Happy 59th, peace symbol

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After we dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of innocents for generations to come, concerns over U.S., Soviet, and British atomic weapons development reached a crescendo. Not only did fears mount over nuclear war, but also the health risks and environmental damage caused by testing. By 1958 the ongoing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament held its first meeting in London. Among its organizers was philosopher, mathematician, and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell.

It was they who gave the world its most recognized peace symbol 59 years ago today. Presented by designer Gerald Herbert Holtom on Feb. 21, 1958, as the CND’s logo, the symbol has become universally known across the globe as synonymous with brotherly love and nonviolence.

The peace symbol’s origin is the subject of several myths, e.g., allegedly depicting the artist’s despair, or some sort of satanic connection. The truth is quite different. Having a famously brilliant writer actually there to record its history proves most helpful, and easy to verify. As Russell described it, the logo was — as some might consider it — ironically derived from military communications.

Imagine the peace symbol: A circle, within it a straight vertical line, with two branches beginning near its center and pointing downward to the left and right.

Now remove the circle and branches, and look at the line. If you know the Navy code of semaphore (a flag signaling system), this closely resembles a “D.” Put the branches back, remove the top half of the line, and it resembles the semaphoric “N.”

“ND,” as in nuclear disarmament. Nuclear disarmament as in peace, at least in 1958.

This shape somewhat resembles the older pax cultura — “peace through culture” — emblem: three solid circles, two on bottom and one atop, which form a triangle shape and are enclosed in a larger circle, which in turn resembles a symbol as old as the Stone Age. There are of course other peace symbols, such as the dove and olive branch, two olive branches enclosing the Hebrew word for “peace,” the rainbow-colored flag with “salaam” (Arabic for peace), the white poppy, and many more. Yet none is as universally recognized as the CND logo.

Whatever its symbol, the cause of peace must never be abandoned.

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” — Bertrand Russell

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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