An iconic moment that was captured in a photograph, and that many of us have probably seen and are familiar with, is the famous picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square after WWII ended, entitled “Unconditional Surrender.” This famous photograph was created into a statue that now resides in Sarasota, Fla. Sadly, the sailor in the photo, identified as George Mendonsa, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 17 at the age of 95. The nurse in the photo was identified as Greta Friedman, who passed away back in 2016 at the age of 92. The Monday afternoon or evening after Mendonsa’s passing, the statue was vandalised by someone spray painting “#MeToo” on Friedman’s leg. Although the #MeToo movement is currently a very large, important and sensitive issue, this act takes it too far. Police have found no evidence or video surveillance of the incident, so there are currently no suspects, but whoever did it turned an iconic and pure moment in history into a social issue.
I do not want to downplay how serious a topic sexual harassment is, and how important it is that the #MeToo movement is allowing people to come forward and feel comfortable speaking out about the issue. I completely understand that it is an essential issue that people should be talking about, because any form of sexual harassment is horrible and wrong. However, for the case of the vandalized “Unconditional Surrender” statue, the moment it depicts did not need to become a part of the #MeToo movement.
Both Mendonsa and Friedman were interviewed about this iconic kiss and how it happened, and from the way they both describe it, what the kiss all comes down to is a celebration that the war had ended. As quoted from CNN, Friedman said that she was suddenly grabbed by a sailor and, “‘He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss…It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event. It was just…‘Thank God, the war is over.’” She also adds that, “It wasn’t that much of a kiss. It was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back.” These quotes alone illustrate that this was a ‘spur of the moment’ action on the part of Mendonsa out of pure excitement and relief that he wouldn’t have to go back and fight another day in the war. It was not a moment where he decided to take advantage of Friedman, or harass her in any way, which is mainly what the #MeToo movement focuses on.
From Friedman’s description, she clearly was not affected by the moment in the sense that she felt abused or mistreated in any way. She knew that this was Mendonsa’s way of celebrating such an immense amount of contentment and gratefulness that he would not have to experience such a horrifying thing as the war again. Also quoted from CNN, Mondonsa shared his recollections of the event as well saying, “‘So we get into Times Square and the war ends and I see the nurse,’” and “‘I had a few drinks, and it was just plain instinct, I guess. I just grabbed her.’” Clearly Mendonsa had no intentions of mistreating Friedman in any way. He acted on pure adrenaline it seems, and he had no motive to harass her by any means. People do crazy things when they are excited, relieved, or just really thankful for something. You’ve probably all heard the saying, “I’m so happy, I could kiss you right now!” That is basically what seemed to go through Mendonsa’s head, and he acted on it.
As for the person who decided to vandalize the statue in this manner, I have some things to say to them. The sailor in that photo and depicted in the statue has just passed away, and by vandalizing the statue with “#MeToo,” it basically calls him a sexual abuser. Speaking from the actions that he took that day on Aug. 14, 1945, he is nothing close to that. He fought for our country, and he risked his life so that we can be safe and can continue to be free. Mendonsa should be celebrated as being a great man and veteran after his death, not being accused of sexual assault. It really is disrespectful, and I can only hope that more people realize that not everyone in society is looking to take advantage of people in such a disgusting manner. I agree that sexual harassment is a major problem, but that doesn’t give any of us the excuse to accuse anyone of something so horrid, when they were simply displaying strong emotions in the purest way possible. Police said in a statement that the damage done to the statue cost about $1,000 to repair, but the beautiful moment that this statue depicts is priceless, and it should remain that way.