The meaning of the CND symbol

Gerald knew that a graphic symbol would reinforce the message of the thousands of protesters who took part in a 50-mile march from London’s Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) at Aldermaston, Berkshire.

Clay CND badgeThe first CND badge, made using white clay and black paint

London to Aldermaston march, 1958Photo: Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London

Gerald originally considered using the Christian cross symbol within a circle and approached various priests with the suggestion, but the priests weren’t happy with the idea of using it for a protest march. Instead Gerald settled on using letters from the flag semaphore system, super-imposing N(uclear) on D(isarmament) within a circle that symbolised Earth.

CND symbol meaning

CND symbol

CND sketchesOriginal sketches by Gerald Holtom, via The Peace Museum

He later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, and gave a different, more personal explanation for his idea.

“I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it. It was ridiculous at first and such a puny thing.”

Ken Kolsbun’s 2008 book, Peace, charts how the CND symbol was transported across the Atlantic and took on additional meanings for the Civil Rights movement, the counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s including the anti-Vietnam protests, and the environmental and equal rights movements.

Peace symbol USA flagAnti-war protest in Washington, via History

Peace sign, BudapestAnti-war protest in Heroes’ Square, Budapest (2005), via National Geographic

Anti-terrorism protest, PakistanAnti-terrorism protest in Lahore (2014), Pakistan, via Xinhuanet

More info:
About the CND symbol, on
A Circle and Three Lines, the documentary
Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, National Geographic (2008)
The magic of the peace symbol, by Steven Heller for Design Observer (2008)
World’s best known protest symbol turns 50, on the BBC website (2008)
The untold story of the peace sign, excerpted from Mark Sinclair’s TM (2014)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *