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Where Did the Peace Sign Come From?

The symbol used for peace dates back to almost half a century ago, but people are not completely aware of the iconic symbol’s dark origin.

The symbol was used in the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC). Gerald Holtom, a well-known designer, stepped up to create the peace sign to create a political impact. 

What Does the Sign Represent? 

The design of the peace sign logo represents the initials of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The letters N (two flags are pointed down) and D (one flag is straight up, and one flag is straight down) in flag semaphore movements that stand for nuclear disarmament. Another consideration of the design was Goya’s The Third of May 1808, as the peasant before the firing squad.

Initially, Holtom considered the Catholic Cross. But instead chose something ubiquitous and away from any association with religious wars. It was initially presented on February 21, 1958, where it was approved and accepted by the committee and was used on April 4 of the same year as their symbol for the protest march from London to Berkshire. (Source: Mental Floss)

Who was Gerald Holtom?

Gerald Herbert Holtom was born on January 20, 1914, in Erpingham Norfolk District, Norfolk, England. He was a father to six children and had two wives. Two of his six children became artists like him and his wives.

Holtom was an activist, designer, and the genius behind the iconic peace symbol. In fact, his gravestone says, To the memory of Gerald Herbert Holtom, a campaigner for peace. May he find peace. (Source: Bush Wars)

I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards & downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad.

Gerald Holtom

 (Source: Find a Grave)

Holtom passed on September 18, 1985, in Canterbury, Kent, England, at the age of 71. He was buried in Spring Lane Cemetery, Kent, England.

In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of the iconic peace symbol, one of his children, Anna, hosted her exhibit called Survival with her works at Mayfair Gallery. (Source: Galleries)

Different Symbols for Peace 

There have been many peace symbols used over time across different cultures, activities, and causes. Despite significant differences in how it was illustrated and represented, the symbol communicates harmony, restoration of relationships, and unity. (Source: Mental Floss)

Here are other symbols to promote peace as seen in different references:

  • Olive Branch – Ancient Greece
  • Dove – the Bible
  • White Poppy – from Europe to conclude WWI
  • V Hand Symbol – WWII
  • Paper Crane – Japanese Folklore; 1950’s
  • Pace Rainbow Flag – 1961; Peace March
  • Broken Rifle – 1921; London
  • Pax Cultura – official symbol of the Roerich Pact
  • Orizuru – ancient origami crane also associated with luck in Japan
  • Mpatapo and Bi Nka Bi – West Africa
  • Boar – symbol of Norse god of peace, Freyr

(Source: Give Me History)

Why is the V Hand Offensive in some Cultures?

The V Hand was initially used by the allied nations in world war II meant victory. It was then adopted by anti-war activists in later years, using it as a symbol of peace. The V hand, also known as the peace sign, is made by holding the index and middle fingers up, forming a V shape.

Though it is a hand gesture known globally, a slight variation to how you make the motion would elicit a different reaction in certain countries. If you flip it around and the back of your palm is facing the intended recipient, its context changes entirely. In some countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, this variation is equivalent to giving someone the middle finger. (Source: Business Insider)

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