Favorite images for VJ Day, August 15

August 15, 2013

August 15, 1945, was VJ Day — the day that World War II ended in the Pacific Theatre. VJ is an acronym for Victory Japan. Victory in Europe, VE Day, was declared the previous April.

VJ Day is affiliated with a series of images that students of U.S. history should recognize; these images tell much of the story of the day and the events of the weeks leading up to it.

The most famous image is Alfred Eisenstadt’s photograph of an exuberant sailor kissing a swept-off-her-feet- for-the-moment nurse in Times Square, New York City. This is one of the most famous photographs from the most famous photographer from Life Magazine:

The Smack Seen 'Round the World, photo by Alfred Eisenstadt, Life Magazine, 8-15-1945

The Smack Seen ‘Round the World, photo by Alfred Eisenstadt, Life Magazine, August 15, 1945

Eisenstadt coolly titled his photo “VJ Day, Times Square.” It came to be known as The Smack Seen ‘Round the World. It was fitting that the photo would be taken by Eisenstadt, since his work came to be a symbol of Henry Luce’s Life Magazine in a pre-television era when photography magazines like Life and Look were key news organs for the nation.

In a fun and continuing mystery, several people have claimed to be the sailor, or the nurse, through the years.

Before the victory celebration, there had to be a victory. Japan asked for conditional surrender discussions, but the Allied forces insisted on unconditional surrender. Japanese military officials were rather certain that, if the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War, Allied victory would be assured. Japan hoped to either get a conditional surrender agreement, according to some sources, or inflict heavy losses on Allied forces to get better surrender conditions, but before Russia entered the war. Russia and Japan had long-standing grudges against one another dating from before their earlier war in the first decade of the 20th century.

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