Five years after founding The Gratitude Campaign, I've received over 10,500 e-mails, and 1,500 comments on YouTube. It seems that there is a lot to talk about with regard to gratitude for those who serve; not the least of which is the ever present challenge of understanding how to keep the politics out of it. Hopefully this blog will give us an opportunity for some rational, reasonable, and respectful discussion. I hope you'll join us...

~Scott Truitt, FOUNDER


Thursday, September 1, 2011

On The Peace Sign

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.”


  1. I can understand your reasoning but think that since this site is for the vets, anything that could offend them should be removed. Regardless of your explanation, the symbol means what it means to the vets. (Under other circumstances, would you keep a swastika up with the explanation that it meant something entirely different prior to 1934? I think not. ) To remove it is a perfect harmless thing to do. To keep it up may cause angst and anger. It's your call.

  2. It seems to me that you went though an overly long and torturous explanation to justify using an offensive symbol on your website. I would also like to know why you thought it necessary to hide it under your logo? If you want to use it use it openly. It's not good for the cause you purport to proclaim to have anything that might point to a hidden agenda, whether real or imagined. Not only is it not good but just plain dumb.

  3. RE: Comment #1: For those who have never created a campaign that has touched literally millions of people, "removing anything that could offend" sounds like a simple solution. Please trust me when I tell you that it is anything but simple.

    Unfortunately, the reality is that in order to do anything that truly connects with people on an emotional level -- that makes them want to take positive action -- you risk offending someone else. That is a risk that we take respectfully, deliberately, and consciously.

    RE: Comment #2: We did not "hide" the symbol. The concept of promoting Peace as a means of supporting those who serve is an initiative that we are still developing. It is not a primary feature of our campaign at the moment. The rollover is a "teaser" -- a hint of things to come. If we intended to hide it, we simply wouldn't have it on our web site at all, and I certainly wouldn't have called your attention to it with a post on our blog, Facebook, and/or Twitter.

    We are proud of this concept, and we will continue to facilitate the dialogue around it. I'm sorry that you're finding it challenging at present. I hope that will change over time...

  4. It doesn't sound like a campaign promoting pure gratitude, but one promoting "gratitude" with the aim of "shifting our thinking". It doesn't matter what pop culture is doing. Putting up a symbol that so clearly (and understandably) offends the very people you purport to be thankful for, doesn't sound very grateful to me. Why can't you just stop at the original concept - a gratitude campaign - and stop trying to indoctrinate those who have served this country to your way of thinking? These veterans don't need another opportunity to change how they feel. They just need to be honored and respected.
    -R Swenson

  5. You got caught. Now you are trying to justify yourself and cover your insensitive actions by hiding behind high sounding words. Thats all they are. We've heard them before. If you realy mean what you say pull down the offensive peace sign. Most of us are tired of verbose pseudo intellectuals trying to tell us what we should do or feel. Garbage!

  6. I think it's a lovely idea and one that I hold very dearly myself. I support our military men and women but yet would prefer that they not have to give their lives for our freedom and safety. Unfortunately, at times, it is impossible not to fight. Please do not be discouraged. There is no way to please everyone and hopefully these vets who feel hurt will come to realize the spirit in which your symbol was used. Keep up the good work. We need more goodness like this in our lives.

  7. R Swenson: I'd like to suggest that you re-read the blog. It is not the Veterans' awareness that we are trying to shift. We have not walked in their shoes, and we would never presume to tell them how they should feel about their expeirence. It is the awareness of present and future civilians that we are talking about; presumably, your awareness.

    You don't have to agree with us. I just hope that you'll actually consider what we've said before you dismiss it.

  8. Growing up on military bases, I understood at an early age that military personnel go where they are most needed. During the Vietnam era, that seemed to mean far away in the jungle. While I was enjoying my first year at college, many of my friends died in Vietnam, several came home with terrible disabilities. It was my honor to visit, play checkers with, decorate wards for holidays, and write letter’s for the soldiers who were in Oak Knoll Naval Hospital recovering from their wounds. Words cannot express my disgust for the protestor’s of that era. The peace symbol in question here, was always on their posters, vans, tee shirts, etc. To this day, I detest that it. Every time I see this symbol those roudy, lazy, cowards, pop into my mind. Had I seen that symbol on The Gratitude Campaign website I would NEVER have gotten involved. Explain all you will, but you can never change this sow’s ear into a silk purse. Get rid of it! Janet

  9. Why don't you put up a few pictures of Jane Fonda while you are at it? I am sure "pop culture" views her differently now versus the days she was collaborating with the North Vietnamese.

  10. Please take the peace symbol off the site. No amount of explaining your "reasoning" will change the minds of so many Vietnam veterans who remember this sign worn by the people calling them "baby killers". It has no place on any VFW web site.


One of the things that we at The Gratitude Campaign are most grateful for is our Freedom of Speech. But with Freedom comes responsibility. We ask that you keep your comments constructive and respectful to others. Disagreement is fine -- in fact, we celebrate it. Let's just show that we can disagree peacefully and respectfully.

Out of respect to the families of those who have served and struggled, please do not use last names when referring to Service Members. Posts with last names may be removed.