Happy Birthday to an icon

I’ve always attributed the peace symbol’s origins to tie-dyed, war-protesting hippies at Woodstock, so I was surprised to learn that it made its world debut across the Pond, 50 years ago this spring.

British artist Gerald Holtom, a conscientious objector during the Second World War, created the peace symbol in 1958 to represent his views on nuclear disarmament. There are several potential explanations for each of the design elements, but Horton made clear his inspiration:

I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.

The peace symbol was imported to the United States in the late 1960s, where it was first used in civil rights marches and then became the rallying symbol of anti-Vietnam War sentiments. Since that tumultuous time in our own country’s history, the logo has achieved recognition as the international hallmark of peace.

Instead of singing Happy Birthday, perhaps it’s more fitting to sing war protests and peace anthems. Let There Be Peace on Earth is my personal favorite. What song (or poem) would you choose? 

Image credit 

Site Meter 

27 Comments

    • Were you as surprised as I was to discover how old this symbol really is?

      The songs you’ve chosen are so very beautiful…beautiful prayers in the shape of poems. 🙂

      • I was surprised! But, you know – we’ve been wanting peace on earth for such a long, long time. Sometimes it seems hopeless and that humans are determined not to abide peacefully – but, I, for one, will never give up.

        I do believe we need to learn to “make peace” and it starts inside the individual. Lord! I shudder when I think of the amount of unpeaceful thoughts I toss out into the ether! Time to get back to workin’ on me, I suppose.

        Here’s to a peaceful weekend for everyone!

    • I’d heard that it was based on religious symbolism, too. I think it’s fascinating to learn true real origins, even if it’s not connected to Forrest Gump. 🙂

      • Do you recommend that book?

        Highly! It’s one of my favourites of his and it isn’t heavy on the horror either, except for the horror of the Vietnam war. He’s a great (and underaappreciated, in my opinion) writer.

        I think most people don’t know about the earlier origin of the peace symbol.

        • Re: Do you recommend that book?

          Whew, that makes me feel a little better. Sorry that I didn’t know this before, but it’s fun to learn new things together, isn’t it? 🙂

          BTW, I bought the book you recommended yesterday. It may be a while before I get to it, but it sounds really interesting and the reviews suggest it’s well-written

  1. Thanks for posting this Melodye! Your correct in that most people think of the peace symbol as being something from the 60’s.

    The song WAR by Edwin Starr came immediately to mind as it was the most popular anti-war battle cry ever and is one we need to hear again, and again, and again until we believe that there is a better way!!

    War! – huh – yeah-
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing
    Say it again y’all

    War! – huh – good God
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing
    Listen to me…

    Ohhh… War! I despise
    Because it means destruction
    Of innocent lives

    War means tears
    to thousands of mothers eyes
    When their sons go to fight
    and lose their lives

    I said – War! Huh – Good God y’all
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing
    Say it again

    War! Whoa, Lord
    What is it good for
    Absolutely nothing!

    War! It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
    War! Friend only to the undertaker
    Peace Love and Understanding;
    tell me, is there no place for them today?
    They say we must fight to keep our freedom
    But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way

    War! Huh – Good God y’all
    What is it good for?
    You tell me
    Say it, Say it, Say it

    War! Huh – Good God y’all
    What is it good for?
    Stand up and shout it.
    Nothing!

  2. Cool info

    As a kid, I always thought it was an upside down crucifix. Hmm. My song of choice. John Lennon’s Imagine, of course.

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today…

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one.

    • Re: Cool info

      As to my above song choice, it’s not to say I don’t believe in heaven. But there has always been something about this song…the underlying message that we can’t force others to believe what we believe, so we should all just be understanding and accepting of one another in our choices. That’s what I think peace really is, acceptance.

  3. Happy Birthday to the peace symbol indeed. I think we need it more today than ever.

    My Happy Birthday songs for it? Hmmmmm… I think right now, it would be “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon and/or “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield.

    • I haven’t heard “For What it’s Worth.” I’m going to see if there’s a sample MP3 somewhere on the Interweb.

      Give Peace a Chance is so compelling, isn’t it? That’s my fervent prayer.

      • Oh wow… “For What it’s Worth” is one of the greatest songs ever. One of my faves. If you can’t dig it up, let me know and I can send you a copy. 🙂

        Give Peace a Chance… yeah, that’s something I want desperately as well.

  4. Fascinating story — thanks. Not sure what song/poem I’d pick yet, but I thought of the words on Pete Seeger’s banjo : “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

    • You changed your screen name! I’m glad you kept your cheerful icon, otherwise I wouldn’t have recognized you. 🙂

      Oh, how I love the words on Seeger’s banjo. Wow, that makes me cry. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Speaking of peace/war songs.
      This wouldn’t be appropriate for Happy Birthday – but I love Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’.

      On a birthday note, this is empowering and evokes so much positive potential and a reminder of what we are free and need to remain free to do, by Cat Stevens:

      IF YOU WANT TO SING OUT, SING OUT
      Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
      And if you want to be free, be free
      ‘Cause there’s a million things to be
      You know that there are

      And if you want to live high, live high
      And if you want to live low, live low
      ‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
      You know that there are

      Chorus:
      You can do what you want
      The opportunity’s on
      And if you find a new way
      You can do it today
      You can make it all true
      And you can make it undo
      you see ah ah ah
      its easy ah ah ah
      You only need to know

      Well if you want to say yes, say yes
      And if you want to say no, say no
      ‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
      You know that there are

      And if you want to be me, be me
      And if you want to be you, be you
      ‘Cause there’s a million things to do
      You know that there are

      Chorus

      Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
      And if you want to be free, be free
      ‘Cause there’s a million things to be
      You know that there are
      You know that there are
      You know that there are
      You know that there are
      You know that there are

    • I feel that way, too. Peace *has* to be a universal effort.

      I like the words to the Dylan song you posted. I don’t think I’ve heard it before, so thanks for the exposure. I love “hearing” new lyrics!

    • Re: not so random commenter

      Hilarious icon!!!

      I love learning bite-sized tidbits about history. Somehow it’s more appealing when it’s presented in some meaningful context, rather than the way I learned it (through memorization) in school. Glad you enjoyed this!

      PS I like random posters and familiar faces, both. 🙂

      • Re: not so random commenter

        thanks! It is an icon of my Britney Spears impression.

        Oh yes, I completely agree, I love it when I learn from people on lj, I feel like the internet is doing its job :0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *