You may have heard that, following the death of George Mendonsa earlier this week, the statue depicting the iconic kiss at the announcement of Japan’s surrender at the end of WW2 was vandalized.
I had heard that the nurse in the picture/statue had not known the sailor that had kissed her, but this vandalism made me curious to know more.
Fortunately, there is an article in The Smithsonian that had a chance to interview the nurse, Greta Zimmer Friedman. She died in 2016 at the age of 92. And while she remembers the event as “not romantic, but of celebration of the war being over” (paraphrasing), she also describes it as “not her choice to be kissed, the guy just came over and grabbed.” (paraphrasing).
Some interpret her statements as descriptions of sexual assault. However, Greta herself did not view it as assault, although she did understand the argument for it. (source NYT, as described by her son)
“[…]she made it clear the kiss was a “jubilant act” and “it was just an event of ‘thank god the war is over.'” ” (source BBC.com)
I am privileged to have grown up in a world that has not known war on the scale of WW2. I cannot imagine the relief, jubilation, and freedom that the announcement of the War being over would have caused.
No matter the cause of his excitement, or her retroactive approval, he should have asked for consent first. This isn’t a radical idea; simply respect others’ bodily autonomy. A quick question along the lines of, “Kiss?” or, “May I kiss you?”, would have had the same outcome.
Now, to get back to the vandalism of the statue, it cost $1000 USD to repair the damage.
The person who vandalized the statue was out of line. Although vandalism can be used as an effective, illegal, and destructive, form of protest, it feels disproportionate and disrespectful in this particular case. Damaging other’s property is against the law, no matter how much you disagree with the message.
It would have been better if they had printed a copy of the picture, graffitied on that, and taped it in front of the statue. Water soluble paint or chalk could have worked too. No damage done to anyone’s property, and the message would have gotten across.
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