Button: Peace Sign Graphic
First used on Good Friday/Easter weekend 1958 during the Nuclear Disarmament March from London to Aldermaston (a nuclear research facility in England). The designer, Gerald Holtom, based the symbol's design on the international semaphore alphabet. This system uses flag signals in place of letters as a code. The peace sign is actually the flag signals for the letters "N" (for Nuclear) and "D" (for Disarmament) superimposed on each other, standing for Nuclear Disarmament.
No, it has never been what pro-war rightwing fundamentalists claim in their widely-circulated slander over the past 40 years. Early on during the U.S. Vietnam War peace movement , a far-right group, the John Birch Society spread a myth they created through their national newsletters that the peace sign was a satanic symbol of an upside-down cross with the horizontal lines "broken" by being bent downward. This rumor caught on among the pro-war, pro-administration conservative Republicans and fundamentalists in the U.S. Others tried to disparage the peace movement by labeling the peace symbol "the footprint of the American chicken." Read the history of the peace symbol in Ken Kolsbun's book, published by National Geographic (2008), "Peace: The Biography of a Symbol" (find it in our Books section)
In 1968, The Readers Digest magazine enclosed an American flag window sticker in the millions of copies of their magazine. The propaganda offensive was fully engaged.
The folksinger John Prine wrote his song, "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" as a direct response to the Digest's calculated
self-promotional patriotic gimmickry. His song got little airplay on commercial radio in the late 1960's. The chorus lyrics were quite appropriate for their time: "...but your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore / they're already overcrowded / from your dirty little war. / Now Jesus don't like killin' / no matter what the reason's for..."
Disinformation campaigns are designed to discredit popular and powerful grassroots movements. Telling a big enough lie guarantees their negative idea/meme will live on. Those opposed to what the peace sign stands for continue on their crusade to discredit and neutralize the symbol's effectiveness Still, the creation of this simple and easily drawable symbol is what has made the peace sign universally recognized and understood across language and national boundaries. The fact that it has drawn so much negative response from those who oppose what it stands shows that it is bigger than any one movement in any one country at any one time in history.
It has since become the internationally recognized symbol for peace. It has lasted this long because it is very simple, so that anyone can easily draw it.
The first famous person to use the peace symbol was Bertrand Russell, his group, C.N.D., used it on signs and banners during the 1958 Easter weekend protest march from London to Aldermaston, where nuclear weapons were stored. The back of the button gives a very tiny and very brief sentence on the origin of the symbol, because it has been so maligned by disinformation over the years. The vertical and diagonal lines are created from the semiphor code for the letters "N" (for Nuclear) and "D' for Disarmament.
source: Peace News, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, London, England, 1988.
Since the 1990s, pop culture and the fashion industry has used the peace symbol so widely that it's in jeopardy of becoming co-opted into a meaningless, nostalgic meme for happytime in a bygone era, completely neutered of any political, peace activist meaning.