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Peace Talks Radio Host Carol Boss talks with Nikki Henderson and
Kolsbun: He comes knocking on their door and says you know, I think it’s important that we design some graphics that identifies your group. His name was Gerald Holtom. He was an Englishman around 40 years old and he created this very simple symbol and he got the Direct Action Committee approval for it and the march started April 4, 1958. Five thousand people gathered in London and it was a four day march to Aldermaston and that was the beginning.
Ingles: Gerald Holtom’s first design, I read in your book, was a cross, but the churches resisted the idea of him using a cross. Can you tell me more about that?
Kolsbun: Yeah, he first went to the Christian churches and they didn’t want to have anything to do with the march. He thought a cross would work, but then since they didn’t approve of what he was doing, he took the cross and just dropped the arms on it, dropped the arms and came up with this design and put a circle around it. And it just so happened that it turned out to be semaphore letters. The dropping arms stood for “N” in semaphore letters, semaphore language and the vertical line “D” for disarmament, nuclear disarmament.
Ingles: But it’s your understanding that he worked these two concepts at the same time; the idea of a drooping cross per say and the semaphore language.
Ingles: Holtom seemed to think this thing through and even predict how well it would do as an emblem for a movement showing well in marches and on TV and film didn’t he.
Kolsbun: He sure did. I want to read you something that he wrote me in the mid-70s. This is right when he created the symbol and I’ll read what he wrote. He said, “The validity and certainty of this symbol was immediately fixed in my mind. In the morning I made a drawing of it on a small piece of paper the size of a sixpence and pinned it onto the lapel of my jacket and forgot it. Then in the evening I went to the post office. The girl behind the counter looked at me and said, ‘What is that badge that you are wearing?’ I looked down in some surprise and saw the endi symbol pinned on my lapel. I felt rather strange and uneasy wearing a badge. I didn’t like badges and had always avoided wearing them. ‘Oh, that is the new peace symbol’ I said. ‘How interesting. Are there many of them?’” He said, “No, only one, but I expect there will be quite a lot before long.”
Ingles: Yes and he probably wasn’t even thinking as far into the future. Could you open your book to page 41 and read a little bit about the march?
Kolsbun: Okay, here we are. “Nearing Aldermasdon’s Atomic Weapons Research Plant, the core marchers were joined by hundreds more who came by foot, car and bus. Everyone arrived in complete silence. Thousands more lined the road to show their support.” Describing the historic event in the April 17, 1965 edition of the Saturday Review, Norman Moss wrote; “By the end of the march on Easter Monday, 10,000 people were standing in a wet and chilly field opposite the barbed wire perimeter of the Aldermaston plant to hear the speeches. Something new had happened. The ‘Ban the Bomb’ movement in Britain was a unique phenomenon and an important one. There had been nothing else like it anywhere else in the world. It is a special product of the British circumstance and the British conscience.”
Ingles: Holtom’s peace sign showed up in that march not only on banners but on, I guess what came to be known as lollipops. Can you describe those?
Kolsbun: During the march, Holtom had designed these lollipops and these were the symbol, probably a foot wide, on steaks and people carried them with them and it was very, very graphic. Something about the symbol, it’s so easy to identify it. As a graphic artist he could see the power of this and how it could be set in people’s minds. They looked like a lollipop, and it was a very effective way of communicating the message.
In the book, we show that very famous photograph by Life magazine Larry Burrows, he took that photograph and you can see these thousands of people gathered and they’re holding these 30’, 40’ long banners that said, “Nuclear Disarmament” with the peace symbol. Well that photograph was interesting because it showed up in our Life magazine about ten days later and that’s how the symbol got over to America.
Ingles: I was intrigued by the description of another item that Holtom and another artist came up with for a march slightly later on; the small, white, ceramic discs.
Kolsbun: Yeah, that was really quite interesting. I can read that part. This I think was an incredible idea. It reads, “A few months after the 1958 march, Holtom met ceramic artist Eric Austin. For the second Aldermaston march in 1959, now run by the campaign for nuclear disarmament, Eric made some small, white, ceramic discs on which he painted the peace symbol in black slip and then fired them and attached pins with adhesive on the backside. The badges were distributed bearing a frightening message, quote: ‘In the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno.’”
Ingles: How did your communication with Gerald Holtom, the designer of the peace sign come about in the mid-1970s?
Kolsbun: My wife and I went to marches in the late ‘60s, and I was photographing the symbol. Since I was a landscaping architect, I liked symbols and the more I photographed it, the more I became interested in the symbol. I began to do some research on it and ultimately found that he was a designer living in England.
So I put together my first manuscript in the early ‘70s. I had accumulated a lot more information, and then in the mid-70s, I found out where he lived and I sent the manuscript to him and he critiqued it and gave me a lot more information. That’s the first time I got to know him. I never met him personally, but later on of course I got more information.
He had died ten years later, but through his second marriage, I was in touch with his son Darius and daughter Rebecca. In turn they provided me with a lot of photographs, some which are in the book here, and information, his diary, personal notes, and a lot of that information ultimately went into this current book. So he was quite a person. I really wish I had known him. He was a philosopher, an artist, creative thinker. I think I idolize him.
Ingles: What did you learn about him from corresponding with him?
Kolsbun: That he was quite intellectual, that he had his up’s and down’s. He had financial problems. He was a textile designer; did large curtains for churches. But there was, in his first marriage, I think he was saying that the pressure was being put on him because he had devoted so much time to the first Aldermaston march and he put up a lot of his own money for it, and he said that it looked like it had an impact on his first marriage.
Ingles: Holtom started calling the peace symbol a despair symbol. Why do you suppose he did that?
Kolsbun: I believe it was that he could see ahead; that unless we got this nuclear thing under control, it really felt helpless and despair. He associated depression with it. He said that in his letters; he felt quite often despair. He just felt almost hopeless at times.
Ingles: Did that lead to his late in life suggestion that the peace symbol be inverted?
Kolsbun: His original thoughts were actually unilateral nuclear disarmament and then if you just take the “U” and the “D” and flip the symbol upside down, that was his original thought; unilateral nuclear disarmament. In fact, from a graphic standpoint, in the current symbol that everyone sees where it droops down, there’s an association of man’s eyes. I don’t think he was aware of that at the time, but his original thoughts were unilateral nuclear disarmament, but he dropped the unilateral on the banners because he felt that it was too much for people to grasp.
Ingles: I read in your book Ken that he had a wish to have his headstone engraved with the inverted peace symbol, but it never came about did it.
Kolsbun: Right. To me that was a sad event and I tried to find out from the family what happened there. Someone probably dropped the ball on it, but at least the symbol did get on there, but of course he was reverting back to his original thought of unilateral disarmament.
Ingles: Ken Kolsbun, Gerald certainly lived long enough to see his symbol proliferate. Do you know how he felt about it, seeing it all over the world in so many contexts?
Kolsbun: Well I know he was certainly happy about it, but I don’t have anything in writing from him that specifically says he was jumping with joy, but I know he was such a peace man that I’m sure he was very happy about it.
Thinking of the symbol, I call it the chameleon-like symbol because it was originally anti-nukes and then it went to anti-war, the Vietnam War, then Greenpeace picked it up and used the symbol, added their little bit to it, Civil Rights, the Women Strike for Peace, all these organizations. Even more recently CODEPINK has used the symbol.
I don’t know if he thought back then that that many people and that many organizations would pick it up and use it, but it certainly proved to be a very powerful image.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Leigh Golterman, manager of
Ingles: Leigh Golterman manages an organization called Peace Please. Leigh, thanks for talking with me on Peace Talks Radio today.
Golterman: Hey, it’s my pleasure. Thank you Paul.
Ingles: Leigh, is it fair to say that you’ve had an important relationship with the peace symbol for some time now?
Golterman: You know, I guess you could say that. It’s interesting, I’ve been in the corporate world and doing all those things and back in 2000, I went over to the Middle East to Jerusalem to try and find a way to combine the internet and peace and I came back, actually I was scheduled to come back to New York on September 11, 2001, and at that point the drums of war started beating and that’s when the foundations of Peace Please kind of came together.
Ingles: So you actually were held up because of September 11th?
Golterman: I was. I was. I was flying back that evening and didn’t end up coming back, I guess for about three or four days or something like that.
Ingles: So tell us then what you were moved to do in about 2002 or so.
Golterman: Sure, well you know, after September 11th and with the Afghan War and such, all of a sudden drums were beating for Iraq, so I was protesting just as an individual and I realized that all the signs were quite angry; using expletives and such and I thought you know, if we want to do something positive, if we want to create peace or stop a war, we need to get some positive messages out there. So I put “Peace Please” on the front and created a shirt; one with the Jefferson quote and one with the earth on it with a peace symbol over it, and people responded to them. Like me, they were looking for some positivity out there in kind of a dark time.
Ingles: What was that Jefferson quote?
Golterman: The Jefferson quote said, “Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy and I wish that we may be permitted to pursue it.”
Ingles: Nice. Was there really an absence of the peace symbol itself in rallies at that time?
Golterman: You know there was. I have to say that I think I really brought it to the streets here in New York in any case and actually in Washington, D.C. Like I say, the messages and such were all really quite negative, quite angry and certainly there was reason to be angry, but the peace symbol outside, the old hippies with their ‘60s shirts or such, that was about that time. So when I made those shirts, I remember one rally we sold 600 shirts in about two hours. I think there was just a dearth of anything that people could bring out with that kind of symbol, with that message.
Ingles: Well I’m looking at your website and some of the items you’ve offered through the years, t-shirts that say; “Peace is Active,” “Peace is a Decision.” Here’s one that says, “Let’s Try Peace” with the peace symbol and the white dove of peace over the globe as you mentioned, Israeli, Palestinian flags that say, “Support Sanity, Justice, Peace, Life.” What else? “War Off, Peace On.” You’ve had some fun with this it looks like.
Golterman: We have. We have. Over time different messages seem to resonate depending on what was going on. We have our peace army shirt that says, “War is not the way,” and some of those other shirts that you mentioned just trying to get different messages out at different times. I remember when we did one in English and Arabic which just said, “Enough.” At that point, I think that was probably five years on into the war, we were all feeling like we were banging our heads on the wall a little bit and nothing was happening. I think that brought out the frustration. It was a hugely popular shirt at that moment.
Ingles: Yeah. Of course there are t-shirts and bumper stickers and buttons. I’m looking at your website. I don’t know if all of these items are still available, but you’ve had an indoor/outdoor peace light, a peace tote bag, mirror art, necklaces and pendants and sterling rings. What have been top sellers?
Golterman: The peace light is hugely popular. I remember people would keep sending me emails and say, “We’re trying to find a peace light. What can we do?” And I would always instruct them to take a hanger and take some lights and string them around it and finally, after about a couple of years of that, I said I think we need to do something to make it easier for folks, so we introduced the light as an LED and low electricity usage. It’s been hugely popular.
Simply the sterling pendants, it’s interesting that back when I started this, I would walk the New York Trade Show just trying to find a peace symbol and at that time, about 2002 – 2003, I think there was one in the whole place and there are hundreds and hundreds of vendors in there. So we had to end up making a lot of these things that you’ll see on the site because there just was nothing out there and we tried to find different media or different ways that people could get the peace out there.
Over time everything has had its rise and fall or becomes popular or not. Who can be sure what reason, but whether it’s the magnets or the stickers or the pins or the scarves, everything becomes popular for a time.
Ingles: Who makes the stuff?
Golterman: A lot of it is made here in the states. We try to use local vendors as best we can. We’ve got some artisans in Upstate New York that are making hand-carved peace symbols. We’ve got a family that makes necklaces and pendants out of the Woodstock Peace Fence, the actual Woodstock Peace Fence. The lights unfortunately are made in China. We couldn’t find an American company to make them for us without subcontracting it to China. As best we can we try to use local vendors.
Ingles: Over the years, have you made some profit after paying the vendors and artisans? How profitable has it been and what have you done with your profits?
Golterman: I always say we’re not in the war business. If we were in the war business, we’d be making money hand over fist. In the peace business, it’s a little bit of a harder sell, but we make some money. We are a not just for profit. So basically we’re kind of like a Robin Hood for peace. What we bring in, we give out again to organizations that are out there promoting peace or working for peace. It’s not something we do for the money. It’s not something you can really subsist on, but it’s something that we hope helps the cause out there by giving money to groups that are doing good work out there.
Ingles: They say the same thing about public radio. You know that saying, there’s hundreds of dollars to be made in public radio.
Golterman: Exactly. It’s similar to that I’d have to say, but it definitely feels good for the soul. There’s something to be said for that.
Ingles: Yeah. You told me earlier that sales of your peace symbol items trended down after some years. When did that happen and why do you think?
Golterman: I think it happened in 2008 and it really was dual reasons. I think that’s about when the economy started to go southwards a little bit. Just like any kind of store, I guess you could call Peace Please a store in one sense, our sales were hit. So that was one effect.
And I think it was also about 2008 that peace became fashionable. The peace sign was on everything. Back in the day, as I say, you couldn’t find a peace symbol to save your life more or less. Next thing you knew, you’d walk into Wal-Mart and you’d see peace signs and you knew that there had been some kind of sea change there. I think that was about 2008 where really it became a fashionable item whereas we were once one of the few places to go for peace items, now you could go into any shop in your local community and that’s okay. Obviously from a business point of view, it wasn’t good for us, but it was great to see, just in a societal sense, that peace was really becoming visible out there.
Ingles: What do you think is behind the peace symbol being marketed in fashion to young people, especially young girls I’d say?
Golterman: I have to think that really it came from the kids. I was speaking to some friends in fashion and it was with the children’s clothes where the peace symbol started first being used. It wasn’t really the adult clothes so much, although there were always some companies like Lucky Jeans or such that had used the peace symbol, but it really started with the kids clothes and we really see from ourselves that, for the children, the peace symbol means something and it’s really internalized. I think as the company started getting the feedback that children were interested in peace, it really just took off. As I say, my feeling is that it stemmed from the children. It rose from the children and just went out from there.
Ingles: Well, let’s explore that a little bit. What do you think that means? What are the kids trying to say by gravitating towards a peace sign?
Golterman: You know, I think the kids really understand the concept of peace. If you look at this generation right now, any child that’s 12, 11, 10 years old, has never lived in our country at peace. We’ve always been at war since Afghanistan. I think somehow this country tends to ignore war and it tends to ignore what’s going on, but somehow I feel that the children really get it and I think somehow they look at the peace symbol as a symbol of what they want in this world. If you talk to the younger generation, they really say, “I want peace.” “This is the lifestyle we’re looking for.” That’s what I hear. Somehow it’s been driven that way.
Ingles: How do you weigh the probability that somebody who’s not giving their profits to peace is having so much success with the peace symbol?
Golterman: As I say, from a business point of view, I guess I should be bitter, but I think from a societal point of view, I think it’s a good thing. What we’ve always been trying to do is get peace visible out there and just get that peace symbol out with the belief that when people see it, even if it’s just for a nanosecond, the peace symbol has a meaning and I think if people internalize that, even just for that little bit, you can create a change. You can create a change. Get it in people’s minds that there is a different option to everything else we’re seeing out there. So, as I say, from a business point of view perhaps it’s not a great thing, but I think societal it’s great to see the peace symbol out there. I have to believe that as you look at the statistics now, the majority of people are against the Afghanistan War, it’s all connected. It is all connected. People are speaking for what they want.
Ingles: Leigh Golterman is talking with us. How come no peace symbols in the boys department of these stories do you think?
Golterman: Oh is that true? I’m not sure. You do see the peace symbol on little guys shirts and things like that, maybe not so much on the bathing suits. Our society is targeted towards girls. I have to believe that, even at a younger age, we’re pushing the girls to be the purchasers in our society.
Ingles: Who is wearing your products and using your products primarily?
Golterman: It’s really different depending on what you’re doing. We’ve had sales in every state throughout the country and tens of countries around the world. Who is the average customer? If you go the rallies, we’re selling to kids through elderly folks. The t-shirts are really eaten up by everyone. It’s a broad audience. I have to say just from anecdotal, a lot of grandma’s call in for their kids and grandkids and are looking for bracelets or necklaces or such for the children who are looking for peace items.
Ingles: Are all these items still largely available?
Golterman: Yes, they are. Everything you see on the website, everything that we picture is available.
Ingles: You chose this term, “Peace Please.” What was motivating your thinking? You said something about the angry tone. Make the connection there with the words that you chose.
Golterman: It was the rhythm of it that I appreciated. Over time some people have said to me, the hardcore activists have said, we love what you do, we like your slogans or we like your wording, but we just don’t like that “please.” I always say that when I was growing up that when my mom said “please” she meant it. That was when we had to take her seriously. It’s a plea, it’s a request, it’s trying to put some positivity on a real negative issue out there. It just spoke to us. It spoke to me and that’s where it came from.
Ingles: Well in our house, when kids say “please” they get what they ask for.
Golterman: There you go. Let’s hope that sooner or later the powers that be start paying attention to us. It’s long due time now. Let’s hope. Let’s hope.
Ingles: Leigh Golterman manages an organization called Peace Please. They offer a lot of items with the peace symbol on it and then they donate profits to peace organizations around the world. Leigh Golterman, thanks so much for talking with us today on Peace Talks Radio.
Golterman: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.