Paris Peace Sign

“It wasn’t particularly an illustrator’s response - more an instinctive, human reaction. It is an image for everybody”.

JEAN JULLIEN - Paris Friday 13th November 2015

In the immediate hours following the terrorist attack in Paris on Friday 13th November a new image began to appear on the streets of the city. It consisted of an outline of the Eiffel Tower laid over the familiar ‘peace sign’ evoking a sense of unity in the nation, support for the victims and a wish for peace. Even before the details of the atrocity were fully known this simple cartoon was being shared by millions around the world.

Jean Jullien

It was created by Jean Jullien, a 32 year old French graphic designer based in London. On first learning of the attacks Jean took his drawing pad and sketched out the image. He then posted it on his Instagram and Twitter pages…

“It was the most spontaneous thing. I heard the news on the radio, and I had this heartfelt reaction. I wanted to draw something that could symbolize peace and solidarity, and I wanted something with the context of Paris.”

Gerald Holtom

The original image on which the ‘Paris Peace Sign’ is based was first conceived in 1958 by the designer Gerald Holtom as a logo for the recently formed ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ - the CND. Holtom, a pacifist and conscientious objector, based his design around the semaphore flag signals ‘N’, standing for Nuclear and ‘D’ for Disarmament, enclosed in a circle.

CND semaphore

The Semaphore flag signalling system is an alphabet signalling system based on the waving of a pair of hand-held flags in a particular pattern. The flags are held, arms extended, in various positions representing each of the letters of the alphabet. The pattern resembles a clock face divided into eight positions: up, down, out, high, low, for each of the left and right hands.

Gerald Holtom later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of ‘Peace News’, explaining the genesis of his idea…

Goya Firing Squad

“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.”

Holtom original sketch CND Printed symbol

Holtom’s logo was first used over the Easter weekend of 1958 during the CND’s anti-nuclear march from Aldermaston, the home of Britain’s ‘Atomic Weapons Research Establishment’ to London. This march was repeated in various forms until the mid 60’s. The symbol also appeared on clay badges made by Eric Austen of Kensington CND. A note with each badge explained that in the event of a nuclear war these fired pottery items would be among the few human artefacts to survive the atomic inferno - a deadly life-long guarantee!

Aldermaston Marchers

Although specifically designed for the anti-nuclear movement Holtom’s logo was never copyrighted and deliberately so. No one has to pay or to seek permission to use it. Over the years it has become recognised as a ‘peace sign’ - a symbol of freedom and concord. Now this CND symbol has reappeared on the streets of Paris and in the consciousness of all those who condemn terrorism in its many forms. It is ironic that France holds the third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world with up to 240 operational warheads none of which were able to protect the country from the recent horror. I wonder what Gerald Holtom would have made of it.

– from Martyn Day