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Peace symbol – 50 years on

25 March 2008
Peace symbolJerry Horton’s now-famous peace symbol is 50 years old. Its first public appearance was at the Aldermaston March in 1958, organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to protest against nuclear weapons.Later it was widened to a general peace symbol, and not simply against nuclear weapons, and has been used by people protesting against wars in general, such as the Vietnam War and the current Iraqi-American War.
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In 1958, on the coldest Easter weekend anyone could remember for years and just weeks after the birth of CND, 4,000 people gathered in the centre of London for a rally addressed by Michael Foot and Canon John Collins.
Yesterday, according to the group’s estimate, up to 5,000 supporters turned up to celebrate the anniversary and protest at the government’s plans to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system, in the largest demonstration at the site for two decades.Clutching replicas of the “lollipop” placards featuring artist Gerald Holtom’s now-famous CND symbol, young and old clambered from coaches to turn the perimeter fence into a sea of rainbow banners and multicoloured knitwear.
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There is some dispute over the origin of the peace sign. Because of its use in the Aldermaston March for nuclear disarmament, it was said that it represents the semaphor sign for ND, standing for nuclear disarmament, but when we wrote in our Pink Press newsletter (No 16, Easter 1971) about peace crosses being sold, with the peace symbol surmounted by a cross, and gave that explanation, Laurens Otter, of Christian Anarchists, wrote with a different account. The group that originally met thought of a cross surrounded by a circle, and then thought of making the cross’s arms droop, to make it look sad. At the next meeting someone had discovered that a cross with drooping arms was a medieval monastic symbol for a dead man, and that was adopted. It was only later found that it was also the sign for ND, and in fact only one of the banners on the march actually had the words “Nuclear Disarmament”.

Right-wing groups in the USA and South Africa concocted an urban legend about it being designed by Bertrand Russell, and representing a “witch’s foot”. There was no truth in this.

Whatever its origin, however, the peace symbol stands for the desire for peace in the world, and an end to killing.

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