The V-J Day Kiss – Review

Death and victory, to put it short and curt, is what war is all about. As brutal as it may be, war brings both sadness and joy. Casualties and loss are faced on both sides, and no one likes to see their family/relatives/friends/acquaintances die, be it for a worthy or an unworthy cause. World War II was no different.

There are many opinionated views about the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs, by the US, in Japan. Some say it was necessary to end the war and to stop the blood loss of their nation’s soldiers, whereas others say that Japan already given signs of surrender, and that the disaster of the atom bomb didn’t need to be unleashed.  After the bombing, Japan had sent a formal notice, with the intention of surrender, on August 10th, under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration; this came with many terms that would take time for the Allies to review and decide upon.

However, for the civilians and soldiers, it meant a potential – to clear – end of war. On 14th August, 1945, an initial announcement was made to the people of the allies. When the announcement was made, people were glad that they could breathe again, that their loved ones would come home and see them once again; to the soldiers, it meant living once again.

Happiness and morale was high. Light and jolly, the people on the streets of New York, Time Square were merely walking around, greeting friends and strangers. It was amongst this crowd, that the most famous picture of this day was taken.  Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt is the credited news photographer who, as you can clearly see the LIFE watermark to the lower left bottom of the picture, was working for LIFE magazine, at the time. He was known for his candid photography and this would be his signature piece.

This day was called the Victory over Japan Day/Victory in the Pacific Day/Victory in Europe Day. The picture above was aptly called the V-J DAY KISS, and came to mark this day. Even though the formal ceremony of surrender was made on September 2nd, and victory is also celebrated on that day, this picture shows the emotions that ran wild on the day of the initial announcements, capturing the true feelings of the people.

It seemed that on that day, as Alfred explained, many men and women were roaming the streets and embracing each other, but there was one man who was kissing almost every woman in his sight. The sailor you see in this picture was that very man. The woman was a nurse, who had just left her station/ward, and came out to celebrate. Alfred further explains that he saw a flash of white from the corner of his eye, and it was within that second that this man embraced her.

Positioned in the center of the frame, the couples face was kept in complete focus, while the other people in the background were out of focus. The natural lighting and the shadows of the two permit us to believe that it was in the evening time of day, around 7:00 PM. However, the most important part of the picture would have to be the blurred hand and the absolute embrace, stand and passion of the couple. It goes to show that it was not just any kiss, but one that was out of the blue, out of sheer happiness and triumph that the war was over. It shows the spontaneity and extravagance in all the people’s action and reactions of that day. The sign board of ‘BOND’ helps us affirm the location of this picture, to be just south of 45th street where Broadway and Seventh Avenue converge.

Ethically speaking, this picture on any other normal day, would be taken as offensive, however, in light of events, this picture became a world-wide stamp, only because it depicted the true meaning of this day; hope. Hope that those young lovers and artists, business men and sailors, nurses and wives, the rich and the poor, everyone was free. This bold action meant that everyone could breathe again and be frivolous in their actions. It meant freedom.

It is said that there was another similar picture, like the one above, taken in Paris by photographer Robert Doisneau. His picture also shows a couple embracing each other in public, however the passion that is shown in that picture could be greatly misunderstood for any other reason, but that of the main one. It seemed to lack a show of spontaneity, which is exactly what the photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture held.

Funny enough, to further prove the nonsensical but joyful actions of the day, the identities of the two in the picture were unknown for a very long time. It was only after the nurse had called Alfred herself, and after a close examination, that Alfred accepted her claims. Many sailor men had stepped up to claim their rightful glory alongside the nurse, but it was only after years that the sailors’ identity was founded.

All in all, this picture proves that war had ended, and summed up the happiness of all the people in the world, into one kiss and one picture.


About Alysa Nair

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