Photos with Stories

In the late 1960s I became fascinated with Gerald Holtom's new symbol for peace. Everywhere I went I saw it in various artistic forms. Signs and symbols will always have an emotional rather than factual appeal. Holtom's peace symbol, like the old Indian peace sign - turned into the Swastika in the 1930's - demonstrated this. So I began photographing it then, and am still photographing it in all its variations 50 years later. During the Vietnam and Iraq wars, anti-war protesters displayed the peace symbol on banners and placards. College students adorned VW bugs and buses (and even their own faces) with colorful peace signs. School children marched carrying painted peace murals. Look around today and you will see peace symbols on front lawns, on car bumpers and on clothes. Here are a few of my favorite photographs (and one from a friend) and the stories behind them.

16 Peace Flags
Photo by Ken Kolsbun

The Peace Movement underwent a renaissance on November 15, 1969 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park' when up to 350,000 people from all walks of life and widely varying political persuasions marched, rallied and staged the biggest anti-war demonstration ever seen in the West. In this photo, a family wrapped themselves in the American flag with the peace symbol affixed in place of the stars. At that time people could be arrested for improperly using the flag. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 25, 1974 (Spence v. Washington) a state couldn't stop an individual from expressing his/her feelings by affixing such items as peace symbols to an American flag.

30 Baguettes
Photo by Ken Kolsbun

On February 16, 2003, just days prior to the Bush Administration invasion of Iraq, over 200,000 young and old - from all religious beliefs came to San Francisco to show their support for peace. Despite the seriousness of the upcoming war, the crowd had "a carnival-like atmosphere". These peace baguettes arrived not to feed the crowd but rather to boldly and deliciously show their support. The world-renowned Alice Water's of Chez Panisee restaurant had the baguettes baked.

24 License Plate
Photo by Leah Kramer

The June 1970 edition of the John Birch Society magazine American Opinion (at the height of the Vietnam War) featured an article that claimed the peace symbol was the anti-Christ symbol and called it the witch's foot (a common symbol of the Devil in the Middle ages). Soon after, bumper stickers, billboards and license plates were seen throughout America carrying that message. Later, the Christian Century, a magazine that examined issues of politics and culture wrote, "The bumper sticker which labels the peace sign as the 'Footprint of the American Chicken' is a sticker which has been distributed by the John Birch Society in an attempt to discredit the peace movement."

23 Volksdragon
Photo by Ken Kolsbun

Between the mid '60s and mid '70s, it seemed like every other VW bug and bus was adorned with interesting and colorful graphics and peace symbol bumper stickers.

Ken Morrison
Photo by Ken Kolsbun

In 1972, my brother-in-law, Ken Morrison a cattle rancher in central California, tried a new approach throughout the family spread by posting several of his hand-painted "peace'" plow discs on the ranch. His mother, a member of an old-time cattle ranching family, became upset and "ordered" Ken to remove his novel creations - which he did "to keep the peace" - except he left a few hidden.

36 Mud Flats
Photo by Ken Kolsbun

During the Vietnam War, students from the San Francisco Bay Area would go the nearby Emeryville Mud Flats, gather up the driftwood and turn them into various sculptures displaying their sentiments for peace. My wife Jann and I happened to drive by one day and captured this Beacon of Hope.

18 Soldier
Photo by Ken Kolsbun

United States Marines in "Nam", as they called it, collected hand grenade cotter pins and rings and bent them into perfect olive drab peace symbols. One Vietnam "lifer" reported, "I saw lots of young marines wearing dozens of these grenade pins on a single strand at a time". Each peace symbol required one grenade ring and two cotter pins.

Why wait for the body bags?