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Easter has been connected with the peace movement ever since people first went on a 50 mile “Easter March” from London on Good Friday in 1958 to demonstrate against nuclear weapons. So this week marks the 50th birthday of the peace sign, one of the most universally recognized symbols there is.

peaceIt was designed by Gerald Holtom from London who based it on the flag-signalling alphabet, with N (for nuclear) and D (for disarmament) inside a circle symbolising our Earth.

I remember seeing the sign a lot as a child in Washington during the Vietnam War era, when it came to represent the whole hippie movement. How I worshipped the hippies and everything they stood for, and how I hated the war, which was all over the media. Anti-war demonstrators sometimes blocked the roads in protest to bring public life to a halt, sitting peacefully in the middle of them in their colorful clothes in a gesture of nonviolent civil disobedience. The schoolbus would be stuck in traffic, and we children would be hours late for school.

I remember the nervousness at home when the first Vietnam draft lottery of 1969 called all men born between 1944 and 1950. That included three of my four brothers, so you can imagine how worried my family was. It was a lottery, so you could get lucky and not be chosen, but as they say, “better safe than sorry”: three of my brothers went abroad to finish school and begin their college studies, which made them exempt from the draft. I remember a girl in my youth group wearing an armband with her dad’s name and the initials “POW/MIA” engraved in it. She didn’t know whether he was a prisoner of war or missing in action. As a result of all of the anti-war protests, the draft ended in 1973 and the US converted to an all-volunteer military. But as we all know, that didn’t end the worries of American families and their sons about the American government and its military engagements abroad.

Today the ripe old peace symbol seems to hark back to simpler days. Where can you find peace today, in this globalized world? US soldiers have been in Iraq now for 5 years and I want them out. But what will happen when my government withdraws them? I’m against this war because I don’t think you can import democracy to a country. Democracy needs a whole people and generations of practice to survive. Democracy is not exactly our human default mode.So this Easter, I’m thinking of the Iraqis and our soldiers – and worrying about the people of Tibet, frustrated with nonviolence. All these people are losing their lives because it is so hard to do what should be so simple: cultivating togetherness and living with each other in peace.

  • Way back before the counterculture movement, there was Tom Lehrer, Harvard math professor, satirical genius songwriter and life-long pacifist. His “MLF Lullaby” referred to the German government’s Cold War drive for atomic rearmament of 1959/60. Don’t miss: “Who’s Next?” Living history: Tom Lehrer will be 80 on 9 April 2008.

Learning the ropes – Vokabeln verstehen

Easter – Ostern
Good Friday – Karfreitag
march – Marsch
universally recognized – universell bekannt
disarmament – Abrüstung
nonviolent – gewaltlos
civil disobedience – ziviler Ungehorsam
to worship – hier: anhimmeln
draft – Einberufungsbescheid
lottery -Lotto
safe than sorry – Vorsicht is besser als Nachsicht
abroad – ins/im Ausland
exempt from – ausgenommen von, befreit
ripe old – reifes, altes
to hark back to – zurückgreifen
default mode – Standardeinstellung
a people – ein Volk
togetherness – Miteinander eggsEaster eggs from Lithuania (Anthology of Lithuanian Culture)


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