Feb. 28, 2008
By BETH KOWITT
Columbia News Service
When Sergio Elizondo decided to open a cafe in New York City's trendy
Tribeca neighborhood just over a year ago, he and his partner wanted
to give it a name that would turn heads. Today, at lunchtime, his
Peace and Love cafe is filled with businessmen and businesswomen
standing at a sleek counter sipping lattes and gourmet soups from
cups adorned with the restaurant's logo -- a red peace symbol inlaid
with an orange heart.
"We wanted to choose a symbol that's easy to remember but also
represents a way of life and a culture," Elizondo said.
The peace symbol has certainly come a long way from its original
intent. Fifty years ago this month, Englishman Gerald Holtom, a
conscientious objector during World War II, designed the symbol for
the antinuclear group Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War,
and it soon became the permanent logo for the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament. The peace sign -- whose design revolves around the
letters "N" and "D" to highlight the group's main objective -- made
its first public appearance during a protest march from Trafalgar
Square to Aldermaston, where researchers were developing nuclear weapons.
Five decades later, Holtom's design can be found everywhere -- on
beach towels, postage stamps and graffiti scribbled on bridges and
underpasses across the U.S.
"The symbol is probably as well-known as the Coca-Cola symbol," said
Ken Kolsbun, the author, with Michael Sweeney, of Peace: The
Biography of a Symbol due in April from National Geographic.
Kolsbun said there is much that Americans still need to learn about
the symbol, which the self-described peace activist says he has worn
on a button since 1968. Most people can't even draw it, he said.
Coming to America
The CND logo made a quick jump across the pond in the late 1950s,
when American antinuclear activists involved in the British cause
brought it home to continue their work. The move toward a broader
message of peace continued with the Partial Test Ban in 1963, which
limited the testing of nuclear weapons. Then, the peace movement's
focus shifted to the Vietnam War, said Lawrence Wittner, a leading
researcher on peace movements at the State University of New York at Albany.
"Naturally, the movement just continued with the symbol," he said.
Since then, organizations with goals ranging from civil rights to
feminism to environmentalism have adopted the sign as their own, and
some have incorporated it into their logos.
"It's still going against the grain of dominant culture," said
Wittner, the author of The Struggle Against the Bomb and a national
board member of the antinuclear group Peace Action (whose symbol is a
dove). "The peace symbol is still a cutting-edge symbol."
That has made it appealing to protesters, particularly because it is
so quick and easy to draw, Wittner said. In countries where governing
forces view peace as a subversive activity, "it might be handy to
have a symbol you could scrawl on the wall in the middle of the
night," he said.
A selling point
Of course, the peace symbol has had a lot of commercial uses -- belt
buckles, cigarette lighters, coasters. Hudson says her group prefers
the symbol not be used to make money, but overall they are delighted
that it has gained such widespread appeal.
Kolsbun argues that using the peace symbol to sell knickknacks
doesn't really hurt.
"It's being exploited, but that's the way we do it in America," he said.
Back in England, the CND is planning to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of its movement, and its world-famous logo, by gathering
at the site of the Aldermaston protest in March.
CND director Kate Hudson says she expects the symbol will endure.
"As long as campaigns for peace continue," she said, "the symbol will
be right at the center of it."