Question: "What is the origin of the peace sign?"
Answer: The logo commonly recognized as the “peace sign” since the late ‘50s supposedly began as the logo for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). According to the CND, it was designed in 1958 by an English professional artist/designer named Gerald Holtom, who had graduated from the Royal College of Arts. Holtom, a conscientious objector who had preferred working on a Norfolk farm during WWII instead of joining the conflict, incorporated the hand-held flag symbols (semaphores) for N and D into his logo, the N standing for “nuclear” and the D for “disarmament.” In semaphore, the letter N is formed by a person holding two flags in an upside-down V, and the letter D is formed by holding one flag pointed straight up and the other pointed straight down. By superimposing the flag orientation of these two letters, the bars of the peace sign were derived.
Holtom presented his design to officials in the Peace News office in London and to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. The Direct Action Committee was already planning its first major anti-nuclear march from London to Aldermaston, where British nuclear weapons were manufactured. Bertrand Russell, an organizer of this march, selected the symbol to be placed on buttons and banners for the march. The "peace sign" made its first public appearance in the U.K. on that march over the 1958 Easter weekend. Holtom originally had intended to use the cross symbol within a circle as the logo for the march but various clergy he consulted about the idea were obviously not enthusiastic about using the cross on a protest banner. Holtom described the use of the downward V to represent the despair that he felt due to nuclear proliferation. He later reportedly regretted his choice, rather preferring an upward V, which he felt would express the joy of peace. He requested that the upward V peace sign be placed on his tomb, but this request was not heeded.
The symbol was brought to the U.S. by Bayard Rustin, a U.S. civil rights protester, who had participated in the Aldermaston march. The peace sign was first used in the United States later in the same year when a pacifist protestor, Albert Bigelow, sailed his small boat near a scheduled U.S. nuclear test site displaying the CND banner. It was later used on civil rights marches and appeared at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
The reported origin of the symbol has been clearly documented in letters, interviews, and the original sketches of the symbol, which are now displayed in the Peace Museum in Bradford, U.K. However, there have been a variety of claims that the symbol has Communist, occult or anti-Christian meanings and derivations. The controversy is fully understood when one examines the historical use of the same signal. The downward V has been linked to the mystic character for ”Aum,” a sacred word to the Hindu. Saying “Aum” over and over supposedly awakens the power of Brahma at the base of the spine. Germanic tribes that used it claimed the sign, or “rune,” to have eerie, mystical properties. It is said that it was used by sorcerers in pagan ceremonies. The Saracens in A.D. 711 used this symbol to alternately represent a broken cross, a raven's claw, or a witch's foot, all presumably satanic symbols. Under the reign of Roman Emperor Nero, infamous for his brutal persecution of Christians and Jews, this symbol was prominently used to represent a broken cross or broken Jew. Nero crucified the Apostle Peter upside down, and the horrific event resembled the downward-pointing fork. It was thereafter called the Neronic cross. With the Third Reich steeped in the occult, Hitler's 3rd Panzer Division used this same symbol from 1941 to 1945. The symbol in Germany is called a todesrune or death rune. It often appeared on death notices. It is also found on some of the tombstones of the notorious SS soldiers. For Bertrand Russell, a supporter of communism, the symbol meant not only communism but also peace without God. Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, used the downward-pointing fork as the background for his altar. The Book of Signs, written by Rudolph Koch, indicates that the downward-pointing fork means “the death of man,” and, with the circle around it meaning “total,” the entire symbol means “the total death of all people.”
Holtom never professed to have any knowledge of any historical use of this symbol. However, it is certain that Bertrand Russell was well aware of the satanic and anti-Christian roots of the symbol. He chose it accordingly. It is possible that Holtom learned of the symbol’s dubious past at some point, prompting his desire to convert the symbol to an upward-pointing V. The underlying meaning of the circle with the downward pointing fork, “the total death of man,” certainly is contrary to what the peace movement wanted in its anti-nuclear stance.
Whatever the origin, meaning, and usage of the peace sign, this much is clear: it speaks of a false peace—"'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14b). There can be no true peace until "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Rather than looking for peace in a symbol, may we all turn our eyes to the only true source of peace. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).