Thursday, October 20, 2016

Untold Story #19: Unconditional Surrender

While we were in Sarasota, I hopped out of the minivan to photograph J. Seward Johnson's Unconditional Surrender sculpture. I had read that some Sarasota locals disapprove of it, thinking it kitschy, but of course, I love kitschy, also J. Seward Johnson's The Awakening sculpture at National Harbor.

The words on the sign:

The profound joy portrayed in this sculpture was prompted by the spontaneous surrender of the Japanese, thus ending World War II on August 14, 1945. Among the celebrants in Times Square in New York City were a United States sailor and a nurse embracing amidst the multitude of joy makers.

The merriment expressed the pride and relief of the military and the home front to have been part of this great victory despite the eleven years of unemployment and the hardships of the Great Depression; four years of horrific war; losing loved ones; the rationing of food and gasoline and the war production duties endured by the home front. This group is called the "Greatest Generation," which is a title they well deserve.

This celebrated moment in the history of our nation prompted preeminent American sculptor J. Seward Johnson to create this sculpture, which he named "Unconditional Surrender." After several years of intensive efforts, a proud veteran of World War II, Jack Curran, bought the sculpture, and with the outstanding support given by various Sarasota County veterans associations, he was able to donate the statue to the City of Sarasota.

The presence of this sculpture prompts viewers to never forget the "Greatest Generation" or the day when they demonstrated their "Unity"--August 14. 1945.

Of course, there's more than one side to every story. I photographed the sculpture in June, and in September, Greta Zimmer Friedman--the woman portrayed in Johnson's sculpture (and initially captured in photographs)--died. She'd been twenty-one in 1945. She'd been wearing a nurse's uniform but had been working as a dental assistant. When the news of Japanese surrender was announced, George Mendonsa--a sailor and stranger to Friedman--had grabbed and kissed her. Mendonsa's girlfriend (an actual nurse) had looked on and smiled (source).

In an interview for the Library of Congress, Friedman said to Patricia Redmond: “It wasn't my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!” (source). Friedman's son said his mother had understood why some perceive this to be an account of public assault, but that she hadn't necessarily seen it that way (source). Of course, times were different, then: impetuous celebration more commonplace (source)

It's been thought-provoking to revisit my photos of this sculpture, these last couple consider it in light of Donald Trump's words from eleven years ago. I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but--whether or not Michelle Obama was sincere when she said she hasn't been able to stop thinking about them--I am sincere when I say it.

I spoke with a friend over the weekend, a woman a little older than I, who talked nonchalantly about having been groped herself...and about her plans to vote for Trump regardless of what he said (or, in my opinion, confessed to have done). She's not the only woman in my life who intends to vote for Trump, next month. Their decision is baffling to me; yet, even as I write this, I feel convicted because I know I'd disregarded many of Trump's ugly words before they triggered me, personally.

Is that what it all comes down to? Are words only offensive if one is offended by them? Is assault only assault if one is outraged or traumatized by it? I've had similar thoughts, before, as related to abortion; it seems like the value (or type of value) placed upon a fetus/baby lies only in a person's perception of it. (Read my thoughts on abortion, here.) All of it is confusing to me. Is there a line? Is there a standard?

I want to believe yes...and Jesus. The trouble is: not everyone believes in Jesus. We have freedom of and from religion here. Isn't that part of what's supposed to make America great? And not everyone who believes in Jesus believes the same things of Him. Since I've announced my intention to vote for Gary Johnson, I've been shamed by Republicans, Democrats, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Where is the fair intersection between religion and politics? I've puzzled over this before, and I'm still puzzling. I'm still here, my heart feeling heavy as a rock inside my chest. What does it mean to be a true patriot? All I know is: if it comes down to thinking and praying and caring (obsessing), I've arrived.

The Girls at J. Seward Johnson's The Awakening, 2015

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