“The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel.” By Richard H. Minear. Introduction by Art Spiegelman.
After reading the six pulled books I was curious to look into Dr Seuss’s adult works. Earlier I wrote my thoughts on The Seven Lady Godivas. This work shows much of Seuss’s editorial cartoons from the PM magazine leading up to the United States declaring war against Japan (and later Germany) and after the events of Pearl Harbor.
I was struck by how timeless much of these pieces are. Issues that still plague the country if not the whole world. Lessons that weren’t learned despite millions dying within World War II, and millions since. Even issues of the day are shown in such a simple way that still gets the point across. Which is one of the great reasons behind editorial cartoons. Not everyone has the time nor the education to understand every nuance of world politics. We see it today with social media posts in which it’s clear the author read a headline but not the actual details of a story. If that much. Yet I’m here many decades later understanding that Charles Lindbergh, American hero was also arguably a Nazi sympathiser.
(Cartoons shows under fair use for review. All credit to the book and the Dr Seuss Collection, University of California, San Diego.)
Another surprise in this book is Seuss’s thoughts against racism and racist policies. He believes in unity. He believes racist thoughts need to be removed from our brains. He is all for treating all Black men, women, and children as equals. The piano key cartoon is especially powerful.
That said, Seuss was against the Japanese fully, completely, and every bit of it looks racist as hell in 2021 eyes. But, that was the enemy at the time. They attacked American soil! Not a state yet, but close enough. While Seuss draws Hitler and Mussolini, the Japanese are just referred to as Japan. Not Tojo, or Hirohito, or any names.
He also justifies the Japanese internment camps on the west coast of the United States. Round ’em all up before they can harm us. Carry through their sleeper agent agendas. Not that any of that actually happened, but thus was the paranoia of the day.
The Asian stereotype portrayals are the most glaring reasons for the six discontinued books to be pulled. It’s honestly surprising seeing these cartoons on all white paper while the Asian characters in his children’s books are bathed in yellow.
In previous Dr Seuss discussions I suggested that the six books should be re-released for adults in context. The last chapter of this book is a perfect example of how that format can show Seuss’s problematic works and also rehabilitate his image. Seuss while in the Army worked with Frank Capra on a film titled Our Job in Japan. A film for U.S. servicemen detailing how important the mission is to help the 70 million Japanese people rebuild their country the American way. “Our idea is better than the Japanese idea.” A great way to go to war with a country again is to bomb them and then leave the entire nation to die. Seuss realizes the importance of not only helping the defeated country but also to rebuild the attitudes towards Japanese people in the United States. He’s not perfect. Using Horton Hears a Who as an example of his attitude: “a person’s a person no matter how small,” is still a problematic statement but his heart is in the right place.
The book isn’t complete, not even complete for all of Seuss’s political cartoons, but it provides a better understanding of the man and his work than a children’s book can. Or should have to. An academic approach to these cartoons, and again to the six other books as well, is the best way to keep the works in print but also provide context and explanation for any questionable images.