I’ve received a couple of comments recently from Vietnam Vets who are offended by a feature on our web site. It’s a sort-of hidden feature, which many of you have probably not even seen: If you roll your curser over our logo in the upper left side of the page, it turns into a Peace sign. Seeing this, and hearing that it may offend some Vietnam Veterans might lead one to ask, “Why is it there? What does the Peace sign have to do with showing gratitude to those who serve? Why would it offend Veterans? And if it does offend some Veterans, why would you keep it there?” I felt like it was time to answer some of those questions. Addressing the issue in a somewhat chronological order, I’ll begin with why it offends some Veterans. So first, a little history:
What we have come to know as the international symbol for Peace actually started in 1958 as a symbol for Nuclear Disarmament – not necessarily “peace”, per se. The symbol was designed by a British designer and artist for a nuclear disarmament rally, and is based on the semaphore signals wherein two flags at 45 degree angles = “N”, and two flags vertically = “D”. The sign was later adopted by anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. For many Veterans returning from Vietnam to a hostile and abusive public, the symbol became the sign for ungrateful, hypocritical, abusive and spoiled draft-dodgers who blamed the warrior for the war. Many Vietnam Vets refer to the symbol as “the footprint of the American Chicken.”
So why, if this symbol offends some Veterans, would we have it on our site? Well, first it is important to recognize that the meanings of symbols in our culture change and evolve over time and circumstance. The swastika, for instance, has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It can be found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, as well as Greek, Roman, Celtic, Baltic, and Slavic cultures, and was generally used as a sign of good luck. It is only since Hitler adopted it as a symbol for the Nazi party in 1920 that much of the world has come to see it as a symbol for fascism and racial prejudice. Perhaps one day, with enough time and distance from WWII, its meaning will shift back to what it was for the majority of its history. That is our hope and expectation for the Peace symbol. While that symbol may hold some negative connotations for Vietnam Vets who were disrespected and mistreated upon their return from Vietnam, for the majority of the world, and especially for younger generations who do not remember Vietnam, it is a symbol for Peace (not to be confused with anti-war).
So what does that have to do with showing gratitude to those who serve? Let me ask you this: If we, as civilians, truly want to support those who serve, wouldn’t the most supportive thing be to do everything that we can to prevent the need to send them into battle? To avoid risking their lives as best we possibly can? Now, let me be clear here: I’m not talking about the “bring the troops home and let the chips fall where they may” approach of the anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. I’m talking about civilians taking more personal responsibility for when, where, how, and why we send our troops into battle, and making different lifestyle choices that reduce the likelihood of going to war in the future. What those choices are, specifically, and how we can reduce the likelihood of war in the future without sacrificing our national interests and national security remains to be discovered. But it is a dialogue that we are opening up with the followers of our campaign, with government officials, and with academics and consultants. It is a dialogue whose time has come.
Generally speaking, and always with exception, those who have supported Peace in the past have not supported our Troops. And those who support our Troops typically have not been big supporters of Peace. Many see Peace as weakness – an unwillingness to fight for what is right. The truth is that we all want Peace. We just have different ways of achieving it. Some opt for the “turn the other cheek” approach, while others prefer to “walk softly and carry a big stick”. We are suggesting that we can support Peace because we support our Troops, and we don’t want to put their lives at risk frivolously or recklessly. We know that there are times and places when we must stand up and fight for what we as a society feel is right. We’d just like to see those times being fewer and farther between, until perhaps one day we will “fight no more forever.”
Forty years ago the Peace sign had mixed and somewhat contradictory connotations to it depending on an individual’s personal experiences with it. The sign is now experiencing resurgence in pop culture, appearing on t-shirts, shoe laces, jewelry, bumper stickers – pretty much anything that can be printed, stamped or forged – and it is generally viewed by most today as an international symbol for Peace. It is not, nor has it ever been our intention to offend or ignore those who served and suffered in Vietnam and upon their arrival home. Rather, it is our intention to encourage people to shift their thinking, to shift their awareness, and to consider serving those who serve by making the world a more peaceful place that does not require our service members to, as Douglas MacArthur put it, “…suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”