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The La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin)

A Peace of History Turns 50

Chris Hubbuch

A familiar icon has reached a milestone. The peace symbol turns 50 today.Before it was a hippie fashion accessory, before it became the emblem of the Vietnam era anti-war movement, the peace symbol stood for nuclear disarmament.0221 07

The British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament details the origins of its logo.

Designed by British artist and conscientious objector Gerald Holtom for what then was the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, the bisected circle with two downward spokes combined the semaphores for the letters "N" - two flags held down at a 45 degree angle - and "D," one up, one down.

The symbol was unveiled Feb. 21, 1958, according to the New York Public Radio show "On the Media," and made its public debut at a 1958 Easter weekend anti-nuclear march, according to CND.

It later migrated to the U.S., where it was adopted by student pacifists and later by the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin said it was in the mid- to late 1970s that the peace sign started to become more of a fashion statement.

As the anti-war activists of the 1960s grew older, a younger generation was looking for a way of declaring who they were, Gitlin said. "For them, it seemed to signify being righteous or hip."

"Back in the '60s and '70s, everyone was familiar with the sign. People were putting it on their graduation caps," said Keith Knutson, a Viterbo University professor who said he protested the Vietnam War before serving in the Navy.

Knutson compares the Vietnam War to the current war in Iraq. Both were wars of choice, not necessity, he said. "But the peace symbol doesn't seem to be coming back."

Chris Hubbuch can be reached at

© 2008 La Crosse Tribune

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