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Peace Symbol Controversial?
By Rayni Joan

Hippies painted it with neon colors on their cheeks, foreheads, and bellies, as well as their VW bugs and buses. Protesting servicemen in Vietnam painted it on their helmets. On stickers and posters, it accompanied the phrase, "Make Love, Not War." You can still order new T-shirts emblazoned with it at Amazon.com for $14.95. It's one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. It's also shunned by paranoid devil watchers as Satanic.

It's the controversial peace symbol, and it's a powerful today as the day it was first unveiled in 1958.

Case in point: In November, 2006, a Colorado couple felt the spirit of Christmas and peace on Earth, and put up a wreath in the shape of a peace sign on their home. The symbol triggered a worldwide hullabaloo when their homeowners association insisted the couple take the wreath down or be fined. The board members of the homeowners association asserted that the peace symbol wreath conveyed the "wrong idea." There was such a flap that sympathetic peace signs appeared all over the development and neighborhood in solidarity, the couple received bags of mail from all over the world -- mostly supportive, although a few castigators invoked the wrath of Satan, and the homeowners association board members ultimately resigned.

So what's the story with the controversial peace symbol? Is it innocent or evil?

Although we in the United States know it as the peace sign or peace symbol, in Britain it's recognized as the symbol for nuclear disarmament -- more specifically the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Designer and conscientious objector Gerald Holtom came up with this symbol specifically for the first British anti-nuclear march in 1958. He has said that he took his inspiration for the peace symbol from the despair he was feeling, concretizing his feelings as an upright individual with hands outstretched like the peasant before the firing squad in Goya's painting "El Tres de Mayo." Later, the symbol became more popular when turned upside down. Possibly it was this turning upside down that got the goat of the Devil Squad. But with the "arms" spreading downward, many people say they see the semaphore signs for the letters "N" and "D," standing for nuclear disarmament.

Bayard Rustin, an American civil rights and anti-war activist who participated in the 1958 march in Britain, brought the new peace symbol back home for use in the Civil Rights marches. It caught the public's imagination, and the rest is history. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament never copyrighted the symbol because they consider it a symbol of freedom that must remain free. Perhaps both freedom and peace are controversial?