I was an adolescent during the late 1960s, and I remember with great fondness the day I paid a visit to the big downtown Army/Navy store to purchase a used, thigh-length, green Army jacket.
As soon as I got it home, I meticulously and energetically drew several multicolored peace symbols with permanent magic marker on various strategically located areas of the jacket. Many of my friends did the same, and we all felt very cool and anti-establishment, mostly in protest of the Vietnam War. I wore that jacket for a few years, until it no longer fit me.
In my adolescent naivete, I did not think about where the peace symbol actually came from. I did not look into joining any peace protests or becoming a bona fide peace activist. Today, however, I can’t get these things out of my thoughts.
Bring Back the Peace Symbol’s Popularity
So I bring up the following question: Do we need to bring back the pervasive popularity of the peace symbol by associating it to the issues and challenges we are protesting today? I answer with a very loud “Yes,” as I observe with great dismay and sadness what is going on in our country because of Trump’s penchant for sowing divisiveness, chaos, and fear instead of using these times as a great opportunity to bring us all together peacefully.
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 am an avid avoider of crowds. I’d rather just stay home, ruminate, conduct research, love and support my family, and write about XYZ. Yet, I am keenly aware – 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 am pushing myself to not be silent. In addition to writing about the Trump resistance movement that is most definitely gaining steam worldwide, I will, for the first time in my life, be physically joining protests slated locally on the near horizon, more than likely in April, and most likely on Earth Day, April 22, for The March for Science, if not sooner. To be completely honest, I picked this day as my very first live protest attendance, not only because I believe with its main tenet of “Science Not Silence,” but also because the cold winter will be over by then. I don’t last very long in the cold anymore like I did when I was a younger man. Anything below 40 degrees is bone chilling for me.
I’m also planning to get 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 throughout my life.
Time to Pay the Rent
David Cortright, author of “Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas” (a thorough catalogue of numerous kinds and types of peace activism milestones since the 19th 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 to this 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!
I am pushing myself toward figuratively putting on the gloves and climbing into the ring, toward joining the people out there who have been at airports, at government buildings, on the streets in inclement weather. 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 in this relatively non-complex manner, I am finding the energy to enter the fray with hope that in the end we are all humans interconnected in this crazy world not by politics, but through our still horribly unmet full capacity to live in some kind of global harmony. The alternative is. . . (You know it.)
The Symbol’s History
The peace symbol has perhaps been most commonly tagged to the “Make Love, Not War,” Hippy counter culture movement of the 60s and 70s, along with the Vietnam War protests during those turbulent times.
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 82-year-old Kolsbun, who is still an ardent peace activist in his own right, is currently working on a 60th anniversary edition, tentatively titled “The Peace Symbol Phenomenon in America.”
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.
For more information on the symbol’s development since 1958, along with Holton’s personal story, see Kolsbun’s site at http://peacesymbol.com/index.php. The colorful, hard-cover book is on sale at Amazon, of course. I bought an excellent, like-new, used copy for $5.
In a recent phone conversation with Kolsbun, he explained how, over time, the peace symbol grew to represent more than a “No Nukes” Cold War statement, and more than its explosive usage during the Vietnam War protests. He hopes the symbol will soon make a significant comeback, noting that although it is not nearly as prevalent of an image on all the protest signs at anti-Trump administration rallies that are growing rapidly in numbers across the country today, it is still being painted on a relatively small number of protest signs. “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.”
Which is essentially why, I believe, it needs to come back.
Part of the challenge for promoting the return of the peace symbol, I believe, 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.
The peace symbol is 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.
Kolsbun’s book showed how the ubiquitous peace symbol was proudly on display at numerous different protests over many years. “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.”
Women Lead the Way
Like today, with the recent and now famously galvanizing Women’s March on Washington, females continue to be on the leading edge of peace activism. Starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “the advent of feminism and the growing involvement of women significantly influenced the agenda for peace. Women tended to give greater emphasis to the social dimensions of peace, and linked the concerns of family and community life with the larger realm of state and international affairs,” Cortright wrote in his book about peace.
“Feminists pointed to the connection between the institutionalized violence of war and violence against women. They sought to achieve greater equality for women as an essential requirement for creating a more just and peaceful world. They enlarged the definition of peace beyond narrow legalistic and institutional concerns to encompass a more holistic social, economic, cultural, and political strategy for preventing violence.”
Incidentally, Cortright’s book cover features a prominently displayed white-on-black peace symbol.
The Symbol’s Significance Right Now
In addition to the peace symbol’s correlation to women’s rights, along with an association to environmental issues that can be correlated to the upcoming Earth Day protests, there is another reason why it should be brought back more explicitly. It starts by drawing a modern-day equivalency to that first public display of the symbol at the London to Aldermaston anti-nuclear-testing march. I draw this parallel because the notion of No Nukes is even more glowing right now than it was during the Cold War. Unfortunately, there are not yet enough people who have come to this stark realization.
For example, somewhat buried in all the news about Trump’s latest tweet these days are a good number of extremely important discussions and concerns about nuclear arms in the 21st century. Take a January 6 Politico Magazine cover story profiling the 89-year-old former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, headlined “Bill Perry Is Terrified. Why Aren’t You?”. . . Perry has spent 65-years serving and advising “nearly every administration since Eisenhower” about nuclear arms proliferation. He is spearheading a strong nuclear disarmament campaign that we should all be paying much closer attention to.
End the Threat
Politico journalists John F. Harris and Bryan Bender layed out Perry’s lifelong mission, which is his shout out to end the nuclear threat through the William J. Perry Project, located online at http://www.wjperryproject.org/.
Perry, who refers to himself as “a prophet of doom,” thinks we have grown too complacent about nuclear weapons. He is quoted in the Political article as saying, “today, 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.”
To help alleviate the extraordinary fear such a statement suggests, the article noted that Perry does not believe a nuclear catastrophe will happen “this year or next year or anytime in the foreseeable future. But the consequence is so great, we have to take it seriously. And there are things to greatly lower those possibilities that we’re simply not doing.”
Perry’s statement comes on the heels of nonstop worrisome rhetoric and behavior that have sprung out of Trump. As we get distracted by so many unconventional occurrences in the White House, important stories that stress an irrational and unstable Trump having the capability to single handedly enact a nuclear strike get lost in all the noise. There are, however, good articles about this topic that we should be paying more attention to. 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
Perry’s project also features a free, self-paced Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) launched this past October offered by Stanford Online Lagunita, titled “Living at the Nuclear Brink.” I’ve been going through the course and recently cheated by jumping to the very end of it, in Week 10, titled “What Next?” It concludes with 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.
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.
Ploughshares recently published some extremely important reading for all of us, and pointedly the President, 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.
In addition to reading the Ploughshares report, I strongly recommend taking 40 minutes out of your life to watch the video at the end of Perry’s fine course, because it kind of says it all and will get you quickly up to speed on today’s most pressing nuclear arms issues.
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 the ideas behind the sub-headline above, 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 will add, however, that as I write this only three weeks into the new administration, and with last night’s resignation by Flynn, it is currently looking as if we could be witness to a sooner-rather-than-later scenario in which Trump goes back to working on the Apprentice again to boost its ratings. One can only hope at this stage. Of course, this will only have a chance of working if Pence, when and if he becomes president (which I believe has always been the GOP’s secret strategy), shakes up the staff, including the removal of several advisors who are extraordinarily spooky. Bannon and Miller for starters. . .
In the meantime, I rely on myself and “we the people” staying vigilant by continuing to spend my 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.”
So take to the streets at your earliest convenience and understand that the most effective way to enact change can only be achieved through nonviolence. Cortright outlines this key strategy in his most recent blog post “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.
The Trumpians say give the man a chance. I feel much more comfortable giving peace a chance instead.