Reactor

Dr. Seuss’s Political Cartoons

by Jillian Steinhauer on June 11, 2012

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "The veteran recalls the battle of 1943"

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "The veteran recalls the battle of 1943," published by "PM Magazine" on January 5, 1943 (all images courtesy Dr. Seuss Collection, Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego)

Although the majority of his books are already some half a century old, Dr. Seuss remains one of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators in American history. I’d bet that most of us, if asked, could name a Dr. Seuss favorite that made a lasting impression (One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish for me). But how many of us knew that Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel, was also a political cartoonist?

Geisel, as it turns out, was the chief editorial cartoonist for the leftist New York newspaper PM between 1941 and 1943, and while there, he made over 400 political cartoons about the war. Nearly two hundred of them were published in a book titled Dr. Seuss Goes to War, and the entire collection is housed in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego, which has made all of the drawings available online. They range from encouragements to buy war bonds to sharp critiques of American isolationism to caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini, reflecting his strong support for the World War II effort and a biting disappointment with the US government’s inaction for the first part of the war.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "The Appeaser"

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "The Appeaser," published by "PM Magazine" on June 16, 1941

What’s most striking, though, is how the world of the cartoons is so distinctly Seussian. The loose, animated, style and fantastic creatures and human-animal hybrids for which Geisel is still known appear throughout his political oeuvre. Most of us probably wouldn’t expect to see a Horton-like figure alongside Hitler, but here we do, and amazingly, it works.

Geisel went on to support the US war effort more directly, joining the army in 1943 as a captain and the commander of the Animation Departmant of the First Motion Picture Unit of the Air Forces. There he wrote the propaganda film favorites Your Job in Germany and Our Job in Japan, among others.

Theodor Geisel, "Don't let them carve THOSE faces on our mountains"

Theodor Geisel, "Don't let them carve THOSE faces on our mountains," published by "PM Magazine" on December 12, 1941

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "The Appeaser"

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "The Appeaser," published by "PM Magazine" on June 16, 1941

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "Hm-m! Can't understand it!"

Theodor Seuss Geisel, "Hm-m! Can't understand it!," published by "PM Magazine" on February 12, 1942

(h/t Huffington Post)

Editor’s note: One of our readers wisely pointed out that while Geisel’s cartoons express the standard liberal leanings of his day, they also reflect the racism of the time. Rather than caricaturing Emperor Hirohito or other specific individuals, Geisel drew Japanese people according to an ugly, generalized stereotype — “piggish nose, coke-bottle eyeglasses, slanted eyes, brush mustache, lips parted (usually in a smile),” in the words of Richard Minear, author of Dr. Seuss Goes to War. Geisel even went as far as a cartoon representing Japanese Americans as an internal fifth column, which appeared in print only six days before President Roosevelt authorized Japanese-American internment in 1942. Minear’s response to this glaring oversight says it best:

Perhaps it is no surprise that American cartoonists during the Pacific War painted Japan in overtly racist ways. However, it is a surprise that a person who denounces anti-black racism and anti-Semitism so eloquently can be oblivious of his own racist treatment of Japanese and Japanese Americans. And to find such cartoons — largely unreproached — in the pages of the leading left newspaper of New York City and to realize that the cartoonist is the same Dr. Seuss we celebrate today for his imagination and tolerance and breadth of vision: this is a sobering experience.

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