Friday, April 04, 2008


Peace Sign Turns 50

Where were you 50 years ago -- April 1958?

I turned 56 on December 30, 2007. Soooo... I was only 6 years old at the birth of the peace sign. Not like I was paying much attention. First grade, hopscotch, skate key, Cowboy Sam, Shirley Temple-- that was my universe and symbol system in the spring of 1958.

The first time I did pay attention , I was a staff member at YMCA Camp Marston, Julian, CA, in the summer of '67. I'll give the credit to fellow counselor Milan Lilac (wonder where he is?), wearing the peace symbol on a campaign pin/button. I asked what is it? He told me it began as a symbol of a plane. Imagine turning that sign one quarter to the left or right. See the plane? He further explained that this became the symbol for "ban the bomb" rallies, then evolved into a universal peace symbol. I dunno. Sounded historical to me. Of course, most of us might visualize Winston Churchill flashing the "V" for victory, which equates to peace after war, non?

For me the Peace Sign encompasses a universe of feeling about my generation -- the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. We've seen a range, haven't we? That same summer gave me many places to turn, turn, turn -- especially when Milan also introduced me to the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album. He had been down to the city (San Diego) for his day off from camp and returned with this fabulous album. We played and played the odd music, and we stared at the cover, wondering.... "who are they?" If I close my eyes, I can smell summer breezes in the pines, red clay dust, flannel sleeping bags, leather saddles, and insect repellent. I can hear songs around the campfire -- from Joan Baez to The Kingston Trio to Kumbaya. I can feel the curve of the guitar wood on my knees, a horse's mane in my fist, soap suds in the cafeteria, plastic lanyard strands between my fingers.

And lurking in the background, a peace sign pinned on a friend's shirt...

A peace sign that became gradually more and more important as boys I knew marched off to a meaningless war in a faraway land. Boys who came back haunted and dead men. Decades later, their names carved in ebony on a monument and still nobody can tell me why they died. Just as nobody can tell me why 4014 plus 200,000 civilians have died, again in a meaningless war in a faraway land.

The Peace Sign turns 50, but we haven't grown up. We haven't learned the lesson of the symbol, have we? Ban the Bomb. Peace in our time. War to end all war. Imagine.

1 comment:

colleen said...

I was on a bus going to a CYO drill team practice or competition when someone passed a magazine around with the Beatles on the cover, the first I saw of them but we were already singing "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." I don't remember the first time I saw a peace sign but I remember drawing one on a notebook and my cousin who had been in the service got mad when he saw it. ?? I do miss those days.