One of the most tragically defining moments of the twentieth century was World War Two, in which all rationality and diplomacy seemed to degenerate in favor of imperialism and global conquest. German troops stormed into Paris on 14 June 1940, making their demands well known: surrender unconditionally, or perish. Parisians looked on in horror as all hope of an Allied victory at this juncture faded into the darkness.
One does not need to scrutinize this photograph to see the anguish and fear in this man’s eyes, as if he had seen the imminent fate of his country and its citizens. This is what sets him apart from the stark, emotionless crowd. Although the subject of this photograph holds an aura of hopelessness, his upright stance personifies his patriotism and love for his country. This patriotism and with powerlessness against a dominant force are conflicting within the subject of this image—although it isn’t necessarily symbolic of the French people only. This photograph stands for the hardships of all nations forced under the yoke of the tyranny that plagued Europe during WWII.
As one of the most iconic photographs of the WWII era, this image personified the suffering of the ordinary citizens of every country that was drawn into war. To nations that hadn’t yet been drawn into the global conflict (as of 1940), such as the United States, images like this made it clear that something had to be done to put an end to the inhumane treatment that war naturally brings about. The names of the citizens in this photograph are not what matters. What matters is that they were subjected to a cruel regime that did not care about the citizens’ individual values. Human suffering has no race, ethnicity, gender, or age. However, if ever it had a face, this would be it.
This was one of many photographs of WWII that exemplified the extremes human beings will reach to attain their personal goals, often times at the expense of one person, several people, or an entire ethnic group. These images have changed the way we view warfare and have also strengthened our will to prevent it. Perhaps we can owe it to these photographs depicting terror, anguish, and suffering as one of the factors inhibiting another global conflict like the Second World War from ever happening in the future.
- Nikki Edmiston
- Nikki Edmiston