The CND Symbol

During my days as an undergraduate, I decided to add a few ‘button badges’ to my rucksack. There were various places on our campus where you could purchase badges with pop-stars and messages. I bought one with a little picture of the musician Prince – my absolute favourite – and a couple with pithy phrases written on them. I also bought a badge with the CND symbol.

One of my Christian friends challenged me about this. He explained that the CND symbol was based on a broken cross and so shouldn’t be worn by someone to whom the cross of Christ was precious. I found out, many years later, that my friend was wrong about the origins of the famous circle and lines.

A little reading of Wikipedia provides the most common explanation of how the image came about. The designer of the symbol was Gerald Holtom, a British professional artist. He sketched the design in 1958, trying and rejecting various cross motifs in a circle. Finally, he settled on combining the semaphore letters ‘N’ and ‘D’ (standing for ‘Nuclear’ and ‘Disarmament’) and so the famous emblem was born. No-one had asked Gerald to do this. He brought his design to the first meeting of the London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament where it was applauded, adopted and, eventually, ‘badgified’ – if I might create and use such a word!? Gerald didn’t copyright his design and it has become more widely known around the world as simply, ‘the peace symbol’.

But, it seems that there is yet more to be discovered about where the CND symbol came from. Holtom himself gave a different account of its realisation. He wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, and explained his idea in the following way:

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.

When I first read Holtom’s moving words, I thought of Christ’s enigmatic proclamation: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The CND symbol is not a broken cross, rather, it captures the moment just before we see and understand the cross. It captures the realisation that all is not well with humankind. It captures the realisation that we need salvation. It captures the truth that we are helpless in our own strength. It captures an appeal for mercy in a merciless world. It captures the moment of surrender to the Divine. It captures the bodily shape of the poor in spirit.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The plaintive cry of the CND symbol is answered by the cross of Jesus. The raised arms of the Saviour on the cross proclaim: there is a problem, there is a hope, there is a strength, there is a mercy, there is a kingdom.


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