Symbols Of Peace

Symbols Of Peace

The peace sign was invented for one particular reason and adopted by countless people around the world for much wider ones, much like a basic stock picture that becomes a meme. In 1958 the British artist and activist Gerald Holtom created the symbol for the Nuclear Disarmament Movement. “Holtom based his quest for” nuclear disarmament “on the flag semaphore movements for an N (two flags faced down at angles) and D (one flag right up, the other right down). He also based it on the peasant in Goya’s The Third of May 1808 before the firing squad.

The Nuclear Disarmament Movement created a series of ceramic buttons with the demonstration emblem, but the logo was adopted across the globe and became a general anti-war symbol. While it might be omnipresent, it’s not the only sign of harmony. Here are seven others you may want to add to the back of your vehicle.


Symbols for Peace

The use of the olive branch as a sign of reconciliation and the end of conflict can be traced back to ancient Greece, where it was worn by brides and awarded to Olympic winners. In mythology, the sea god Poseidon once fought for the rule of Athens with the goddess of wisdom, Athena. Poseidon drilled into the ground with his trident and created a well of ocean water. Athena threw her javelin and an olive tree came out of the earth. The citizenry respected this more than an infinite supply of undrinkable water, and the town rallied to Athena (hence its name). The olive tree remains this importance in the Abrahamic faiths.


White Dove

In the Bible, as the waters of the floods receded, Noah sent out a dove with an olive leaf, suggesting that life had returned to earth (Genesis 8:10 – 11). This tale imbued the bird as a sign of harmony and holiness. (It was an old sailor’s trick: release a bird and remember its path when returning to find land.) It appears, sometimes with a sprig in its beak, in Judeo-Christian iconography. The Dove as an emblem, like the olive branch, is possibly borrowed from other sources in the Near East and the Mediterranean. It was strewn over ancient temples and aligned with the Asherah, Venus, and Fortunata goddesses. Meanwhile, Picasso’s Dove became a symbol of Cold War-era peace activism.


white poppy flower

The sprouting of poppy flowers on battlefields and gravesites throughout Europe marked the end of World War I. The flowers appear prominently in the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. After the war, on November 11, which is Remembrance Day, the Royal British Legion (a nonprofit close to the American Legion) encouraged the wearing of red poppies. Britons put their wreaths on graves as well. The anti-war Women’s Co-operative Guild started selling white poppies in 1933 to embody both memory and pacifism. The whiteness symbolised a lack of bloodshed.

Although they were not intended to compete with the red poppy, often the white poppy was used as a political symbol. “According to the BBC,” many veterans felt that their dedication and the everlasting sense of red poppy were undermined by their significance. That was the severity of this problem that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies.” Today, however, the Royal British Legion neither opposes nor endorses them.


v hand symbol

The “V” sign, the middle and index fingers lifted, is long-lived and flexible. Promoted by BBC presenter Douglas “Colonel Britton” Ritchie, during World War II, resistance fighters in German-occupied territories used it as a sign of camaraderie and courage, the first letter of the words for victory (victory, vrijheid, and victory, respectively) in French, Flemish, and English. It was introduced by UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill to support the English victory, and during speeches, Charles de Gaulle was known to flash a full-arm version of the V-sign.

Extended to embody the end of the fight, it was then co-opted as an anti-war icon by the ’60s lefties, although they had no exclusive domain over it (on his departure from the White House, President Richard Nixon famously flashed two V’s).


origami crane

Sadako Sasaki was 2 when the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She developed leukaemia due to radiation. Her final days were spent making origami cranes, allegedly after they were told about a bit of Japanese folklore that promises to give a wish to anyone who creates 1000 of them. Some say Sadako hit the benchmark but kept going, while others say that before she was too frail to proceed, she hit 644 paper cranes, dying at age 12 in 1955. The adoption of the paper bird as a sign of peace in Japan was influenced by her story. In Hiroshima’s Peace Park, a statue of a girl stands, and another, in Seattle’s Peace Park, is sometimes covered in paper cranes by anonymous tourists.


pace rainbow flag

Philosopher and activist Aldo Capitini had several coloured stripes sewn together to make a banner for a peace march in 1961. Rainbow variants of it (independent on the similar gay pride flag), typically adorned with the world speed (Italian for “peace”), have spread and endured throughout the region. Due to the build-up to the Second Gulf War, Speed flags underwent a revival in 2002.


Broken RifleWikimedia Commons/ Public domain

War Resisters’ International, a London-based organisation, uses as their logo an image of two hands splitting a rifle in two. The alliance, founded in 1921, is active in more than 40 countries and utilises the symbol’s cross-cultural simplicity to communicate its message. The Broken Rifle is their newsletter’s name, too.


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