Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Sign of Peace

“He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, to receive a mark on his hand or forehead so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark.” Rev. 13:16-17

Wanting to dress appropriately for the occasion, I checked out Glenn Beck’s Facebook page for some clue as to the type of tee shirts he might be selling for the Restoring Honor rally. There are Restoring Honor Tee Shirts on the Restoring Honor web page, but somehow I stumbled upon some tee shirts on his Facebook page.

One of them had a peace sign logo and some hippie flowers or some such nonsense and the words “Peaceful Resistance.” It was under his Facebook Photos tab. One Facebook friend wrote he wouldn’t wear it himself because it reminded him of an upside-down cross, which Christians consider an affront to Jesus.

That friend isn’t too far off. Glenn suggests that we usurp the Left’s ultimate symbol. But this is one symbol that can’t be transformed to the good and is better off left to the Left.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, the peace was sign, developed by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a British nuclear disarmament movement. It was designed and completed in February 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a British professional designer and artist for the 4 April 4th march planned by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) from Trafalgar Square in London to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, England.[1][2]

The symbol was later adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Later, in the the 1960s the anti-war movement counter-culture adopted it until it became an iconic symbol for the Sixties generation.

Semaphore N

Semaphore D

The peace sign 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 sign 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.

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. Superimposing these two signs forms the shape of the centre of the peace symbol. In the first official CND version (which was preceded by a ceramic pin version that had straight lines, but was short lived) the spokes curved out to be wider at the edge of the circle, which was white on black.

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." Ken Kolsbum, a correspondent of Holtom's, says that the designer came to regret the symbolism of despair, as he felt that peace was something to be celebrated and wanted the symbol to be inverted.

The original drawing by Gerald Holtom of the CND symbol is housed in the Peace Museum, in Bradford, England. Far-right and fundamentalist groups have claimed that the peace sign has communist, occult or anti-Christian associations. We’re such fanatics, don’t you know?

They can’t even get their story straight about how the design came about. However, all one has to do is compare the astronomical symbol for Earth with the peace sign, and it’s not hard to see that something is amiss. Whether the design was intentional or accidental, it’s unsettling, to say the least. The designer perhaps didn’t mean to create a symbol for the end of the world, but that’s what he would up with (even though he himself was dismayed by the despair he was creating):


It’s a bit of a stretch to go from the semaphore symbols N and D (for Nuclear Disarmanent) to a design inspired by a Goya painting to the familiar circular symbol everyone recognizes today. As a former astrologer and astronomy student, it looks more like the symbol for Earth – with the equatorial line bent down (as in submission).

Anyone with any sense will have nothing to do with this symbol. Don’t wear it, don’t display it. Don’t allow yourself to be marked with it. Glenn would hope to turn the tables on the Left by transforming it into some sort of conservative symbol of peace. But like Sauron’s Ring in the Lord of the Rings, it is wholly evil. It can never be used for good. As the character Gandalf observed (paraphrasing him), “Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity ... and the desire of strength to do good. And Elrond of the Elves in his turn notes, “We cannot use the Ruling Ring. The very desire of it corrupts the heart.”

We have no need to prove ourselves peaceful by word or sign. We should not be suing for peace when we don’t know what the terms of that peace are, taking upon ourselves an enemy’s symbol of peace that so clearly implies “surrender”, deluding ourselves into thinking we may somehow transform it.

Our test, our challenge here is not to demonstrate the transformative power of good; it is to recognize evil in the guise of good and reject it.


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