The History of the Peace Hand Sign

The hand sign that denotes "peace" (the first and second figures raised in a V) is one of the most recognizable gestures of the 20th century. However, the gesture first arose in a time of war.

  1. V for Victory

    • In 1941, a Belgian refugee in England made a BBC broadcast to his countrymen urging them to take up the letter "V" as a symbol of defiance against the Nazis. The man, a member of the exiled Belgian government named Victor de Lavaleye, said he chose "V" as a "rallying emblem" because it was the first letter of the word "Victoire" in French, "Vrijheid" in Flemish and "Victory" in English. The idea spread across England and the Nazi-occupied territories, thanks in large part to the BBC, which asked listeners to chalk the mark "V" wherever they could.

    Winston Churchill

    • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also helped publicize the V for Victory hand sign. He adopted the habit of flashing the sign whenever photographers were near. However, to the dismay of his handlers, Churchill began by making the gesture with his palm facing inward, which is considered a rude gesture in England. Eventually, Churchill switched to making the sign with his palm facing out.

    Anti-war Movement

    • During the protests against the Vietnam War, some protesters began using the V for Victory hand sign to denote "peace" instead of war. John Lennon got into the habit of making the gesture for photographers, just as Churchill once had. Ironically, Nixon was also using the symbol at the same time to mean "victory."

    Today

    • The V for Victory sign is now recognized around the world and was flashed by female voters leaving the polling stations during Iraq's first free elections. The sign is also recognized in many parts of the world as a symbol of peace. In Japan and other parts of Asia, people often make the gesture in photographs, often without knowing exactly why. Some theorize that the habit derives from a peace sign flashed by U.S. figure skater Janet Lynn when she fell on the ice during the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.

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  • Photo Credit peace sign with hands image by timur1970 from Fotolia.com

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