RimaAnn O. Nelson, deputy assistant secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, issued a memo last Saturday, in which she requested the removal of the iconic “V-J Day in Times Square” photo in “all establishments of the Veterans Health Administration.” But a few hours after copies of the memorandum were distributed on social networks, sometimes accumulating millions of views, Secretary Denis McDonough called for its cancellation.

The photo “V-J (short for Victory over Japan) Day in Times Square”, also known as “The Kiss”, taken by German photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt on August 14, 1945, depicts a US Navy sailor, George Mendonza, kissing a dental assistant, Greta Zimmer Friedman, in the famous New York district of Times Square, on the day of Japan’s surrender. This moment, marking the end of World War II, was celebrated throughout the United States. But the two young people in the image do not form a couple. Spontaneously, in the euphoria of victory, the man embraced this passing stranger. The photograph of the kiss immortalized by Eisenstaedt then became iconic, representing a symbol of the joyful end of the war.

The memo states that the photograph “depicts a non-consensual act,” which is “inconsistent with VA’s zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and assault.” If this photo has until now been placed in administration buildings to commemorate the end of this long conflict and the triumphant return of American soldiers, “perspectives on historical events and their representations are evolving”. Employees expressed “their discomfort” with the display of the image and it sparked “debates on consent”. However, administration establishments “are committed to respecting the standards of creating a safe and respectful environment” and want to “promote the psychological safety” of their employees and their veterans.

“Let me be clear: this image is not banned from VA facilities – and we will keep it,” McDonough wrote on X (ex-Twitter). The White House also responded to the controversy surrounding the memo, saying the memo was never approved. “We were not aware” of the plan to remove the emblematic image of the 20th century, declared Tuesday Joe Biden’s spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre, questioned by a journalist during a press briefing.