The Dark Controversy Behind The World War II Times Square Kissing Photo

Greta Friedman, the woman being kissed by a sailor in the iconic photo taken on V-J Day in Times Square, has passed away. Friedman, 92, passed away on Thursday, and son Joshua reported her death to CBS News today. Friedman, who had spent the past two years living in Maryland in an assisted living facility, passed away due to health complications.

Another angle of Mendonsa kissing Friedman in the iconic Times Square World War II kissing photo.[Image via Victor Jorgensen | Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Friedman, who was a dental assistant during World War II, will be buried at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery, which is notable for being the burial site for many men and women who have served in armed conflict.

The photo itself, V-J Day in Times Square, depicts a sailor kissing Friedman in Times Square on Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day), the day in which Japan surrendered and effectively marked the end of World War II. While many men have claimed to be the sailor kissing Friedman in the Times Square photo, a man named George Mendonsa has been determined as the kisser.

Unfortunately, statements made by Friedman about the circumstances of the kiss in the photograph have led to some controversy. Friedman, who was not acquainted with Mendonsa at the time of the kiss, has described the kiss in unromantic terms.

As reported in Huffington Post, Friedman described the kiss the following way: “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!” Mendonsa kissed Friedman without asking permission or even introducing himself.

In a 2005 interview with the Veterans History Project, Friedman did not have anything complimentary to say about the event.

“Suddenly, I was grabbed by a sailor. It wasn’t that much of a kiss. I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss… it was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.”

The dedication ceremony of Unconditional Surrender, a statue depicting the iconic Times Square kiss between Friedman and Mendonsa. [Image via Port of San Diego | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0]

These descriptions of the kiss by Friedman seemed shocking and problematic, even considering the fact that the event occurred at a celebration of the end of World War II. In 2012, the feminist blog Crates and Ribbons published an article criticizing the World War II photo for depicting and glorifying an image of sexual assault committed against Greta Friedman. The article decried the kiss, saying that it “would be considered sexual assault by modern standards,” citing Friedman’s established lack of consent or choice in the matter.

Furthermore, the Crates and Ribbons article emphasized the distressing nature of the way the Times Square kiss photo had been depicted in the media, “Without a single acknowledgement of the problematic nature of the photo that her comments reveal, they continue to talk about the picture in a whimsical, reverent manner.” Friedman’s body language in the World War II photo backs up this argument: instead of clutching at Mendonsa, her arm remains at her side and her body is tense.

Mendonsa himself has admitted that he was drunk when the kiss photograph was taken, as he was celebrating the end of World War II. The Times Square photo has become synonymous with the euphoria that occurred on V-J Day, as many Americans took to the streets to celebrate.

In the excitement of the celebrations following news of Japan’s surrender, an American soldier kisses a London girl in Piccadilly Circus. [Photo by Keystone/Getty Images]

However, Friedman has dismissed these allegations of assault. As reported in Military Times, Friedman stated that she still keeps in contact with Mendonsa and “exchanges Christmas cards with [him] every year.” Friedman took objection to the negative depiction of the kiss, saying that she “can’t think of anybody who considered that as an assault.” Mendonsa, too, did not see his kiss with Friedman as anything harmful. He kissed Friedman, whom he mistook for a nurse, as a way to thank her for her services during World War II.

“I had just come back from the Pacific. I’d been there for two years and I’d been involved in a lot of battles. I happened to be glad the war was over and grabbed a nurse [Friedman] because I saw what the nurses did on the hospital ships out there in the Pacific.”

It is fascinating to compare modern attitudes towards the kiss with statements from Friedman and Mendonsa. Regardless of your opinion on the kiss, it is clear that the death of Greta Friedman marks the tragic end of a woman whose image symbolizes the end of World War II. Friedman will continue to be remembered for decades to come, thanks to the iconic Times Square photograph.

[Photo by Victor Jorgensen/U.S. Navy/AP Images File]

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