Saturday, February 23, 2008

Generic Peace Symbol Turns 50

I went to 7th grade in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. At the public high school I attended, I had a few friends who continued with me from my elementary school. It was a stressful period in my life in which one of my few continuing activities and stable peer groups was the Boy Scouts.

I had an extremely conservative and overtly religious principal that year who was also my teacher for social studies. He would routinely punctuate his lectures with "Amen, brother Men!" One day he went on a tirade against the peace movement and was characterizing the peace symbol as an image of a "witches' foot" with roots in worship of the devil. Somehow, I had heard the real story of the peace symbol's origins. I raised my hand and, when called upon, stood up out of my seat and related what I knew of semaphore signaling from earning my First Class rank in the Boy Scouts. I explained how the letters "N" and "D" were made with the semaphore flags and how that stood for nuclear disarmament. I do not actually recall my teacher's reaction. Perhaps the FBI has a report somewhere that he filed in the following days.

Today the peace symbol is one year older, and not even a full year older than that scared little boy scout. I got the news first from Michael Moore, and the above photograph was taken at a Committee for Nuclear Disarmament Rally in 1961. The peace symbol was only three years old when Christopher Holden took this picture in London's Whitehall.

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