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Peace Sign Flag (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)

Last modified: 2014-08-02 by editor unassigned
Keywords: peace | peace sign | campaign for nuclear disarmament | holtom (gerald) | russel (bertrand) | aldermaston | rune | semaphore |
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Peace Sign Flag image by Steve Kramer, 29 May 1996

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Description of the flag

The actual colors and sizes seem to vary. I’ve seen white on black (pictured) most often; others are white on blue, green on white, and pink on black. The most common proportions are 3:5.
Steve Kramer, 29 May 1996


Origin of the flag

The peace symbol has a convoluted and confusing history. It’s most notable appearance in modern times was its first use by the (U.K.) Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (C.N.D.) at their Aldermaston march in 1956. The C.N.D. meaning of the symbol is semaphore for "N" (the two diagonal lines) and "D" (the two vertical lines). About ten years later, the symbol was adopted as a general peace sign within the student anti-war movement. It became probably the single best known symbol of the youth culture of the sixties.
T.F. Mills, 09 Oct 1996

The “peace sign” was designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958. The frequently-repeated but mistaken belief that it was designed by Bertrand Russell probably stems from the fact that Russell was the president of the C.N.D. at the time. The first public use of the symbol was on flags and placards during the 1958 Aldermaston march (in England). It was described in Manchester Guardian articles covering the march.
Bruce Tindall, 28 May 1996

Before his death, Gerald Holtom handed a number of personal documents to his nephew Tim, who in turn gave the to his youngest son, Darius, who now lives in France. Included with these writings are many of his original doodles, which show the process leading up to the peace sign end-product.
Tim Holtom, 8 Mar 1999


Symbolism of the flag

The symbol consists of the semaphore letters "N" and "D" (for "nuclear disarmament") inside a circle. The original colors were, as shown in the image above, white on black. According to The CND Story (by John Minnion and Philip Bolsover, 1983)), Holtom and other C.N.D. artists pointed out other symbolism in the flag as well: the semaphores together, without the circle, look like a stick figure with its arms outstretched — «the gesture of a human being in despair»; the circle represents the womb or unborn generations, as well as the world; and the color black represents eternity.
Bruce Tindall, 29 May 1996

Another, presumably “unofficial”, explanation is that it is the cross of Christ with the arms drooping in despair. The symbol is also, in fact, the Death Rune of the Futhark runic alphabet. Whether this is an intentional similarity or not, C.N.D. supporters, particularly Christian ones, used to get very uppity when this was pointed out!
Stuart Notholt, 30 May 1996

The C.N.D. (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) was partly based on traditional churches, and I think they were also conscious of mixing two historic Christian symbols:

  • The outer circle, designates EARTH («waste and void», Gen 1:2).
  • The inner design, the "witch’s/crow’s feet", designate «GOD reaches down» («with gift of salvation», John 3:16).
With the appropriation of the symbol by the peace movement in the sixties, non-traditional and fundamentalist Christians (who apparently knew nothing of Christian symbols) placed a satanic meaning on it, calling it the Witch’s Foot, or Crow’s Foot (and sometimes Chicken’s Foot), or Broken Cross. In the 1980s, the symbol was further appropriated (at least in the U.S.) to represent environmentalism. In this sense, it is rendered as a blue and green imitation of the U.S. flag, with the peace symbol replacing the stars in the canton.
T.F. Mills, 09 Oct 1996

It is also used on US flags in regular colors, as a pacifism flag.
António Martins, 05 Dec 1999