The Symbol of Oppression

UPDATE: Voted Watcher of Weasels Council Winner 12/26/2008 – I am humbled by the honor.

This symbol represents the oppression of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. It played an important role in the genocide of the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the continuing atrocities in Tibet, Burma and Sudan. Throughout its 50 year history it has been used as a weapon solely against democracies in support of authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. It’s body count is second only to the swastika yet is viewed as a symbol of peace by millions.

The roots of this symbol are soaked in the blood of innocents. The group credited for popularizing the symbol, a stylized combination of the semaphore signals for ‘N’ and ‘D’ (for nuclear disarmament), is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The CND was founded in 1958 by supporters of the Soviet Union including a spy for the East German Stasi, Vic Allen, and Michael Foote, later accused by KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky as being a KGB spy (Foote challenged the claim in UK court as libel and won.) Another member of the CND Granny Melita Norwood was the KGB’s top spy in the UK, passing secrets to them until she was arrested in 1999 at the age of 87 . She died unrepetant and free in 2005. The Mirror wrote at the time  “she never regretted her betrayal and was committed to the Soviet cause and to ‘peace and socialism’ up to her death.” In 1982 Deputy CIA Director John McMahon testified before Congress that the Soviet Union had provided $100,000,000 to anti-nuclear groups including the CND.

High ranking CND members also assisted in the rescue of KGB spy George Blake, who participated in a KGB misinformation ruse that ” systematically misled the West about the economic strength of the Iron Curtain countries.” Had Blake been discovered earlier it could have shortened the Cold War by years. Blake was discovered and jailed but managed to escape to East Berlin with the help of two senior members of the CND.

While most of the rank and file members supported disarmament on both sides of the Iron Curtain, CND actions were focused solely on weakening the US and its Western European allies. CND protests and actions never targeted the Soviet Union, China or other authoritarian regimes seeking or possessing nuclear weapons. It did not protest the placement of nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba in 1961 that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The group did not march against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that brought winter to the freedoms of the Prague Spring. Instead the group sought the unilateral disarmament of the West.

Mr.(Vic) Allen, the retired economics professor, tells the BBC in a coming segment of a series, ‘’The Spying Game,’’ that it was ‘’perfectly legitimate’’ for him to have kept the Soviets informed on his activities, since he represented an openly pro-Soviet wing of the antinuclear movement, which advocated disarmament by the West. ‘’I have no shame,’’ he said. ‘’I have no regrets.’’ (New York Times, Sept. 20, 1999).

The innocuous chicken scratch, the so-called symbol of peace represents nothing less than the capitulation of freedom to slavery, the subjugation of the individual to the State, and the oppression and outright genocide of millions. What is truly frightening is what could have happened had the CND gotten their way and disarmed the West. We recognize today the importance of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that prevented the Cold War from turning into a hot one. CND’s stance of unilateral disarmament would conversely have made a nuclear attack more likely, or at the very least have allowed the Soviet Union to use its vast nuclear arsenal to bully nations into subjugating themselves to its empire.

The impact of the symbol remained limited to the Western nations. The symbol has never been held against forces of dictatorships or non-democratic regimes. For example the Chinese man shown below was not wearing earrings crafted into the symbol nor was he wearing a shirt emblazoned with it.


No one carrying signs bearing this symbol can be seen in this picture taken in August 1968 as Czechs and Slovaks fought the onslaught of Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks rolling into their country.

Soviet Tank in Prague - Copyright 1968 by Koudelka
Source: Movie City Indie: Photo by Josef Koudelka

As the 1960s wore on, the CND gradually splintered into various factions and the symbol was taken up across the Atlantic by Vietnam War protesters. In 1973 their efforts paid off with the withdrawal of US forces out of South Vietnam. In 1975 when the US Congress cut off funding to the regime, South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese and Vietcong forces.

The symbol had triumphed at last, and those who had carried it aloft or worn it at protests could bask in the success by listening to disco music, snorting cocaine and enjoying promiscuous sex oblivious of the consequences of their actions in Southeast Asia. 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians, business leaders and their families were sent to “re-education camps,” subjected to torture, disease and malnutrition. A decade later 120,000 remained in custody and upwards of 65,000 had died during the purges and forced resettlement to the countryside to the cities.

Following the collapse of the South Vietnamese regime, the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot took power in Cambodia. Pot had been supported by China and allied loosely with North Vietnam since 1970 against the pro-Western government in Phnom Penh. On April 17, 1975 Phnom Penh collapsed and surrendered to Khmer Rouge forces. During the take over of Cambodia the Khmer Rouge fully instituted its Maoist philosophy. Cities and villages were depopulated and people were sent to work the fields. Any type of dissent was met with summary execution. By the time relations with Vietnam had soured and its neighbor had invaded, between 1.6 million and 3.0 million had starved or been executed by the increasingly paranoid regime.

Phnomh Penh Skulls

Is it a stretch to link the anti-War movement in US cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York to the piles of skulls that dot the landscape of Cambodia?

Dr. Puangthong Rungswasdisab, Cambodian Genocide Program Research Fellow atYale University in his essay, “Thailand’s Response to the Cambodian Genocide” writes that the sole remaining pro-USA power in the area, Thailand, felt that the US had abandoned the region leaving Thailand no choice but to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge:

The Thai military had always believed that U.S. military power would no doubt defeat the communists in Southeast Asia and that they could rely on the U.S. commitment in the region. But the U.S. failure in the Vietnam War as well as Washington’s shift of focus to the Middle East, Europe and Latin America forced Washington to abandon its full involvement in Southeast Asia. The U.S. signed the Paris Accord with Vietnam in January 1973, and Congress prohibited direct or indirect U.S. combat activities in Indochina after August 1973.


When the situation dispelled all hope for the U.S. military intervention in Indochina, the Thai leaders realized that they had to try to live with communist neighbors. As it became clear in April 1975 that Washington had decided to abandon its client Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam, Kukrit told the press that he had never thought of relying on the U.S.

One can rightfully argue that had the US under presidents Kennedy and Johnson not supported South Vietnam, it’s possible that the North Vietnamese would not have supported the Khmer Rouge initial rise to power. The nation as a whole bears responsibility with the North Vietnamese for the deaths of Vietnamese, Americans, Laotians and Cambodians during the war during the Vietnam conflict.

But opponents of the Vietnam War must shoulder some responsibility for the events that occurred after getting what they wanted: a US government out of Vietnam, legally barred from involvement in Southeast Asia, that created a power vacuum that the Khmer Rouge was only happy to fill. The result? 1.5-3.0 million dead Cambodians, and hundreds of thousands of dead South Vietnamese. President Lyndon Johnson has been called a war criminal by some on the Left. How about Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, John Kerry and other leading anti-war figures? Don’t they bear some responsibility for the genocide that happened after the US left Indochina in 1975?

The CND continues its support of oppressive regimes today, this time by opposing defenses against nuclear missiles. This allies it with its old Cold War paymaster Russia. By opposing the shield it is in effect defending Russian nuclear deterrence.

Today the symbol is a thriving industry of apparel, jewelery and ephemera.

The peace symbol is displayed prominently in our culture, yet few question its origins or consider how a positive symbol could lead to genocide and oppression. But the truth is that Peace has killed in the past in Cambodia and Eastern Europe, continues to kill today in Darfur, Tibet and Burma, and will no doubt continue to kill in the future.

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  6. Kirk Strong:

    I think the peace symbol and its associated movement would not have gained anywhere near as much traction in the U.S. as it did if more people were clear about the distinction between goals and results.

    They are not the same. Peace is a result of standing up for freedom and being willing to fight for it. All sane people want peace, but if we make it a goal, then the inevitable result will be tyranny—as you have so ably pointed out.

    Thank you for an excellent post!

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  8. allahlovesporkchops:

    WOW! I found this site via Right Truth. I’ll be back.

  9. Thomas Jackson:

    Who in the so called anti war movement protested the Cambodian killing grounds, the boat people’s suffering, or the re education camps? Show me an anti war type and I’ll show you a dullard or an Ayer’s follower.

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