Last Sunday, Sept. 6, USA Today ran a special section commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the official ending of World War II on Sept. 2, 1945. On the front page of this special section was an iconic photo taken in Times Square of a sailer kissing a woman in celebration of the end of the war back on Aug. 15, 1945.
One of my long-time friends (who used to be an editor of a newspaper) made a Facebook post complaining about the use of this photo as the front page centerpiece for this section. According to him, USA Today was wrong in ignoring today’s ideologies by reprinting a photo of what today would constitute a “sexual assault.” He went on to compare the running of the photo to keeping Civil War statues in the south, along with the printing of other similar derogatory imagery. And I couldn’t disagree with him more.
Yes, by today’s standards, this act could technically be considered an assault. However, based on 1945 standards, and especially considering the euphoria that surrounded the ending of the biggest atrocity known to man at that time, this act was not only acceptable, but also commonplace in taking place hundreds, if not thousands, of times at the end of the war.
In general, while I may not like many of things people did throughout history, I refuse to condemn them for it simply because hindsight is 20/20. I despise smoking, however I acknowledge that years ago, they didn’t know how dangerous it was, so I’m not going to get upset over seeing images of people doing it back then.
My bigger issue, however, is with the lumping of the photo with the statues in the thought that displaying of such things glorifies them. Statues are created after the fact. While there are some historical aspects to them with the obligatory plaque explaining the significance of the person, place or event, they are mostly erected to pay homage to the subject.
That is not the case with photos. Photos document what happened at the time they happen. Good photojournalists tasked with covering breaking news are not making any sort of commentary about if what they are taking is good or bad. They are simply saying “this is what happened” and leave the judgments to the viewers. And just like we shouldn’t condemn the people doing the actions that we now find “offensive,” we can’t condemn the photographers for taking photos of those actions either.
Getting back to the USA Today special section, that was published as a historical retrospective, not as any sort of commentary or comparison of the past versus today. Figuratively speaking, they were taking all of us on a time machine ride back 75 years. Based on the fact that photo has been described as the most famous photo published in Life Magazine, its inclusion as the primary image of the end of the war is only natural. The only mistake I see them making was colorizing it so that it doesn’t look as true to the era.
So anyone who believes this photo should have been omitted, I ask you if it should then be removed from history books as well? And if your answer is yes, then I find that offensive. Like it or not, good or bad, our history is what it is. By trying to hide certain aspects of it, you are just perpetuating the old saying that “people who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
BILL STICKELS III is editor of the Isanti-Chisago County Star. He can be reached at 763-689-1181 ext. 107 or email@example.com.