The logo commonly recognized as the “peace sign” began in the 1950s as the logo for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). According to the CND, it was designed in 1958 by an English 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 World War II instead of joining the conflict, incorporated the handheld 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 DAC 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 during 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 not enthusiastic about using the cross on a protest banner. Holtom considered the downward V to also represent the despair that he felt due to nuclear proliferation.
The symbol was brought to the States 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 while displaying the CND banner. The peace sign was later used in civil rights marches and appeared at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. To this day, the peace sign is used in clothing and jewelry design as a fashion accessory.
The 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. There have been claims that the symbol has Communist, occult, or anti-Christian meanings and derivations, but those claims remain unsubstantiated and are not usually found in reputable sources.
Whether or not peace can be realized through disarmament is the subject of continuing debates, but the desire for peace is universal. We live in a world of unrest—and a world that tragically searches for peace through a variety of fruitless avenues. True peace is found in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who brings us peace with God (Romans 5:1) and who will ultimately establish a kingdom of peace on earth (Isaiah 11:1–10).