Teach Peace Moment: Peace Symbol History

Have you ever wondered where the peace symbol came from?

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

Throughout history the peace symbol was not always used in the spirit of love and service to humanity. For this reason, the Teach Peace Foundation does not use the peace symbol.

A popular explanation of the peace symbol is that Gerald Herbert Holtom (1914 - 1985) created this symbol on February 21, 1958.1 At that time Holtom worked with the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War. Holtom was a dedicated peacemaker and graduate of the Royal College of Arts. During World War II he worked on a farm in England as a conscientious objector. The BBC quoted Holtom, "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."2 The picture on the right shows one of Holtom's first sketches of the peace symbol. Opponents of the peace movement sometimes see the hands downward symbolizing peasants being killed by a firing squad.

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970), a philosopher, historian, mathematician, and a member of the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War,  aggressively promoted the arms down symbol. The arms down peace sign made its first public appearance in the United Kingdom during the 1958 Easter weekend Direct Action Committee anti-nuclear march from London to Aldermaston. Russell was the march organizer responsible for placing the arms down peace symbol on buttons and banners.

Russell's interest in the peace symbol becomes visible when you know he was a member of the British Fabian Socialist Society, a Brotherhood of Death secret society advocating an anti-Christian New World Order (to learn more the book Defeating the Brotherhood of Death is recommended). Russell wrote in his book The Impact of Science on Society that a "Black Death" or bacteriological warfare would be helpful every generation to cull the population. One of Russell's frustrations was war had proved to be disappointing in dramatically reducing populations.3 When you realize Russell supported both communism and peace without God, his service as a "Brother in Death" is visible. Specifically, Russell wanted to abolish God, abolish representative government, abolish private property, abolish food independence, abolish the family, and abolish most people as part of his anti-Christian crusade.

Russell downplayed his role and true interest in the peace symbol when he wrote, “It was invented by a member of our movement (Gerald Holtom) as the badge of the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War, for the 1958 Aldermaston peace walk in England. 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.4 The circle, representing the concept of total or complete, surrounds the N and D signifying total or complete nuclear disarmament.

Russell's primary interest in the symbol was to communicate defeat, despair, and disrespecting Jesus. Secret societies advancing what they call "the Great Plan" enjoy seeing people, especially young children, wearing the peace symbol with the arms down because in their Luciferian religion they believe deception produces a dark energy helping to pave the way for the Antichrist.

American journalist and playwright Herb Greer adds support for the Holtom explanation. He reported, “I was actually there on and before the first Aldermaston march for which it was created. I visited Holtom, I saw the original sketches and discussed it with him.”

Ken Kolsbun, author of the book Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, reported that Holtom expressed regret in not designing the peace symbol with the joyful lifting of arms towards the sky.5 For most of Holtom's life he would draw only the upright peace symbol. Holtom requested that the upright peace symbol be placed on his tombstone in Kent, England. As shown by the picture of his tombstone, his wish was ignored.6

Holtom's wish that the peace symbol connotation of despair be changed to joy is illustrated by the picture on the right. When the peace symbol is inverted the letter "N" becomes the semaphore code for "U" which could mean "universal" disarmament or the less popular but courageous "unilateral" disarmament.7

While it appears reasonable that the modern day peace symbol comes from Gerald Holtom, this logic fails to address the fact that the symbol has been used for evil both in modern times and for thousands of years.

This same symbol was used by Hitler's 3rd Panzer Division from 1941 to 1945. The regimental 3rd Panzer Division symbol. Soviet, Polish, and Hungarian citizens, having suffered from the Nazi massacres, undoubtedly struggled with Holtom’s use of the symbol as a thoughtful way to communicate peace. The symbol can also be found on some of Hitler's SS soldiers' tombstones.8 Another flaw in the Holtom creation story is the use of the symbol as an anti-Christian symbol by the Saracens as early as 711 A.D.9  For the Saracens, the image placed on their shields symbolized the breaking of the Christian cross.

For some the broken cross was equated to a satanic symbol known as the raven's craw or witch's foot. While Holtom may not have known the historical meaning of the peace symbol, Bertrand Russell was a historian and member of the Fabian Society. A 1970 article in the American Opinion magazine claimed Russell knew the historical occult meaning and intentionally selected an "anti-Christian design long associated with Satanism."10

The fifth and final Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero (born Lucius Domitius Ahenabarbus 37 - 68 AD), is remembered in history for persecuting Christians. Nero's rule was so wicked he even had his mother executed. The First Roman-Jewish War (66 - 70 AD) started during his reign and today the term "Nero Cross" is the symbol of the "broken Jew" or "broken cross." The most famous person believed to be crucified by Nero was the Apostle Peter. To symbolize humility and unworthiness in comparison to Christ, Peter requested that he be crucified with his head toward the ground. As a result of Peter's death the upside down cross was used by early Christians as a positive symbol for peace.

The symbol of the upside down cross changes its meaning when the person on the upside down cross is no longer Peter but Jesus. Anti-religious and satanic groups use the "Nero Cross" or inverted "Latin Cross" to symbolize everything opposite of Christianity. Today this is clearly illustrated by "black metal" or heavy metal music lyrics and imagery that communicate anti-Christian sentiments.11 An album cover for the black metal group, Mayhem, is shown on the left. The first letter "M" in "Mayhem" and the last "m" depict the upside down cross. In addition to musicians, film makers have reinforced the notion that the upside down cross is an anti-Christian symbol as illustrated by The Omen in 1976 and The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005.

The symbol has also been used to communicate support for communism. Bertrand Russell once said: “There is no hope in anything but the Soviet way.” Governments--both those who supported communism and those opposed to it--have perceived benefits in aligning the peace symbol with communist ideology. For people like Bertrand Russell, the author of the 1927 essay Why I Am Not Christian, the symbol represented not only a pro-communism meaning but peace without God.12

The confusion about what the modern day peace symbol means is further clouded by the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. LaVey used the symbol as the backdrop for his altar.13 Rudolf Koch's Book of Signs explains the downward pointed fork represents the death of man.14 Placed in the circle the symbol means the total death of all people which is the exact opposite of what Holtom worked to prevent with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

While the anti-God, communist and death of man arguments are far from representative of the majority of people that carry or wear a peace symbol, they can frustrate the sincere efforts of peacemakers.

Today because many people carry the symbol without understanding the history, we miss an opportunity to address historical uses and move forward to reclaim the symbol for good.15 The Focus Fusion Society is honoring Holtom's by putting the peace symbol arms up.16

Unfortunately even the upward arms peace symbol is not problem-free. For example, the white racist group, National Alliance, uses the upward arm symbol shown on the right.17

When you see the peace symbol, with the exception of groups specifically promoting violence, the person displaying it is attempting to communicating a message of love. Rather than use the arms down or arms up peace symbol, communicating love with kindness is recommended.

By Dave Dionisi

Sources and additional information:

1Gerald Holtom, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Holtom. The below is one of the first sketches of the peace symbol by Gerald Holtom. The first sketches are on display in the Commonweal Collection in the Bradford Peace Museum in England (see http://www.peacemuseum.org.uk and note that Room 2 is dedicated to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement).

There are a wide range of partially correct peace symbol explanations. For example, for a peacemaker during the Vietnam War, they may sincerely believe the symbol is an abstraction of a B-52 and therefore the symbol is signifying a protest of carpet bombing in Southeast Asia. Examining the symbol's meaning before the 20th century is necessary for a more complete understanding.

2See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/whatever-happened-to-cnd-511009.html. Holtom also wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater depth: "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. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it." See http://www.cnduk.org/index.php/information/info-sheets/the-cnd-logo.html.

3See Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, Unwin Hyman publishing and printed by Cox & Wyman Ltd in Reading, Berkshire, Great Britain, 1952. Reprinted by Routledge in 1998, p. 116.

A lecture Bertrand Russell presented in 1927 via the National Secular Society, “Why I Am Not A Christian” shines light on his true beliefs. For example he said: “You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God…that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God wasn’t looking. There is a good deal to be said about that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”

4See the BBC report, World's best-known protest symbol turns 50 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7292252.stm.

5See http://www.peacesymbol.com.

6Gerald Holtom asked to have the symbol in its upright form on his gravestone. That wish was ignored by the letter-cutter. See http://diaphania.blogspirit.com/tag/gerald%20holtom.

7See the BBC report, World's best-known protest symbol turns 50 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7292252.stm.

8See Nazi Panzer Divisional markings at http://www.germandressdaggers.com/Panzer%20Section%20Divisional%20markings%201%20to%203.htm.

9Saracen is any person in the Middle Ages that professed the religion of Islam. See the Encyclopedia Britannica at http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/523863/Saracen.

10See http://www.designobserver.com/archives/entry.html?id=34594.

11Satan rir media (Satan Rides the Media), a 1998 Norwegian documentary by Torstein Grude explaining the anti-Christian nature of black metal music and specifically Varg Vikernes church arsons in Norway and murder of Mayhem band member Øystein Aarseth.

12See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_I_Am_Not_a_Christian.

13Texe Marrs, Mystery Mark of the New Ages: Satan's Design for World Domination (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1988), p. 109.

14Foreign Policy in Focus, A Sign of the Times, April 10, 2008 by Barry Miles online at http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5146. The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch published by Dover Publications, Inc. in 1950. 

According to the diaries of Victor Klemperer, a Jewis man who survived the World War II in Dresden, in death notices of fallen German soldiers, their birth and death dates were preceded by a and , respectively, which, according to Nazi orthodoxy, were runic symbols of birth and death.

15See http://www.cnduk.org/pages/ed/cnd_sym.html. The message of love and unity can be powerful and for this reason the Apartheid regime in South Africa attempted to ban the peace symbol.

For additional information, see the Bertrand Russell archives  see http://www.peaceday.org/pcsign.htm, Oliver Day Street’s, Symbolism of the Three Degrees (New York: George H. Duran Co., 1922), and Carl Liungman’s Dictionary of Symbols (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991), p. 253.) and http://www.anbg.gov.au/flags/semaphore.html. Other peace symbols are explained at http://www.answers.com/topic/peace-symbol#cite_note-14.

16See the Focus Fusion Society statement why they changed from an arms downward peace symbol to an arms upward peace symbol at http://focusfusion.org/index.php/site/article/peace_symbol_with_arms_raised/.

17Anti-Defamation Leaque (ADL) website online at www.adl.org/hate_symbols/groups_national_alliance.asp. The ADL maintains a database of symbols of groups advocating violence. The symbol is also known as the Yggdrasil" which is a symbol in Norse Mythology.

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