Unconditional Surrender

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On San Diego’s harbor, right next to the maritime museum aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway, stands a 25-foot-tall statue depicting a sailor kissing a nurse. The sculpture titled "Unconditional Surrender” is based on a famous photograph clicked by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square of New York, on August 14, 1945, after U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced the end of World War II. The photograph appeared on the 1945 issue of Life magazine, and since then it has become one of the most iconic image of America’s victory celebration.

But "Unconditional Surrender”, as well as the original photograph, has been drawing heat from women’s right groups as well as other vocal members of the public, in recent years, for depicting what appears to have been a sexual assault rather than a celebration of love between two willing partners.
As news of Japan's surrender and the end of the brutal conflict spread throughout America, people began to spill out on to the streets to celebrate. Amid joy and relief, booze flowed, people danced, kisses were planted. But some of the jubilation quickly devolved into riots, and some into unprovoked acts of assault, as in the case of 21-year-old Austrian-American and dental hygienist Greta Zimmer Friedman. Like others, Greta too was celebrating the end of World War II in Times Square when a sailor, later recognized as George Mendosa, grabbed her by the waist and delivered a forced kiss.

Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt managed to capture the moment in his camera. Later, Eisenstaedt wrote:

I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all–young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her and just as I’d hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her.

Controversy ignited in 2012 when a London-based blogger argued that the picture depicted not a moment of romance, but a “sexual assault by modern standards,” pointing to extracts from Greta Friedman’s interview where she said things like — “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed,” and “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.” Friedman also described his embrace as a “vice-like” grip from which she couldn’t escape. Mendonsa himself admits to having been intoxicated at the time.

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