If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist its another nonconformist
who doesn't conform to a standards of nonconformity - Bill Vaughan
It feels like tracking the peace symbol was my destiny. I began photographing the peace symbol
at the antiwar rallies I attended in the late 60's at the height of the Vietnam War. As a father
a of young family then, living in southern California, I wasn't apart of the hippie movement that
was sweeping the state and the country, but I did have strong feelings about the war. I vividly
remember my WWII childhood in the rural San Fernando Valley- the air raid sirens, the rationings,
and the flags in the windows of families who had service members overseas. Fear was a vivid
fixture in my childhood, even after the war ended. With the 1950's came a different kind of war,
the Cold war, and with it the threat of nuclear annihilation. The air raid drills went on, and
a new, larger terror replaced the fears of the WWII era.
By the mid 1960's Jannice and I had our first child and the country was involved in a new conflict.
But the Vietnam War did not rouse the patriotic fever of WWII. At about that time, I became friends
with my neighbor, Ted Schoenman. Ted's son Ralph had been Bertrand Russell's private secretary and
eventually became the director of Bertrand Russell Peace foundation. Ralph had also been instrumental
in organizing the Committee of 100 Against Nuclear War- a strident ban-the-bomb group in London in
the early 1960's.
Though I didn't know it at the time, all of this connected back to my interest in the creation of the
peace symbol. Ralph's information filtered down through his father, who in turn opened my eyes to
a broader political world view, beyond what I had previously learned from my local newspaper and
national television. Soon I had developed a passion for politics and concern about the war. With
the 1968 Presidential election around the corner, I slapped a Eugene McCarthy bumper sticker on my
VW Squareback, paid 25 cents for my first peace symbol button and let my hair grow a little longer.
Like a lot of other young Americans, I took to the street to protest the growing involvement in
Vietnam. At each one of the demonstrations I attended, the rallying symbol was that circle with
what looked like a drooping tree inside it. The peace symbol. Everywhere I looked- on posters,
medallions, earrings , cars, graffiti. That circle design had become a magnet, an icon for the
counterculture and the anti-war movement.
What has surprised me in the decades since is that the peace continues to exert almost hypnotic
appeal. Its become the a rally cry for almost any group working for social change.
With my background in design, I'm fascinated by the simplicity of the peace symbol and how people
have used it worn it and adapted it. Each iteration of the symbol seems unique, because is bears the
artistic touch of the person replicating it. The fact that the symbol is easy to recall and draw-
just a circle with three lines in it- might account for some of its worldwide recognition, but I
think it's more than that.
I was fortunate enough to correspond with Gerald Holtom, the symbol's designer, ten years before
his death in 1985. He critiqued my original notes on the history of the symbol, which I have now
culminated in this book. I continue to correspond with is children and a nephew. They have all
been generous in sharing their family photos, dairies, letters and notes, and memories. His life
story and symbol's are both inextricably linked.
Certainly, my own life has become intertwined with the symbol and with the pressing need to tell
its story, a story I have been documenting through my own photographs, press clippings, and primary
sources for decades now. On the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol, I can only hope that it will
continue to inspire, and inform generations to come. - Ken Kolsbun