Sign Of The Times

Friday, February 15, 2008


For a half century this semaphoric arrangement of lines and letters has served as a stand-in for pacifists, civil rights activists, and counter-culturalists. Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin explains the origins and reinterpretations of this enduring symbol.

Comments [5]

Vicki Rovere from Manhattan

Do folks these days know what a semaphore signal is? If not, I guess you were right not to go into more detail. As you said, the designer adapted the symbol from the semaphore letters N and D. As I learned it (and just confirmed on Wikipedia), the letter D is formed by holding one arm straight up and the other straight down. The N is formed by holding each flag in an outstretched arm at clock positions (roughly) 4 and 8.
In the 60s some people took to wearing the pin upside down: the outstretched lines (at positions roughly 2 and 10 o'clock) now represented the letter U, for Unilateral or Universal Disarmament.
I don't remember hearing the symbol referred to as chicken tracks, but have frequently had the chance to enlighten people who were sure it's the same as the Mercedes logo.

Feb. 22 2008 03:27 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

If I thought having the commentary was odd, the imaginary interview was just too weird!

On the other hand, I did even weirder radio theater back at Yale's station, WYBC, in the '70s and '80s, so I shouldn't complain. This isn't likely to provide a blueprint for a murder, a maiming and a Presidential assassination attempt, as one of my pieces did.

In court, it was referred to in the phrase, "Taxi Driver and other works of art or fiction."

Feb. 19 2008 02:29 AM
Home Free from Sailboat on Lake Washington,WA

We hippees agreed that the Peace Symbol was,and still is,simply put,AN UPSIDE DOWN BROKEN CROSS.In the context of your expert's explaination,the cross (target),broken cross (no longer targeted).But there is a more spiritual context to the meaning.The cross being inverted means that the machine of death (execution) has been stayed.Then the breaking of the cross member to alter the configuration recreates the machine for a new and benign purpose.Of course to most old agers a dove or chicken is simply not an EAGLE.Was it Garfield's vested interests that allowed the choice of such a shameful Peace Symbol Incarnation.He was coming from the right place with all the wrong reasons.Of course the SMILEY FACE should be there due to all the Peace it is exuding,but we all know that is as far from the TRUTH as you can get.It's smileing for all the wrong reasons.And lastly,it is Love and Peace,not Peace and Love!

Feb. 18 2008 03:34 PM
Roberta McNair from Gig Harbor, WA

Thanks for the interview with the peace symbol. I think the symbol showed great restraint when asked about the smiley face. He made it clear that he does not discuss the smiley face, yet Garfield persisted in his questioning. Given the meaning behind the two symbols, it was insulting to ask about a relationship between the peace symbol and the smiley face. Does Jon Stewart hang out with Gallagher?

Feb. 18 2008 01:59 PM
Laurie of the 60s from Tribeca, NYC

A chicken's footprint? You almost had it but not quite. The peace symbol is the footprint of the dove, which is the universal symbol for peace.

The reason it was an emblem for so many 1960s issue was that it represented not only disarmament but non-violence as a form of protest.

You' d have done better asking some of your vintage listeners that question than the person you did.

Feb. 17 2008 04:09 PM

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