The odd Symbol that changed the World


By Kanyanta E. Kauma

ON this day roughly 60 years ago, a British artist named Gerard Holtom came up with a peculiar sign that appeared to be nothing but a few three straight lines, convened together within a circular pattern.

A very basic yet intriguing pattern that bore no mark of glamour and grandiose, although he deeply understood the symbols’ meaning and purpose, never could he imagine that in only a few months  this seemingly peculiar symbol  would be pasted onto banners and t-shirts all around the world  as  the universal  sign of peace.

Since its creation, the universal peace sign or Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament sign (CND) has become an iconic symbol; making its way across various spheres of society from high end business houses to local thrift shops and craft markets.

The symbol contains a circle, a vertical line, and downward sloping lines.

It came into prominence in the United Kingdom and around the world during the sixties at the height of the Nuclear Disarmament and peace campaigns.

A critical catalyst for popularity of the symbol was the protest against the Vietnam War in the 60s during which death and destruction was rife.

Thousands of young demonstrators popularly described as hippies aired their displeasure by marching and demonstrating with the peace sign inscribed upon their posters and bodies. Over the ages, numerous images and signs have been created for the sole purpose of promoting peace i.e. the “broken rifle” or the dove and olive branch popularly used in Christianity.

Despite these classic forerunners however; none has been more effective and alluring in this cause than the Nuclear Disarmament symbol.

The peace symbol has emerged from being simply a political and social statement to an edgy fashion piece with a message, capable of giving some of the most renowned brands and logos a run for their money.  The peace symbol gained momentum not only in cultural and social spheres but internationally too.  Heads of State where forced to turn their heads to the growing menace of demonstrators flooding  streets and chanting slogans and mantras with the infamous peace sign waving high  within busy town zcentres.  The symbol provided much needed ammunition towards the long and hard battle against nuclear weapons.

As a deliberate move, the symbol has not been copyrighted and as such, no one has to pay or to seek permission before they use it, making it accessible and a globally endorsed symbol of freedom, free for all to use.

The simple and straightforward yet meaningful pattern of the symbol made it not only relatable but a  hit amongst counter-culture groups and sub societies such as the hobos and hippies who believed in peace and non violence as a solution to global conflict,  contrary to “ governments”  dependence on war and arms.  Numerous youths embraced the Hippie counter culture as an effective means of self-expression and thus willingly joined the group with little to no reservations.

The once obscure and abstract symbol was slowly but surely gaining momentum around the world thanks to the media and eager and curious youths.

The symbols popularity only blossomed further with endorsement of popular celebrities of the era such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles who often embraced and promoted the symbol as well as hippie ideals and attitudes through their lifestyle and music.

From simple hand made banners and placards, the symbol made its way onto jewelry and clothing, with celebrities sporting them during performances as exemplified through concerts such as Woodstock in the 60s during the height of the hippie era.

The symbol easily made its way out of the dark alleys and bedroom walls of rebellious youths to the main epicenter of social and political arenas where it was no longer shunned as a symbol of mutiny but embraced as one of unity and hope.

This world famous symbol however has not been spared from its own share of scandals and controversies.  Throughout history the peace symbol has not always been associated with love and unity. Some firmly believe the symbol is tarnished by Occult inspiration and ancient Pagan mysticism.

For   this reason Organisations such as the Teach Peace Foundation do not use the peace symbol despite it’s popularity and vast reputation as one of the most recognisable and beloved peace signs around the world. The symbol has long been at the heart of numerous controversies since its creation.

Religious sectors within society often believe that the symbol is evil and conveys a deeper more maleficent meaning than many naïve youths are forced to believe.

When questioned regarding the inspiration behind his iconic symbol however, Gerald Haltom had this to say;

“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.”

Similarly Bertrand Russell, a colleague of Holtom and fellow nuclear disarmament champion contends its innocence, adding that;

“It was designed from the naval code of semaphore, and the symbol represents the code letters for ND.’”

The code ND for Nuclear Disarmament is shown on the right. The circle, representing the concept of total or complete, surrounds the N and D signifying total or complete nuclear disarmament.

This however has done little to soothe the concerns of a critical public.

A 2013 report from the Netherlands revealed that members of a certain Christian school allegedly burnt down numerous planners that contained the peace sign.

When questioned about the incident, the members allegedly said “the peace sign contains a Nero cross, which was used in Roman times to represent the torture of Christians, and now apparently has Satanist connotations. It also has connotations with Nazism.”  According to the campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), some groups have gone as far as to suggest that the “gesture of despair” motif used in the peace symbol has long been associated with “the death of man,” and the outer circle with “the unborn child” each giving a negative connotation to the sign.

There have been numerous other claims stating that the symbol has much older, occult and anti-Christian associations.

In South Africa, under the apartheid regime, there was an official attempt to ban it.

Additionally, various far-right and fundamentalist American groups have also spread the idea of Satanic associations or condemned it as a Communist sign.

However these occult origins and the ideas behind the symbol have been clearly disputed and denied numerous times, both in letters and in interviews, by its creator.

Regardless of each stance taken regarding the background and origins of the symbol, it is undeniable however, that the peace symbol remains a front-most iconic and influential image within not only the anti-nuclear campaign but Peace and freedom movements all around the World.

 The author is a journalist, writer and student pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. For comments and contributions email



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