As an adolescent during the late 1960s, I watched and was enamored by the unfolding of the Hippie generation, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, and the numerous peace protests that took place during those wildly chaotic days. I recall going to an Army/Navy store to specifically purchase a used green Army jacket. As soon as I got it home, I meticulously drew several multicolored peace symbols with permanent magic marker on various areas of the jacket. Many of my friends did the same, and we all felt very cool and anti-establishment. I wore that jacket for a few years, holding onto the idealistic notion of world peace.
In my adolescent naivete, I never thought about where the peace symbol actually came from. I was not a true activist. I did not join any peace protests. Today, however, during these troubling times, with the rise of a new Cold War, the horrors of war in the Middle East, the sabre rattling in North Korea, the growth of misguided US and European populism – and on and on – those same principled emotions about world peace are resurfacing in my thoughts in a very significant way.
Perhaps another kind of peace movement needs to start taking shape – one that can be an antidote to the great dismay and sadness many of us feel because of Trump’s shallow behavior; his overall governing ignorance; and his penchant for sowing divisiveness, chaos, and fear instead of using these times as a great opportunity to bring everyone together. Unfortunately, he has repeatedly proven that he simply does not have the right stuff. While his base remains strong, my inner opposition strength continues to increase by honoring and supporting the resistance movement. Trump needs to overcome a steep learning curve that continues to look insurmountable due to his everyday rhetoric and his enormous lack of experience as a political leader. His election has thus far been an utter failure, and it does not look to be getting any better. I feel it is vitally important to voice opposition to this administration’s policies.
I say this even though I am not in any mood to fight or physically go out and protest anything at this early-late stage of my life in my early sixties. I’m leaning toward gerotranscendence, and I avidly avoid crowds. Yet, I have become gnawingly aware that I must somehow physically join the fight that so awesomely launched on Saturday, January 21, 2017 with all the women’s marches.
As put by Martin Luther King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
So, I started pushing myself to not be silent. In addition to sharing lots of articles about the Trump resistance movement on Facebook, I physically joined a protest for the first time in my life – namely the March for Science on Earth Day 2017.
I got out there for the purely selfish reason of ridding myself of the guilt and embarrassment I hold in my heart for never really being a serious participant in any protest movements whatsoever.
David Cortright, author of “Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas” (a thorough catalogue of the religious and intellectual roots relative to numerous and highly varied peace activism milestones since the nineteenth century), expressed to me in a recent telephone interview that “we all have to do our duty from time to time and get out there on the street corner and look foolish.”
Add Cortright’s comment to what Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” once famously said: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.”
Well, the rent is already overdue, at least for me!
Bring Back the Peace Symbol’s Popularity
Consequently, I have refocused those early adolescent leanings on the magically marked peace symbol and the entire peace and love movement that I was privy to in the late 60s and early 70s. By promoting peace, I have found a new sense of energy to enter the fray with hope that in the end we are and always will be caring humans interconnected in this crazy world not by politics, but through our still horribly unmet capacity to live in global harmony. The alternative is. . . (You know it.)
So, in short, let’s bring back the peace symbol.
The Symbol’s History
Ken Kolsbun, author of “Peace: The Biography of a Symbol,” put together a colorful hard-cover book about how British designer Gerald Holton came up with an “extraordinary” simple design for a peace symbol that “came to be one the most iconic images in history.” Kolsbun’s book was published in April 2008 by National Geographic on the 50th anniversary of the symbol’s public introduction.
The first public display of the peace symbol was not related to any anti-war protest. It occurred during the Cold War on the Easter weekend of April 4, 1958 in a stop-nuclear-testing protest gathering of 5,000 concerned citizens in London. That protest included a 4-day, 52-mile-long march from London to the village of Aldermaston, home of the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. More than 500 peace activists took part in the march. A large sign at the head of the march featured Holton’s new peace symbol. The symbol took off from there, gaining worldwide recognition.
Kolsbun explained how, over time, the peace symbol grew to represent much more than a “No Nukes” Cold War statement, and bigger than a symbol closely related to Vietnam War protests. Kolsbun’s book showed how the universal peace symbol was proudly on display at numerous different protests over its five decades of existence. “It is also about women’s rights and is very much associated with environmental issues,” he said, adding that “it is a whole basket of good stuff.”
He also noted how it is not nearly as prevalent of an image for the growing protest movements today. “There is a deluge of many messages, which is great,” Kolsbun said about the Trump resistance protests. “But I don’t think the Peace symbol will go away. It is so well implanted in people’s minds.”
“The peace symbol remains relevant, and could become more so if the Trump administration moves ahead, as it seems they might, to boost military spending while cutting domestic programs, and to send more ground troops into Syria and Iraq in the name of destroying ISIS,” Cortright added. “After more than 15 years of a failed war on terror,” he says, “it really might be time to give peace a chance.”
Which is essentially why, I believe, it needs to have a serious comeback.
Part of the challenge for promoting the return of the peace symbol deals with its varied number of connotations. Through a very informal poll I took with several Millennials, for instance, I was disheartened to learn that some people see it abused as a badge for young “stoners,” as well as an example of overt commercialization that really has nothing to do with its original intent. One person said that the peace symbol belongs more fittingly on the front of Mercedes Benz automobiles than as a symbol for protest movements.
The peace symbol is also frequently identified as a counter culture label for a Hippie free-wheeling sex, drugs, and rock and roll mindset. That kind of thinking was and still is perpetrated by overly conservative right wingers. Most Hippies, including myself, during those turbulent times in the 60s, are proud to say we were part of a counter culture that did ultimately bring about positive change. The vast majority of us were not overdosing on LSD, were not overly lazy do-nothings, were not satanic messengers.
The short-lived Hippie movement proved to be an enlightening and interesting pathway more closely attuned to my overall presence. Hippies, in my mind, were the generation who had it right with their “eagerness to give political dignity to the tenderer emotions, in their readiness to talk openly of love, and non-violence, and pity,” wrote Theodore Roszak in “The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections of the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition,” first published in 1971.
Remaking the Peace Symbol for a New Nuclear Arms Race
Images of the peace symbol are still visible here and there in small numbers on the abundantly creative signs of today’s protest movements, and it has possibilities for a new life. Kolsbun suggests, for instance, that placing the original peace symbol alongside an inverted version – in effect, two peace symbols – can be used together as a unifying image in concert with today’s multi-faceted protest movements.
His reasoning for this comes from Holton, whose original design was based on a human stick figure with arms flowing downward in despair inside a circle that represented the planet. He soon discovered the symbol’s straight line down the center represented a semaphore (alphabetic code) D, and the downward angles represented a semaphore N. The ND coincidentally stood for Nuclear Disarmament, a seemingly perfect symbol for the Ban the Bomb protest in April 1958.
Later in life Holton regretted using the arms flowing downward and favored changing the peace symbol to an inverted version with the angled arms flowing upward as a more positive message of hope and not despair. This coincidentally stood for a semaphore U, and thus changed the symbol to represent UD, meaning Unilateral Disarmament.
Holton died in 1985. Kolsbun quoted the following from Holton’s will: “I wish to be buried in Hythe at Seabrook and my gravestone be carved with an inverted campaign for nuclear disarmament symbol.” For reasons not known, however, the two peace symbols engraved on Holton’s tombstone were not inverted.
Can the inverted symbol’s UD message be construed as an important addendum to the current resistance-oriented theme that continues to gain steam and grow into a dynamic, anti White House administration engine? “Why not encourage people to use both the traditional (ND) and inverted UD?” Kolsbun said, adding that people need to become acquainted with each and start displaying them side by side.
The logic behind for supporting a strong UD message is in tune with intense opposition to the current administration’s propensity for a newly devised and hugely expensive military buildup. This opposition is espoused by many knowledgeable nuclear arms experts, including the 89-year-old former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, who for more than a decade, and most currently through his UD-focused foundation, has repeatedly said “the danger of some sort of nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”
Perry has spent 65-years serving and advising White House administrations on both sides of the aisle since Eisenhower about nuclear arms proliferation. His foundation is spearheading a strong and very important nuclear disarmament campaign.
End the Threat
Perry’s statement comes on the heels of nonstop worrisome rhetoric and behavior that have sprung out of Trump. With the increasingly bombastic and worrisome North Korean platform, an irrational and unstable Trump having the capability to single handedly enact a nuclear strike often gets lost in all the noise. There are, however, good articles about this topic that are helpful in presenting a keener understanding of what’s at stake. A January 30 article from the Guardian headlined “Finger on the button: should Trump’s nuclear weapons access be restricted?” is a good case in point, as well as February 8 article from the New York Times headlined “Why the Defense Dept Is Looking to Lease Space in Trump Tower.” Another informative piece in this vein was published by Business Insider on January 4, headlined “Trump’s call for a nuclear arms race is the most dangerous thing he’s said yet.” I’m sure there are many more out there. They are just not playing out as top-of-the-hour items, but if we continue to see more of Trump’s irrationality, perhaps these kinds of stories will take on more serious precedence with the general public.
How to Quickly Understand the Nuclear Issues, Trends & Strategies Looming on the Near Horizon
If you would like to get a quick education about nuclear arms, see Perry’s free, self-paced Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) launched this past October, titled “Living at the Nuclear Brink.” In Week 10 of this MOOC, titled “What Next?”, there is an eye-opening 40-minute video of a conversation led by Perry with Joseph P. Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, and Tom Collina, director of policy at Ploughshares. If you do not have an interest in taking the entire MOOC, I strongly recommend taking 40 minutes out of your life to watch the video because it kind of says it all and will get you quickly up to speed on today’s most pressing nuclear arms issues (also see below for a synthesis).
Ploughshares was founded by the late peace activist Sally Lilienthal, who, during the height of the Cold War in 1981, decided to devout her so-called senior years, at the age of 62, to working diligently on nuclear disarmament issues. She did that for the next 25 years right up until she passed away at the age of 87.
In addition to its work with Perry, Ploughshares recently published some extremely important reading and pointedly for Trump, in a report titled “10 Big Nuclear Ideas for the Next President.” The report features succinct, well-edited, easy-to-comprehend essays from professionals who have been working in the nuclear arms field for most of their adult lives. It covers such important topics as how to break away from Cold War thinking, how to reduce nuclear weapons with or without Russia, how to phase out ICBMs, how to engage North Korea, and much more.
Here are some of the key enlightening and disturbing points in the video that made me pause and reflect on the possibility of a much brighter future based on rational decision-making suggestions espoused by Perry, Cirincione, and Collina:
- The U.S. and Russia have the largest nuclear stockpiles by far than any other countries in the world with more than 5,000 nuclear weapons each (covered by treaties), and these totals do not include thousands of additional nuclear capable weapons that Russia and the U.S. have not covered by any nuclear arms treaty. China, on the other hand, has about 250 nuclear weapons. As per research from the Global Zero Commission, all we really need is 450 weapons of all kinds, and we would “still have plenty for deterrence. Anybody would be foolish to attack us if we had the ability to respond with 400 weapons,” Perry said. The inaccurate perception that we must be equal to Russia in the number of nuclear weapons we have is referred to as “the fallacy of parity.”
- Related to the fallacy of parity is the notion that the U.S. should consider unilaterally reducing our stockpiles, regardless of what Russia may or may not do. A unilateral disarmament would be helpful for a variety of reasons. Perry noted, for instance, that if we cling to all these unnecessary nuclear weapons in our arsenal, other countries will do the same. “It is very hard to make the point to another nation that you do not need nuclear weapons for your security when we not only by our statements, but by our actions, indicate that we do need them for our security,” Perry explained.
- Despite the fallacy of parity, the Obama administration has floated a plan costing an estimated $1 trillion over the next few decades to upgrade our nuclear arsenal. The current Republican administration looks to be in favor of strongly supporting this kind of investment of our tax dollars that many say can be put to much better use. “Ultimately, these issues are very simple bread and butter issues of what are our priorities as a nation,” said Perry, who opposes this humongous investment of our resources. Collina noted that perhaps we should spend our money on other things, such as education and the student loan debt crisis.
- We should keep the Iran deal in place. Cirincione explained that Ploughshares is working at “preventing Donald Trump from dismantling the Iran deal.” One of the main reasons for this approach is that if Trump, through a stroke of a pen, overturn the Iran deal, Iran would simply resume its nuclear program and “the United States (because we reneged on an international agreement) would not be able to build the international coalition of sanctions that were so effective before.” The end result could then quite possibly be a situation in which there would be no way to implement sanctions against a renewed development of nuclear arms in Iran, leaving us with a no main option other than war.
- Finally, the video also addresses the question of how we can help with efforts to decrease nuclear proliferation. A student who took the course, asked, “what can one person do?” Get involved with local organizations and college campus initiatives; communicate with members of Congress; write letters; send out emails; become a member of the Council for a Livable World, And, of course, protest.
A Simple Call to Learn About the Issues and Participate
Supporting these resist-movement-oriented ideas, I believe, requires, first and foremost, three important traits that all of us need to keep inside our heads until positive results can be enacted to counteract these crazy times: vigilance, patience, and action.
I rely on myself and “we the people” staying vigilant by continuing to spend our time learning about the issues, continually digesting fact-based information like the many links in this article. Patience is the other order of the day because all great crusading activism ultimately takes time and stick-to-itiveness.
If you are action-oriented and ready, willing and able to physically attend protests, take heart in knowing that you are contributing to something vitally important for the future of mankind’s wellbeing. Cortright, who has been at this for decades, actively participating in numerous protests and peace causes over his long life, put it into clear perspective when he said, “I do it because I think it is necessary. It is part of my identity, and it is one thing that I can do that I believe might make some positive difference in the world. It is my small way of trying to contribute something worthwhile to being on this planet.”
As David Frum at the Atlantic magazine so movingly stated in “How to Build an Autocracy”: “If people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic, the corruption will slowly become more brazen, the intimidation of opponents stronger. Laws intended to ensure accountability or prevent graft or protect civil liberties will be weakened.”
Finally, it is vitally important to understand that the most effective way to enact change can only be achieved through nonviolence. Cortright outlined this key strategy in one of his blog posts, “The Strategy for Nonviolent Protests,” where he wrote, in brief, that “achieving further success will require maintaining the peaceful spirit and demeanor of the Women’s March and avoiding actions that could turn away those we seek to attract.”
And while you are at it, dust off that peace symbol.