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The Dark, Untold Story About the Peace Sign

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 9/5/2018 Morgan Cutolo
a close up of a sign © Tatiana Ayazo/, shutterstock

Today, activists, artists, and even kids use the peace sign, and it sends a powerful message. The peace symbol dates back more than half a century, and its’ origin isn’t as happy and uplifting as you might think. Here are moving quotes about peace from world leaders.

It originated as a symbol used by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC). An artist, Gerald Holtom, was on the groups’ board, and as a well-known designer, stepped up to create a symbol that would have not only a visual but also a political impact.

Holtom designed the symbol around flag semaphores. Flag semaphores are the long distance communications of messages using visual signals made with hand held flags. In the case of the peace sign, it was based off of the combination of the letters ‘N’ and ‘D’, which together stood for nuclear disarmament.

The symbol was first displayed during a protest march that took place on Easter weekend of 1958. Protesters marched 52 miles from London to Aldermaston in Berkshire, which is the site of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment to protest the use of nuclear weapons in war. This march was organized by the DAC and it was the first wide spread public display of the peace sign.

The DAC along with other small protest groups in the U.K. went on to form the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The peace symbol came to represent the CND and was used and continues to be used by many other protestors and activists around the world to promote peace. Other shapes have interesting origins too. Learn how the heart symbol got its shape.


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