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peace signs.

Published by the Anniston Star: Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Written by Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson: Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-Mail: hjackson@jsu.edu.


The 60’s Have Come to This?
“I hate to think that it was just…fashion” – “The Big Chill” (1983”)


That was the plaintive cry of Sarah Cooper, played by Glenn Close, my favorite ‘60s movie, The Big Chill, which really wasn’t about the ‘60s at all. It was about a group of people who had lived together back in those hazy days of sex, rock ‘n roll, hopes and dreams, hanging around after the funeral of a friend who committed suicide, discussing what happened to all those ideals out there in the cold, cold world.
(My favorite of the group is Sarah’s husband, who got rich selling jogging shoes through a chain of stores he named, with a sweet sense of irony, “Running Dog.”)

All this came back to me the other day when my daughter, my princess, age 11, showed me a new bracelet from which dangled a charm. I asked her what it was and she said “a peace sign” and added, “I just love peace signs.”

has it really come to that?
Once, not so long ago it seems, the “peace sign” was a radical statement of opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons. Later it appeared at civil rights rallies, and after that as a symbol of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

I still have an old pea-coat with a peace patch sewn on the shoulder – about the extent of my student radicalism.

The origins of the “sign” are well documented. In 1958, Gerald Holtom, a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CDN), created it for the movement’s demonstration at the British nuclear research facility at Aldermaston. He had considered using a Christian cross, but when some of the ministers he consulted were not comfortable with the idea he decided to combine the semaphore signals for ”N” and “D” to create the symbol.

That origin notwithstanding, as soon as civil rights and anti-Vietnam groups started using the “peace sign,” opponents of those movements began spreading the word that peace was the last thing the sign symbolized.

First considering, without evidence, that Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist – “communist say they are for racial justice, King says he’s for racial justice, so he’s gotta be” – the racist-anti commie lunatic fringe took another leap and reasoned (if reason be the word) that if King is a communist the symbol must be some sorta communist code for something or other.

Or worse yet – since King is a communist, then he can’t be a Christian, so the symbol must be satanic.

Never doubt for a minute the ability of people who want to believe something to be able to find something they can claim backs up what they believe – and expect you to believe it, as well.

“It is clear,” they said, though of course it wasn’t, “that the so-called peace symbol is based on a 5th-century illustration of St. Peter being crucified upside down and everyone knows (but if they don’t the wing nuts would tell them) that the peace sign was really the ‘Nero Cross’ that was used in satanic worship during the middle ages.”

Which scared the begeeses out of folks whose begeeses were susceptible to scaring while making little or no impression on folks who could think for themselves.

But never underestimate the self-delusional extremes to which the racist-anti-communists wing-nuttery of the 60’s would go when it got its panties wadded.

And they were still wadded when the peace sign was taken up by the anti-Vietnam movement, so no one was surprised when they concluded that anyone who opposed the war and used that sign to show it had to be red.

At least you gotta admire their consistency.

Meanwhile, the CND purposely did not copyright the symbol, but instead offered it to anyone who wanted to use it.

For free.

Karl Marx would have been proud.

Well, maybe not.

Because today, after a decade or so of relative obscurity, the “peace sign” is in fashion once again.

Real fashion.

In addition to jewelry, you can get the symbol embossed on shirts, hats, loungewear, afgans, stuff for your dog, covers for your spare jeep tire and itty-bitty bathing suits. (No lie, this summer down on the coast I “noticed” more than one bikini with peace signs adorning what little fabric there was to be adorned.)

And weather you believe the sign is a symbol of peace or of the glorious struggle of the Volga collective against counter-revolutionary forces from the west you gotta admit that, once again, capitalism has won out.

Karl Marx would not be proud.

Meanwhile, the CND folks remain philosophical. “We can’t stop this from happening and we have no intention of copyrighting it, the group said on its Web site. “All we can do is ask commercial users to make a donation. Any money received is used for CND’s peace education and information work.”

Bet the checks are in the mail.


^ climb up.