The History of the Peace Hand Sign

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The peace hand sign -- also called the "V" symbol -- is most often associated with Winston Churchill as a symbol for victory, but the sign has also had other associations. It may come as a surprise that its use is believed to date back to 1415, according to University of Southampton military historian Anne Curry. Use of the “V” as a hand gesture first occurred after the smaller English army of archers handily beat the much larger French army, perhaps using the hand gesture in a rude manner, and it was "during the ensuing celebrations and [Henry V's] archers inadvertently invented the V symbol," Curry states in her article, "Agincourt -- Exploding the Myth."

1940 to 1945

  • In January of 1941, a Belgian politician named Victor de Laveleye, suggested using the "V" symbol to stand for defiance and solidarity, based on the French word "victoire," which means victory, and also from the Dutch word, "vrijheid," which means freedom, as stated in the article, "V for Victory: Celebrating a Gesture of Solidarity and Defiance," by Alfred Eisenstadt in Life Magazine. Then, in July of 1941, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill began using the hand symbol to represent “V for Victory.” During this time, the symbol was also turned into a double "V" by African Americans to symbolize victory against racism in the United States as well as victory against the Axis powers, in the article, "From Churchill to Libya: How the V Symbol Went Viral," in a Washington Post opinion piece by Nathaniel Zelinsky.

1945 to the 1970s U.S. Presidential Usage

  • After World War II ended, the meaning of the hand symbol was modified to celebrate electoral victories, and U.S. Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon used this hand sign. Nixon also used the hand signal during his 1974 resignation as president, displaying the "V" with both hands to alleviate his disgrace and also to symbolize victory, states Zelinsky in The Washington Post.

1960s and the 1970s

  • The Washington Post also relates information from the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s, college students and protestors began using the hand sign symbol to oppose the Vietnam War. It was during this era that the peace meaning of the hand symbol emerged. In 1969, Yasser Arafat adopted the hand sign to represent Palestine’s struggle against Israel. In the 1970s, the Lebanese people used the hand sign, as did a Palestinian terrorist group, which was known as the Black September Group. By the end of the 1970s, the Iranian people also used the sign as a symbol of revolt against the then-Shah of Iran.

The 1980s

  • In Europe in the 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used the "V" symbol to represent victory during the Falklands War to motivate her troops. Also during this time, Polish Solidarity activists used this symbol against the Soviets. The hand sign was also seen at East German freedom rallies during the collapse of the Berlin Wall, according to The Washington Post.

The 2000s to the 2010s

  • In the 2000s, the hand symbol was also used in Iraq and Iran as a symbol of revolt during elections, and is still used as a sign of protest against government by the peoples of several countries in the Middle East today, states The Washington Post.

Use in Japanese Culture

  • The peace hand sign has also played a role in Japanese culture since the late 1960s. It first appeared in Japanese manga comics in 1968. In 1972, use of the symbol became widespread after U.S. figure skater Janet Lynn lost the gold medal during the Sapporo, Japan Winter Olympics, but she smiled instead of looking disappointed. This impressed the Japanese people so much that they idolized Lynn, and the "V" hand sign then spread rapidly in Japan, according to the article, "Have You Ever Wondered Why East Asians Spontaneously Make V-Signs in Photos?" by Stephanie Burnett in Time Magazine. In the 1980s, the symbol was further popularized by Japanese and other Asian media and advertising, and is commonly displayed when Asians pose for photographs.

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  • Photo Credit Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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