Image Source: Wikipedia
When Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, and it was announced in the USA, the Second World War had ended. Almost immediately when the war ended, there were riotous celebrations all over the world – and civilians were far happier about the end of the war than the men in uniform. Many of the soldiers had come back to the USA from Europe after supporting the other Allied powers and liberating concentration camps across Europe. There was a slight chance that they would be shipped out to the Pacific coast.
Celebrating the end of the war, the civilian masses gathered at Times Square that day. One of the world’s most talented photojournalists in the 20th Century – Alfred Eisenstaedt – captured the event. The range of events that were photographs that were shot, one of his most powerful souvenirs in Polaroid from the jubilation was the photograph of “a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight.” The sailor, it appeared, later explained that “whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference.”
The photograph of the sailor kissing a young nurse made it to the papers, and then made it onwards to becoming the cover of Life.
What sets this photograph out as a unique milestone in history is not just that a moment of joy was captured, but also the cultural ethos that surrounded the need to end war. The Second World War had dragged out for far too long, and it was preceded by the First World War – and a climate of conflict had settled down around the world. The thought of peace seemed a distant dream, and more people died than were accounted for. At the end of the world’s largest catastrophe initiated by man, there was finally some semblance for hope. The unfettered joy that lay at the bottom of unconditional celebration was a long overdue sensation.
Alfred Eisenstaedt may have captured the moment at the right time: but it is the poignancy that he captured that will remain for years to come. Of course, it is a violation of one’s body and person to be kissed at random, and without consent. But it is also the truth: that war had gone, and this was but a kiss of resurrection. To credit Alfred Eisenstaedt with due photographic skill is undoubtedly in order.