Peace symbol, 50 yrs old today, once represented B-52

One version of the peace symbol

It’s hard to believe the widely recognized peace symbol is 50 years old today, but downright scary to think that the Vietnam war protests were 40 years ago.

I was the right age to march in one of those protests, although our march emphasized support for the troops and the nation (“Color us red, white, and blue”), even as we opposed the war itself. I don’t recall hearing then, in the late ’60s, that the symbol actually had originated in England in 1958. I was told U.S. hippies and peaceniks had contrived it and that it was a stylized swept-wing B-52 bomber, the plane being used for carpet-bombing and dropping Agent Orange in Vietnam’s DMZ.

I didn’t read about the symbol’s true origin (Gerald Holtom, England, 1958 ) until just a few hours ago and find it curious that of half dozen or so articles about the meaning of the design, none mentions the bomber image. Surely it’s there somewhere.

Modern adaptation of bomber peace symbol

Modern adaptation of bomber peace symbol

Holtom’s design began as a symbol for nuclear disarmament, evolved into an anti-Vietnam War sign, and went on to become an internationally recognized symbol for peace. Intentionally, it was never copyrighted, so that it would remain free to everyone. It has persisted for 50 years and is instantly recognized around the world. What a tribute to effective, simple design.

© 2008 PiedType.com



Categories: art/design, World

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16 replies

  1. I am nearly sure I saw the same design but with the bomber fully drawn and painted as a bomber. It was for sale at the US air force. On its rim it said “Peace the old fashioned way”. It was meant as an emblem to be stuck to a uniform sleeve.
    _____________
    When I started looking around for pictures of the symbol, I found a few that had been altered to look more like bombers. I just found it curious that it wasn’t mentioned in the articles I read.

  2. Wow, now that’s interesting. I never would have guessed it in a millions years. Funny how something starts out as one thing and then becomes another, isn’t it?
    Annie
    ___________
    Prowling my old posts, eh? People keep looking at this one; I can’t figure out why it’s so interesting.

  3. This is so cool. Peace through strength!
    _____________
    We must always be able to defend ourselves.

  4. Visualize a Dove’s foot as the peace symbol. Simple and iconic.
    ___________
    I’d never looked at it that way before, but it’s right there, isn’t it? If only a symbol were enough …

  5. You say you “were the right age to march” in protest but did not realize the “peace symbol” was not derived from the silhouette of a B-52 until a few hours ago. I’m guessing you were maybe 15-17 then and lived in the south or midwest, maybe near a military base.

    My 60th birthday is next week so I was 18 in 1968.

    I went into the Air Force about 5 months after graduating High School. My draft number was 48. If I waited and wasn’t in college I was going to “‘Nam”. I couldn’t afford college plus I wasn’t sure what I would do there so I didn’t want to waste my parents money.

    I missed going to Woodstock, only saw the movie the next summer (at base theater!) and bought the soundtrack album set (at the commissary!).

    I watched Apollo 11 in an open barracks on a portable black & white TV that I bought just to watch Apollo 11. The video from the moon was black & white, so I didn’t miss much not having a color TV.

    I never saw any part of southeast asia though I sweated the arrival of orders to go at any time during the first 3 of my 4 year stint – the understanding was when one was under 12 months “short” orders to southeast asia were unlikely though not impossible.

    As it happened, I spent most of my time in the Air Force in the area of Austin, Tx, at a base that was closed decades ago. A base that served Air Force One during the time of LBJ when he went to his “ranch”.

    Austin is the capital city of Texas and the home of the University of Texas and the Armadillo World Head Quarters.

    Being around a “college town” meant that there was an active “counter culture” community focused on the campus and environs, especially in the late 60′s and early 70′s. “Peace symbols” were everywhere young adult (over 18) people were likely to be.

    I too marched in anti war demonstrations then, out of uniform. And I too came to believe the war was hurting the country and costing us more in lives, respect and treasure than the war was worth.

    That was when I was 20 or so. Since then I have acquired an appreciation for the strategic thinking that was behind the conflict. A WWII like victory was not attainable in Vietnam even with further commitment of military force that didn’t also risk WWIII.

    Johnson, Nixon and Kissinger had Korea on their minds in Vietnam. The danger of the conflict escalating out of control if the now nuclear armed Chinese or Soviets were to enter the conflict in force like in Korea was real. But a precipitous unilateral disengagement was also perilous.

    When I hear people, mostly Republicans, crow about how Reagan “won” the cold war “without firing a shot”, I have to remind them that Korea and Vietnam were part of the so-called “cold war”.

    I couldn’t vote in 1968 because the voting age was 21 then. I voted for George “Bomber Pilot” McGovern in 1972 and for Jimmy “Nuclear Submariner” Carter in 1976 and 1980..

    Even though I was in the Air Force in the “Vietnam Era”, I did not see the B-52 version of the “peace symbol” very much and then mostly after about 1970 or 1971 as bumper stickers on pickup trucks.

    This was when pickup truck drivers blared country music and wore cowboy hats on top of “crew cuts”. These are the guys you see in the 1968 movie “Easy Rider”.

    By the mid to late 70′s, pickup truck drivers were as likely to be blaring the Grateful Dead or Willie Nelson and had long hair under their cowboy hat. They might have shared a joint with Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson in a 1974 remake of “Easy Rider”.

    • I was 23 yrs old in 1968, had been married a couple of years, and lived in Norman, Oklahoma — definitely a college town with all the anti-war sentiment you mentioned. I was a couple of years too old and “adult” to be part of the hippie movement. But my husband was in grad school and definitely draft age, as was my younger brother, so we were still in the middle of it all. We saw the war as a misguided, unwinnable waste of American lives. Or at least that’s the way I remember it these many years later.

  6. Yes, other Viet Nam vets have told me that the Peace Symbol is a ‘stylized’ B-52. It has the ring of truth…

  7. I did not know that about the B-52 image or the bomber being the one to drop Agent Orange. I remember wearing it proudly around my neck in 1967, symbol of Peace to bring our Troops home. That is what it meant to me, I wrote of my involvement in the “Peace Movement” on my blog
    http://ravenofleyla.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/strategies-of-war-as-told-to-a-flower-child/
    This is an interesting post, ohhhh, what we learn through our friends. :D

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