Peace symbol, origin and meaning
Recently, on social networks, the Italian blogger Giulia Valentina has returned to the origins of this famous symbol of peace. In one of her hilarious videos, she emphasized the textual meaning of this symbol found in the “semaphore” alphabet, a method of cross-body visual communication in which letters are formed using outstretched flags by placing the arms at different angles.
For the record: In 1958 this iconic peace sign was born, consisting of three branches inside a circle. We owe its design to the Franco-British designer Gerald Holtom, a designer and peace activist during the Second World War. This conscientious objector designed it as a symbol of nuclear disarmament. The artist voluntarily chose not to register his logo. It was also already used in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, before it was a signature of the very concept of peace, like dove signs or the rainbow flag.
Believing that this symbol represented a truly global ideology, Holtom did not want to personalize this symbol, so that it could be used by anyone and shared as much as possible across the planet. Since then, it has crossed borders and been adopted by many NGOs and cultural protest movements of the 1960s in the United States. It also served as a beacon for those who hoped to end apartheid in South Africa. Even today, this symbol embodies civil rights, but also all forms of struggle against oppression, discrimination or tyranny.
Good to know : In the face of such enthusiasm, as his design became a supreme icon associated with the idea of peace, the graphic designer suggested that the image be reversed to show a person raising his arms. Something that makes symbolism more important.
But what is the connection with the semaphore alphabet?
You should know that Gerald Holtom’s work is not the result of chance. There is a real semiology behind it. Within the circle, the artist highlights the letters “N” and “D” which refer specifically to nuclear disarmament. Note that the semaphore alphabet was widely used at that time in the navy and in aviation. Concretely, the “N” represents two arms lowered, while the “D” shows one arm in the air and one lowered.
And as much as its designer never wanted to protect his copyright, for better or for worse, this code has become a truly universal language. Initially an anti-nuclear slogan, it was soon appropriated by the movement of hippies to protest the war in Vietnam. Hence the famous signature “peace and love”. And it was American activist Bayard Rustin, advisor to Martin Luther King, who brought it to the United States. This slogan quickly became a symbol of the civil rights movement and a symbol of activism. Today it is found in various movements, whether to celebrate the environmental cause or in defense of the rights of women or homosexuals. Nowadays, this message of peace is often omnipresent in different cultural representations or even in the world of fashion.
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