October 15, 2012
Horse 1379 - The Peace SIgn... Upside-Down?
Over the years, I've heard all sorts of explanations about where this sign came from but none of them seemed to hold much basis in fact.
There is the suggestion that it is an anti-capitalist sign; being a corruption of the Mercedes-Benz three pointed star which has been cut down the middle. I couldn't really find much of an actual historical basis for this though.
There was also the theory that the thing in the middle is supposed to be a broken cross with the arms in a fallen position and that it is not just an peace symbol but an anti-Christian symbol. This works nicely with the rise of the hippie movement of the late 1960s and the rejection of all authority including the church but it still doesn't really explain why it was seen in the late 1950s, some ten years beforehand.
I found the reason for the peace symbol in an unexpected place. I was in the middle of writing another piece to do with the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis and who should pop up in the notes I was reading but Gerald Holtom.
Gerald Holtom was a prominent player in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This is important. If we look at the semaphore signals for N and D, N is a flag straight up and one straight down and D are the two flags held at the quarter marks below horizontal with straight arms. In other words, the peace symbol is actually the semaphore for ND or Nuclear Disarmament.
A ceramics manufacturer Eric Austen made the very first peace sign, or rather the first badge for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 in from Gerald Holtom's original design. In some ways the sign is supposed to be reminiscent of an individual in despair. We have to remember that in 1958, the threat of nuclear weapons being used loomed large.
Setting this aside by way of background and this sign which is the peace sign upside-down can be taken in a number of ways from an anti-peace sign, to something else subversive, to something as simple as that it was done by some vandal.
I'd like to re-appropriate this sign and suggest that this looks like something else.
If this looks like a person with their arms held aloft in the air, then this can be taken to mean someone with a lot of joy. It could also mean someone with their hands held up, ready to serve, provide assistance or in worship.
If the peace symbol is supposed to be originally the symbol of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, then it has sort of failed. The USSR may have dissolved more than 20 years ago, but the United States, the UK, France, China, Russia, the Ukraine, India, Pakistan and Israel are all confirmed as having nuclear weapons and Iran if it doesn't have them, probably wants them.
The world was in short supply of joy, service, worship and hope in 1958 and perhaps as the threat of nuclear weapons again rears its head, we need to be reminded of these things. If there is still a severe shortage of those things in the world, we should take this as a pithy reminder to start spreading, doing and producing those things.
Posted by Rollo at 22:02