France: Feminists Demands Removal of Sculpture “Unconditional Surrender” from the Caen Memorial

French feminists are petitioning for the removal of the 25-foot sculpture of the famous Times Square VJ Day kiss dubbed “Unconditional Surrender” from outside the Caen Memorial Museum in Normandy. According to them, it has to be torn down as it portrays “a sexual attack”.

Earlier reports have stated that the said statue based on an iconic WWII image is on a one-year loan to the Caen Memorial Museum for the 70th-year anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The said museum is located in Normandy, the site of the famous D-Day Landings.

The sculpture Unconditional Surrender, however, is under fire as French feminists have criticized it, saying that the said statue shows and glorifies an assault against a woman. The French feminist group Osez Le Feminisme complains that Unconditional Surrender, which shows a sailor and a nurse kissing with one of the sailor’s arm around her waist and the other supporting her neck, embodies a ‘sexual attack’ against the woman since the kiss was ‘forced’ upon her by the serviceman.

They further pointed out that even the photographer who took the picture from where the sculpture was based from, Alfred Eisenstaedt, said that the said sailor in the picture and the statue had grabbed and attempted to kiss all the women around him before he took the shot.

A spokesperson for the feminist group issued a very strong statement saying that they cannot accept how the Caen Memorial Museum has accepted and erected the sculpture Unconditional Surrender which epitomizes sexual assault as a figure for peace. The spokesperson further added that the sailor could have just hugged, laughed or asked the women around if he could kiss them. Instead, he chose to grab them and with firm hands, kissed them. That act was an assault.

Furthermore, Osez Le Feminisme has started a petition calling for the removal of the said sculpture from the memorial museum. As to date, the plea has attracted over 700 signatures.

Nevertheless, the director of the Caen Memorial Museum, Stephanie Grimaldi, said that the woman in the photo where Unconditional Surrender was based upon had always maintained that she was happy with the kiss and never once did feel assaulted by it.

In contrast, the feminist group argued that Greta Zimmer Friedman from Austria, the woman officially identified as the nurse in the iconic photo, had stated in her interview way back in 2012 that she was unable to escape from the kiss. But despite that recollection, Friedman did not issue any complaints about it.

The iconic black-and-white photo was taken on VJ Day [Victory over Japan Day] in August 14, 1945 by LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. It was, then, published in the LIFE magazine where it gained fame, a symbol of America’s joy that the Second World War had finally come to an end.

The photo of the Times Square VJ Day kiss from where the sculpture Unconditional Surrender was based from. [Color altered]
The photo of the Times Square VJ Day kiss from where the sculpture Unconditional Surrender was based from. [Color altered]
Sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr., then, made the photo into his 25-foot, 13-ton sculpture he dubbed as Unconditional Surrender. It was lent to the Caen Memorial Museum and was placed outside the said establishment last September 23. The museum released a statement that it doesn’t have any plans of taking the statue down until it has served its loaning time which is for the next 12 months.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE