YRE Competition 2020 3rd place
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