The peace sign, sometimes called the upside-down broken cross, probably originated in the late 1950s as a protest against nuclear armament.
How did the peace sign originate?
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) states the symbol came from Gerald Holtam, a professional designer who graduated from the Royal College of Arts in England. Holtam was a WWII conscientious objector who spent the war working on a Norfolk farm. He used semaphores, a military signal system using two flags positioned in different ways to communicate within sight of another person who understood the code. Holtam incorporated the symbol for N, a person holding the flags in an inverted V, with the D, in which one flag is held straight up and the other pointed straight down. The N stood for Nuclear, the D for Disarmament.
The Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War employed the symbol on buttons and banners in its 1958 Easter weekend march from London to Aldermaston, where nuclear weapons were manufactured.
Later, Holtam said he wanted to use a cross in a circle, but clergy had discouraged him from doing so. Holtam said he used the inverted V to represent despair about nuclear weaponry, but later said he wished he would have turned it around and faced it up to represent the joy brought by peace. He never mentioned knowledge of the prior uses or symbolism of the sign (see below). He asked for a peace sign with an upward V on his tomb, but his request was not granted.
From England, the use of Holtam's peace symbol grew. It was brought to the U.S. by Bayard Rustin, who had participated in the Aldermaston march and was a civil rights protestor. It was first used in the U.S. by Albert Bigelow, a pacifist protestor who flew the CND banner from his boat while sailing near a U.S. nuclear test site. Civil rights and anti-Vietnam War demonstrators later adopted the symbol.
The Peace Museum in Bradford, U.K. displays this history of the peace sign, with original sketches and documentation of its use. But there are older and more nefarious claims about the origin of the peace sign, connecting it to communism, Nazism, occult use, Hinduism, and anti-Christian symbolism. Here are some:
• The upside-down V is sometimes related to the "Aum," a Hindu mantra that is meant to awaken the power of Brahma at the base of the user's spine.
• Germanic tribes used the inverted V as a "rune" with eerie or mystical powers.
• Sorcerers, it is said, used it in pagan ceremonies.
• The Third Reich, which understood and used occultic symbols, applied it as a symbol of the 3rd Panzer Division. In Germany it is called a todesrune, symbolizing death. It appeared on death notices and some tombstones of SS soldiers.
• Saracens, in AD 711, used what we know as the peace sign, as a broken cross, ravens claw, or witch's foot, supposedly as satanic symbols.
• Nero, who persecuted and martyred Christians, used it as a broken cross or to symbolize a broken Jew. Nero crucified Peter upside-down, creating what was known as the Neronic cross.
• Bertrand Russell, a communism supporter, used it to symbolize peace without God. He was an organizer of the Aldermaston march and is said to have known about its occultic and anti-Christian symbolism prior to selecting Holtam's symbol for the march.
• Anton LaVey, Church of Satan founder, put a symbol that showed a downward- pointing fork, behind his altar.
• According to Rudolf Koch, author of The Book of Signs, a downward-pointing fork means the death of man and a circle around it indicates totality. Together the symbol would mean the total death of all people.
Now, some have applied some of the historical and evil uses of the symbol to those who use it in the modern peace movement.
The hand gesture peace sign, made by holding a V up with the first and middle finger spread apart, was made popular by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during WWII. Churchill used the V to symbolize victory, saying peace would only come by victory over the Axis powers. This sign, made with the palm facing the person giving the sign, is offensive to many cultures, akin to giving someone the finger.
Regardless of the origin and use of the peace sign, it is clear that true peace comes only from Christ. Christians have a saying: "No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace." The ultimate peace is peace with our Creator, God Himself. This is impossible without Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Jesus is our true source of peace with God and with others.
Christians are called to be peacemakers. In the Beatitudes, Jesus said the peacemakers are blessed and to be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). In Romans, we are instructed to be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). But, again, this peace comes only through the work of Christ. Peace is not about a symbol or human movement, but about hearts changed through the power of Christ. It is a work of the Lord.
"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20–21).
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