Peace Symbol with Arms Raised
Some of you have noticed that the “aneutronic fusion peace symbol” we use on our site is sometimes rotated. When this happens, don’t be alarmed! It’s not “upside down”, it’s “arms upward.” It is well in keeping with the glorious tradition of the symbol.
Flipping the Switch
We started using the peace symbol after a design collaboration on the forums. We were delighted to find that the three, non-radioactive alpha particles flying off an aneutronic fusion reaction looked a bit like the peace sign. So we superimposed the two.
Once we found out the peace sign is a symbol of nuclear disarmament, we were even more delighted. It poetically suggests that aneutronic nuclear energy itself could be the path to nuclear disarmament.
However, there was some grumbling, as seen in this discussion of the traditional peace symbol not sitting right with people.
But that’s not why we flipped the symbol. The other day, the image wasn’t fitting right in the home page. In the midst of resizing it, the rotate button was accidentally tapped. Whoa! It’s as if the symbol itself wanted to flip over. Doing cartwheels on the screen.
It was like flipping a switch. It instantly felt right.
It’s much more empowering with the arms up. Shows that aneutronic fusion really lifts up the peace movement. It looks like a tree now, growing, expanding.
But no simple act can escape controversy.
The switch led to some flack. We were quickly informed that “If you fly a flag upside down, it signals distress. Does this mean peace is in distress?” Is an “upside down” peace sign anti peace?
First, let’s reframe. It’s not “upside down”, it’s “arms upward.” Second, the history of the symbol gives us good cause to lift the arms this way.
History of Peace Symbol
I love the traditional “arms down” peace sign, but ever since I read about the history of the symbol, it has bothered me that the hands downward are a symbol of peasants being killed by a firing squad:
Gerald Holtom, a conscientious objector who had worked on a farm in Norfolk during the Second World War, explained that the symbol incorporated the semaphore letters N(uclear) and D(isarmament). He later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater, more personal depth:
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.
Eric Austin added his own interpretation of the design: “the gesture of despair had long been associated with the death of Man and the circle with the unborn child.
How depressing is that?
Luckily, the story doesn’t end there.
Per teachpeace.com, flipping the symbol is a significant, pro-empowered-peace act, in keeping with its history.
Ken Kolsbun, author of the book Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, reported that Holtom expressed regret in not designing the peace symbol with the joyful lifting of arms towards the sky. For most of Holtom’s life he would draw only the upright peace symbol. Holtom requested that the upright peace symbol be placed on his tombstone in Kent, England. As shown by the picture of his tombstone, his wish was unfortunately ignored.
Holtom’s wish that the peace symbol connotation of despair be changed to joy is illustrated by the picture on the right. When the peace symbol is inverted the letter “N” becomes the semaphore code for “U” which could mean universal disarmament.
That’s right, folks. Arms down is “despair” and arms up is “joy”. Perhaps the peace flag was in distress, and we’re taking it out of distress, providing the aneutronic structure to make it happen.
But controversy remains. The reversal of the symbol might not sit well with certain demographic groups. While most people don’t think about this at all, and use the arms down symbol for pure peace, joy and love, there are others who consciously enjoy the skeletons in the symbol’s closet. Allegedly, the “arms down” peace sign has symbolic anti-Christian baggage from centuries ago, and could be embraced for that very reason by the atheistically inclined as suggested here:
The symbol has also been used to communicate support for communism. Bertrand Russell once said: “There is no hope in anything but the Soviet way.” Governments—both those who supported communism and those opposed to it—have perceived benefits in aligning the peace symbol with communist ideology. For people like Bertrand Russell, the author of the 1927 essay Why I Am Not Christian, the symbol represented not only a pro-communism meaning but peace without God.
In any case, Teachpeace ends with the admonition:
If you display the peace symbol, my recommendation is point the arms of the peace symbol toward the sky to honor Holtom’s wish, address historical objections, and communicate love of all people.
I think we’re on the right track. The world turns. So can the peace symbol. There are many ways to look at something. We’ll keep changing it up. Du wacky du.
What do you think?