I’ve noticed something in regard to nonviolence and peace: not a whole lot of creative symbols to mark what an individual stands for. We’ve got a few, and they’re recognizable anywhere, sure, but they’re kinda cheap, at least until you know their origin. Honestly, I didn’t think they really had much to say until I did a little bit of homework on the matter (and by that I mean looked it up on Wikipedia). For this week’s Peace in the Arts, let’s look at some symbols we’ve created to represent peace:
The Dove and the Olive Branch:
Though it plays no direct reference to peace in the Hebrew Scriptures necessarily, nor to peace in war exactly, the dove and the olive branch both have acted as a symbol of peace in our culture as early as the beginnings of Christianity. Christians draw from the Story of Jesus’ baptism, where the Holy Spirit landed on Jesus’ shoulder in an act of God’s approval, as well as the pagan symbol of the olive branch (it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there wasn’t somewhat of a political jab at the Roman government, who believed peace only came from their gods and their military campaigns). Augustine correlated the dove and olive branch from the story of Noah and the ark to a symbol of perpetual peace with God, though no Hebrew interpretation sheds that kind of light on the story.
In 1933, during a period in which there was widespread fear of war in Europe, the Women’s Co-operative Guild began the practice of distributing white poppies as an alternative to the red poppies distributed by the Royal British Legion in commemoration of servicemen who died in the First World War. In 1934 the newly-formed Peace Pledge Union (PPU), which was the largest British peace organisation in the inter-war years, joined in distributing white poppies and laying white poppy wreaths “as a pledge to peace that war must not happen again”. In 1980, the PPU revived the symbol as a way of remembering the victims of war without glorifying militarism.
The Peace Symbol
I thought I’d pick a little more creative of a picture for this one. The above tree was grafted into the symbol you see there, so it was completely intentional. Anyway, the peace symbol originated in the 60s during the British Nuclear Disarmament movement, created originally by George Holtom, who described the peace symbol like this:
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.
Holtom later regretted his expressions of despair, seeing peace as something to celebrate. Not being copyrighted, the symbol spread throughout anti-war movements throughout the world. The symbol is derived from the semaphore signals for N and D, meaning nuclear disarmament Ironically, right-wing organizations like the John Birch Society and Christian evangelists like Bob Larson have attempted to claim that the symbol is Satanic in nature.
The crane, a traditional symbol of luck in Japan, was popularized as a peace symbol by the story of Sadako Sasaki (1943–1955), a girl who died as a result of the atomic bombexploded over Hiroshima in 1945. According to the story, popularized through the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, in her last illness she started folding paper cranes, inspired by the Japanese saying that one who folded a thousand paper cranes was granted a wish.
The Broken Rifle
The broken rifle symbol is used by War Resisters’ International (WRI) and its affiliates but predates the foundation of WRI in 1921. The first known example of the symbol is in the mast-head of the January 1909 issue of De Wapens Neder (Down With Weapons), the monthly paper of the International Antimilitarist Union in the Netherlands. In 1915 it appeared on the cover of a pamphlet, Under det brukne Gevaer (Under the Broken Rifle), published by the Norwegian Social Democratic Youth Association. The (German) League for War Victims, founded in 1917, used the broken rifle on a 1919 banner. In 1921, Belgian workers marching through La Louvrière on 16 October 1921, carried flags showing a soldier breaking his rifle. Ernst Friedrich, a German who had refused military service, founded the Anti-Kriegs Museum in Berlin with a bas-relief broken rifle over the door, and the Museum distributed broken rifle badges, girl’s and women’s broaches, boy’s belt buckles, and men’s tie pins
Well, I’ve got a pounding headache and a kitty demanding attention. My sole source for this is Wikipedia, and if you want to see more of this (and my blatant plagiarism in this post) you can check it out here. I know this is sort of bad form, especially for the type of blog I’m running here, but I’m in no way claiming this as my research. Instead, I’ll just show you exactly where I got it from.