The 50th Anniversary Of The Peace Symbol -- A Cultural Icon Dates Back Years Before Its Use Against The Vietnam War
March 23, 2008
(CBS) We all know the Peace Symbol, which Americans of a certain age associate with the protests against the Vietnam War. Fewer know that the symbol is much older than that, dating back to ANOTHER protest across the sea in Britain. Richard Roth tells us all about it:
Fifty years ago on a cold, grim Easter holiday, a protest was meant to be a watershed: a global call to ban the bomb.
People marched from London to a factory in the countryside where Britain built its atomic bombs. Pat Arrowsmith was among those early campaigners for nuclear disarmament.
"It was quite clear that we were not just against the tests, and we were not just against the British bomb," Arrowsmith said. "We were against the Soviet bomb and against the U.S. bomb."
The nuclear weapons industry at Aldermaston is still very much alive. But so is the spirit of that protest fifty years ago. It lives on in a symbol born here that became an icon.
Gerald Holtom was the artist and textile designer who created it.
A conscientious objector during World War II, he was driven to the nuclear disarmament campaign, he said, by a feeling of despair.
Holtom's daughter Anna Scott, also an artist, remembers the image of her father's despair, in the paintings of Goya.
"He used the Goya painting of the despairing image of the person who was being shot, in Spain - I don't know whether the despair was to do with his personal situation or whether it was to do with the world situation, and sometimes these can be muddled up, can't they?"
Working in his West London studio, Holtom sought to transform that muddled despair into something tidy and neat: a symbol for the campaign for nuclear disarmament, based on the Naval sign language of semaphore.
Inside the circle of the peace sign are the two semaphore letters "N" and "D". The D goes straight up and down, and the N comes up to a point. The circle is said to represent an unborn child.
Without the circle, the two semaphore characters N and D that appear on top of each of other also represent despair, characterized as a stick figure that looks similar to Goya's outstretched peasant in the painting "Execution of the Defenders of Madrid."