Peace Then, Peace Now, and Real Peace

04/14/2008


By Bob Gersztyn

Easter marked the fifty-year anniversary of the peace symbol. It was first unveiled by British artist Gerald Holtom during a march from Trafalgar Square to Canterbury Cathedral in early April 1958, but it would be another decade before the crow’s-foot symbol (or “sign of the American chicken,” as the John Birchers used to call it) crossed the ocean to become the predominant symbol of the anti-war movement. Country Joe McDonald had one on his guitar when he sang “Yippie, we all gonna die” at Woodstock, the most electrifying moment in that electrifying event, and it had been around long before that.

It was probably either Country Joe or Neil Young, who had a peace-sign guitar strap, who first exposed me to the familiar icon. Neil YoungBy 1968, when I was a twenty-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Sill, it had become common enough that two guys in my unit were selling peace necklaces at a head shop they managed in the town of Lawton, Oklahoma (at least until the CO put the place off limits). I didn’t know who Gerald Holtom was, or that he had created the sign as a symbol of nuclear disarmament. All I knew is that I had to have one.

Maybe it was boredom, or maybe it was all the weed that the new hippie draftees brought with them, along with their well-thumbed copies of the Berkeley Barb, L. A. Free Press and Paper Bag, but I decided to fashion my own version of the peace symbol. I took a coat hanger out of my wall locker, and using a wire cutter from the unit’s supply room, I cut it in four sections—one long, one medium and two short. When Holtom created the icon, he combined the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D” (for "Nuclear Disarmament"). "N" is represented by someone holding two flags in the upside down "V". The letter "D" is formed by holding one flag straight down and the other straight up. When the shapes of these two symbols are superimposed on each other, they form the peace symbol.

Private Gersztyn

After forming a tear drop with the long piece of the coat hanger and soldering the remaining pieces in place, I let them dry and harden. The next day I took string and wound it around the entire icon. Then I took the remainder of the tube of silver solder and coated the string with it.

The day after that, when the solder was dry, I found some small-gauge chain link in the supply room, and threaded it through the peace symbol. I wore the symbol underneath my fatigues, which gave me a feeling of undercover rebellion, and occasionally I would even let it all hang out. I really didn’t know why this icon represented peace, but I knew that war and fighting were stupid.

Private Gersztyn

I wasn’t the first, and certainly not the highest-ranking, soldier to make a similar gesture. Back in 1958, when I was ten years old, Commander Albert S. Bigelow had become the first American to fly the peace flag on the mast of his ship, the Golden Rule, as it attempted to disrupt an American nuclear test in the Marshall Islands.

A few years later, when I became a born-again Jesus Freak, I learned that there will be no peace until the prince of peace returns, so I threw away my peace symbols. Thirty-seven years have passed since that realization, and now we’ve come full circle. There isn’t a draft anymore, but there is another war, and another election promising peace. Now I’ve got kids a decade older than I was when I made my first peace symbol. Jesus hasn’t returned, and we’re still killing each other.

About a year ago I went to a concert where Country Joe McDonald was performing, and he was still doing the ultimate anti-war song, the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” as captured on Michael Wadleigh’s Academy Award-winning Woodstock documentary, and when I saw him he was still including the X-rated introductory cheer. You’d be surprised how easy it was for Country Joe to switch “Vietnam” to “Iran” for the classic verse:

Come on, all you big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again,
Got himself in a terrible jam,
Way down yonder in Vietnam,
Put down your books and pick up a gun,

We’re gonna have a whole lot of fun.
And it’s one, two, three—
What are we fightin’ for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
The next stop is Vietnam,

And it’s five, six, seven—
Open up the pearly gates,
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Yippie! We’re all gonna die.

Country Joe

After the concert I talked to Country Joe backstage and he said he’d served three years in the Navy before writing the song, and he sings it today for the same reasons he sang it then. We talked a lot about hope, how you can’t lose hope. He has a new song about the Iraq War, called “Support the Troops.” He still has the peace symbol on his guitar.

Excuse me, I’ve got to get a coat hanger out of my closet.


Comments(70)

TheDonQuixotic | 12:06 pm on 4/15/2008

ehh. I think your original conclusion was best. Hoping that wars will end, and that there never will be conflict isn't idealistic, its just ignoring human nature. Only Christ is able to fix that.

fester60613 | 01:12 pm on 4/17/2008

I think Christ has no interest in fixing human nature. He's had 2000 years to make a tangible impact on the human condition - you know, reduce wars and chaos and suffering, perhaps eliminate one or two plagues and/or pestilences, reduce human poverty and perhaps make a micro step toward abating hatred... but he hasn't done any of those things. Christ hasn’t even begun to do any of those things.

So, In spite of Christ's ability to fix human nature, human nature has not changed at all in 2000 years. Christ is obviously a colossal failure in the human arena.

You have my sympathy.

taximan | 02:57 pm on 4/17/2008

Imagine how bad it would be without Him at all. We wouldn't even be here anymore. Of course some feel that might be the solution. The human race is just a virus on the surface of the planet earth. That might be a Richard Dawkins point of view.

that calvinist doug | 03:02 pm on 4/17/2008

Fester, your pseudonymn is apt. Your constant carping on this site is a festering sore on my ass-crack. Congratulations. I'm sure you're day is complete. Now leave your basement and go ask your mom for her credit card so you can get on that porn site and jerk off for a few minutes.

Lilly | 04:09 pm on 4/17/2008

Take a deep breath Dougie.
Have a Twinkie.
How about one of my 'special' scrips.

that calvinist doug | 03:31 pm on 4/18/2008

Nah, it's been a whole day, and I'm still unrepentant. I'm a stubborn Scot you know. I consider it a spiritual gift.

fester60613 | 06:46 am on 4/26/2008

Doug - I'm not at all sorry to be a festering sore on your ass-crack. I do encourage you to keep some antiseptic cream on hand if things start to get really out of control.

It has been my experience that a festering sore on anyone's ass crack - and while I'm not accusing you of being self-righteous and/or judgemental - those who are self-righteous and/or judgemental require a festering sore just to keep things in perspective.

Hate me if you will - I'm happy just to keep you uncomfortable. All religious thought should remain uncomfortable - keeps the faith strong.

(I live in a lovely sunny and airy 4th floor condo near LSD, mommy died years ago, and I do not indulge in pornographic web sites - except for fstdt.com.)

pauli | 02:51 pm on 9/24/2008

You really need to read more of Jesus' Word before you make off-hand comments.
He came into the world to make it so we could become like Him.
Human nature is the seat of rebellion coming from the root of bitterness.
People praying to other gods does not turn away disaster. Only believing in and praying God's Word do we turn away evil.
Think about it!
The Peace symbol may have used in the distant past as the crow's foot, etc., but I think the hippie had the strap upside down by mistake because he was stoned when he put a symbol on it. When somebody came in and said, "Hey, man, that is really cool!" He didn't want to change it.
The real peace symbol "uplifted hands" is when you surrender all your ways to the One with the power.

Double O | 07:49 pm on 1/04/2009

You wrote: "I think the hippie had the strap upside down by mistake because he was stoned when he put a symbol on it."

From the neck end it was upside down but from the other end it was right side up. Since you usually hold a guitar neck up when not playing it, the symbol would appear right side up.
Unfortunately, when you are playing it the symbol is upside down.

Give the guy a break.

David Williams | 01:39 pm on 4/15/2008

Unlike my quixotic brother above, I think we've got to move away from the idea that human nature can't be changed. That's the whole point of the goldang church, ain't it? It doesn't get more kata sarka than war. It really doesn't.

I do agree that only Christ can fix it. But last time I checked, we were supposed to be His Body. Oh...drat...I feel that praise song coming on...

TheDonQuixotic | 09:10 am on 4/16/2008

Well of course we are supposed to be part of the solution, but the solution isn't going to be some heaven on earth paradise. Only Christ's salvation is able to fix that broken part of human nature, and while the church is responsible for moving that along, the church itself can't do the fixing. I believe there was a prophecy that 'the end times would flooded with wars, and rumors of wars'. They are going to be there until the end of time (just like poverty). So because of that, rather than thinking we can ignore them, and just go away, we have to learn how to responsibly deal with those issues. What is the proper way to deal with people who want to kill you? What is the proper way to feed all the people in the world you can't feed? We can't fix these problems, and so we shouldn't think that they will magically go away by ignoring the problem, or coming up with a perfect government, BUT that doesn't mean we don't have the responsibility to deal with them on a personal level, this day, a this hour, perfect world or not.

taximan | 08:27 pm on 4/16/2008

A 1960's group that was as radical about peace, as Country Joe & the Fish, was the Fugs. http://www.thefugs.com/history2.html

They had a song on one of thier early albums called "Kill For Peace." I just heard that some group recently did a cover of it.

That's what we should do. The Bible spells it out very clearly. God told Moses and Joshua to go into Palestine and systematically exterminate the population. Mass genocide was the answer then, as it should be now. Tactical nuclear strikes would be the best way to begin it. We could pull all our troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and where ever else they may be in harms way, as the peace creeps shout with joy. Then once our troops are out of range nuke them. After the radiation settles, we can send in mop up troops.

ny guy | 11:23 pm on 4/16/2008

satire I hope

taximan | 12:27 am on 4/17/2008

What if it's not?

fester60613 | 01:31 pm on 4/17/2008

There are a great many (ridiculed) posts at FSTDT.COM that promote both genocide and the overthrow of the American government in the name of Jesus and God. The writers are deadly serious! It's not satire in any way shape or form.

Some far right Christians want nothing less than an American Taliban.

JoshH | 09:18 pm on 4/18/2008

And where is this age's version of the Fugs?

Hopefully, the Stephen Colberts and the John Stewarts can bring us our own Fugs and Firesign Theatre for this era.

Then again...I'm probably being a bit too hopeful. Country Joe and the Fish couldn't effect change then, nor could the Fugs or Firesign Theatre. We got out of Vietnam because "it was time." Getting out of Iraq and our other messes "when it's time" will be too late.

taximan | 05:56 pm on 4/17/2008

The proper way to deal with people who want to kill you is to let them. Jesus did. WWJD? I know that this goes against human nature, but isn't it the story of the gospel?

taximan | 08:33 pm on 4/16/2008

And that body is evolving, just as all of its cells are. That evolution will eventually result in perfect human beings, just as the analogy of the Gospel speaks of. Jesus was the mustard seed, and look at what He grew into, a giant tree, that will eventually bear the fruit of perfection.

I think that Arthur C. Clarkes book - "Childhood's End" effectively illustrates that.

that calvinist doug | 02:08 pm on 4/15/2008

Come on, Door. First, it was days and days of articles on Larry Norman; now this guy, and he's not even dead. Let's reach out for a younger demo, shall we? All of us, ahem, mature believers are closer to our reward than all these heathen young'uns out there (and I'm not nearly so old as some of you geezers). Get to work and write some stuff on those great new artists. There's...okay, but then there's...(crickets), oh yeah, what about...oh screw it, just write something on some 80's metal hair bands and be done with it.

Process Deist | 06:29 pm on 4/15/2008

Wait a minute. Before we leave us geezers behind, let's have an article or two on Commander Cody or Leon Russell.
If we are going to get down to seeds and stems, let's rock this joint. There are people still alive who saw God while listening to the Lost Planet Airmen.

taximan | 11:20 pm on 4/16/2008

I saw God one time when I took 2 1/2 hits of mescaline at a jazz rock concert with a Chicago group called the "Flock", at the Eastown theater, in Detroit. My girl friend claimed that the group played in wooley sheep costumes, but then she took 1 1/2 hits of the same mescaline I was on.

luke | 11:02 am on 4/16/2008

Woo-hoo, time for the tribute to Stryper!

taximan | 08:35 pm on 4/16/2008

How about "Rage Against the Machine"?

taximan | 11:23 pm on 4/16/2008

The last time that Larry played at a major concert event, at Cornerstone in 2001, he shared the main stage with Stryper and Third Day.

JoshH | 09:20 pm on 4/18/2008

Doug...the demographic that reads the Door, regardless of age will have an appreciation for Country Joe and the Fish or Larry Norman or whoever else the Door speaks a tribute to.

I and my college pals are Exhibit A to this...and I was born 12 days after MTV premiered.

that calvinist doug | 08:50 am on 4/21/2008

12 days after it premiered...what the hell are you still doing in college? Wasn't that like in 1981 or something? Anyway, I think there's always good music around, you just have to hunt for it. When I was in college in the late 80's most of the pap on MTV (that was when you could actually see a music video on MTV) was lame, but there was good music out there. It just wasn't "popular."

SRebbe | 04:42 pm on 4/15/2008

I like Neil Young's recent epiphany better: "I think that the time when music could change the world is past. I think it would be very naive to think that in this day and age... I think that the world today is a different place, and that it's time for science and physics and spirituality to make a difference in this world and try to save the planet." Uh, duh.

So quit singin', Church, and git'r crackin'!

taximan | 08:45 pm on 4/16/2008

Neil is wrong. That's because he's discouraged because he doesn't see things getting better. We are still killing each other, that's true, but it's like pruning a bush, just as the Bible states in the Gospel of John chapter 15. Jesus was the leaven and he innoculated the human race with his infection. It's been spreading for two millennium, and one day the only one who will be left will be those who have evolved into perfect sentient beings. It's basically a survival of the fittest, and if Christianity is true, which I believe that it is, then all other religions must cease to exist. Islam understands this, so some Muslims act out of fear, but perfect love casts out all fear.

Anonymous | 07:03 pm on 4/15/2008

I remember hearing fundy preachers saying that the peace symbol was an antichristian symbol because it's an upside down cross! Anyone else hear that one?

ny guy | 10:46 pm on 4/15/2008

No, but nothing surprises me with them. I check out this fundy message board from time to time for fun, but I mostly come away aggravated and distressed at all of the amazing theologians and pastors that they dismiss as being tools of the devil being used to deceive people into straying from the true "Gospel of Christ" (Ie. what ever they have accepted as normative in their limited paradigm). The crackpot theories they come up with are way out there sometimes. As with the peace sign thing mentioned above. I bet you could find a whole website dedicated to it.

ny guy | 10:49 pm on 4/15/2008

http://www.nisbett.com/symbols/peace_sign.htm

wow on the first try too, thank you google

fester60613 | 01:25 pm on 4/17/2008

I'm always amazed at how terribly *vulnerable* the Christian faith is that it can be brought low by the interpretation of symbols.

Sad. Very sad.

SRebbe | 03:10 pm on 4/16/2008

you went to my home church too?
yep. with broken limbs. but aren't we all broken?

wait, that's an evanescence song...

scottie | 08:31 pm on 4/16/2008

Yeah...heard it. If you do an online search for satanic symbols it will come up. Then again, who knows the real truth? Seems like in the 80's everything was satanic...even that nasty Christian rock with the satanic drumbeats!!! LOL

taximan | 08:50 pm on 4/16/2008

I remember sitting in a church service once where the minister said that, as he spoke about Satanism. Then his daughter met a Satan worshipper at Bible college and married him. Come to find out 20 years later that he really wasn't a Satan Worshipper, it was just a bad marriage, and she used that as an excuse to run from it. What does all that have to do with an upside down cross. You tell me and we'll both know.

fester60613 | 01:20 pm on 4/17/2008

I heard that upside down cross crap consistently - and was even castigated by a deacon at my mother's church for wearing a peace symbol pendant (along with my snazzy white dicky and black Nehru jacket!) to church on a Sunday morning.

I took it off - but, along with my best friends Ben and Dan, continued for years to wear it under my shirt and tie... after Nehru jackets were banned because those emmisaries of Satan, the Beatles, were wearing them.

Ah - the glories of secret defiance of one's elders!

Questioner | 08:31 pm on 4/15/2008

Instead of "will work for food" or "Will pray for Peace;" as one who had just missed the last fiasco (Viet-Nam), how about "Will not kill for Peace?" And while we are on war protest songs, I suggest those my age remember that golden oldie from WW1, " I Didn't Raise My Son To Be A Soldier."

taximan | 10:43 pm on 4/16/2008

Have you ever seen "Johnny Got His Gun"?

Questioner | 08:36 pm on 4/15/2008

Oh, by the way the upside down cross idea was a long stretch. There is no fun in fundy.

taximan | 10:45 pm on 4/16/2008

Somethings are just coincidental, unless you believe in synchronicity.

that calvinist doug | 07:43 am on 4/17/2008

I believe in Synchronicity, but I prefer Zenyatta Mondatta and Ghost in the Machine.

Bob Gersztyn | 04:30 pm on 4/18/2008

I guess you didn't read the Message in the Bottle.

that calvinist doug | 08:52 am on 4/21/2008

I got it, but when my friend the volleyball read it, he said it was from the devil, so we burned it.

taximan | 06:57 am on 4/22/2008

That reminds me of the Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, on John Wesley Harding.

pk | 11:24 pm on 4/15/2008

Please don't reach out to a younger demographic. You know what the younger demographic responds to? Johnny Cash after they took away everything but his guitar and his regrets. Be who you are. Be real. Talk about the past. Talk about what influenced you. Talk about how you've changed. Talk about how hard it is. Do not go the way of the London 2012 logo. And if you do, do not blame it on us.

taximan | 10:58 pm on 4/16/2008

Johnny Cash without his guitar and regret might be able to win American Idol.

jiduns | 02:25 am on 4/16/2008

Haven't heard "Fixin' to Die Rag" for 40 years. Maybe it should be updated for Iraq.

taximan | 10:59 pm on 4/16/2008

There is a version that is. Joe used Iran for Viet Nam when he sang it live.

ron zur | 08:38 am on 4/16/2008

The peace symbol was to my understanding the broken cross of Nero of Rome. I ALSO wore the peace symbol on my fathers army jacket. Would i do it today no way.

taximan | 11:02 pm on 4/16/2008

Look at the way that Christianity ripped off and modified the Ankh from Egyptian religion.

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