The picture captured atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima, showing four soldiers attempting to raise the American flag, has arguably become one of the most famous photographs in United States history. Captured by Joel Rosenthal, the patriotic image was taken on February 23, 1945. ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’ has been featured on everything from stamps to even statues. Rightfully, the photograph immediately became synonymous with American soldiers as it represents unity, pride, and bravery. Joel Rosenthal’s photograph, ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’, was the second flag-raising picture captured atop Mount Suribachi that day. The original photo was considerably less appealing; this is because the flag was short, small, and accompanied by more armed soldiers. Also, the flag was already erect, which took away from the true meaning Joel Rosenthal strived to capture. ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’ is a compelling piece of propaganda that promotes the American ideals of unity, pride, and bravery through the use of color, symbol, and structure.
‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’ uses lines, structure, and color to display the intended theme of the photograph. Most notably, the American flag forms the most prominent lines in the image. The pole in which the soldiers appear to be raised is essential to the photo because it shows movement. The four soldiers appear to be raising the flag, which shows victory and triumph over the Japanese. The vertical lines that are portrayed by the stature of the soldiers also help distinguish between lowering the flag, which indicates a defeat and raising the flag, which suggests a victory. The vertical lines displayed in the soldiers also represents the strength of both the soldiers and the United States. If they were shown slouching, they would have looked defeated, and the flag wouldn’t be able to be portrayed as being raised. The horizontal lines formed in the surrounding environment, adds a more relaxed and tranquil look to the image. Despite the photo being taken preceding the deadliest war in human history, the relaxed feeling emphasizes that the war is over. ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’ was captured in black and white with several values of gray. Black and white fit the emotions the photo is attempting to display. Black is a color that is associated with mourning, and this was a time of anguish and misery for Americans who suffered a loss of nearly 6,500 soldiers. The color gray is associated with sorrow, and although it is a victorious time for the Americas, the war was not a joyous time. Gray symbolizes security, which has been secured through the victory at Iwo Jima.
One must first come to know the violent climate from which it took place to adequately understand the impact this photo had on the lives of men and women throughout the world in 1945. The Second World War was fought mainly in Europe, Eastern Asia, and the Pacific Ocean. In February 1945, what would become by far history’s deadliest conventional war had been raging for roughly six years when the Allied forces planned to close in on the Axis forces comprising Germany, Italy, and Japan. Iwo Jima was tactically crucial to the Allied powers because it would allow the Allied forces to facilitate sea and air blockades that would further cripple the war effort of the Japanese. Recognizing that if the Allied troops were to capture the island, the defeat of the Japanese would be imminent, the Japanese were prepared to sacrifice everything to hold Iwo Jima. The 36 hard-fought days at Iwo Jima resulted in over 26,500 wounded in which 6,800 of those losing their lives. 18,500 Japanese soldiers lost their lives as a result of the fight that took place in Iwo Jima, leaving only 1,500 of the 20,000 Japanese defenders alive.
The image utilizes the rhetorical demonstration of pathos to relate the image with the American values of unity, pride, and bravery and to provoke these emotions within all that examine the image. The picture supports the concept of unity by presenting the soldiers working together to raise their nation’s flag. All the soldiers in the picture, working towards a shared goal, promotes unity. The image also reinforces the notion of pride because the soldiers are raising an American flag, which red stripes of which may appear to describe the spilled blood, which provides a lead way into the notion of bravery. The picture promotes bravery because even amid the violent battle, these valiant soldiers defend and promote their country and the interests of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who attested to the bravery of soldiers at Iwo Jima by saying that ‘among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue’.
‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’ effectively evokes the American values of unity, pride, and bravery in American men and women who view his famous photograph. The soldiers represented in the flag-raising picture help to promote these qualities by collectively striving to raise the American flag during a fierce battle in which they could have easily lost their lives. When Rosenthal’s image combined with the fact that 6,800 Americans gave up their lives during the Battle, the values mentioned become more evident. For those who view ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’, the photograph serves as a powerful tool for provoking the feelings of unity, pride, and bravery through the use of color, structure, and symbols.