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See Yertle the Turtle in His Earliest Form!
, August 14, 2000
This review is from: Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Hardcover)
I was quite surprised when I discovered this book of over 200 (out of 400 he drew) political cartoons by Dr. Seuss (who became a Doctor only by honorary degree years later, even though he called himself Dr. Seuss at this time). I did not realize that he had been a major producer of propaganda in favor of intervention in World War II and later in favor of winning the war. What is even more surprising is to look at the cartoons and see familiar-looking fish, cats and turtles who show up in all of the most beloved children's stories by Dr. Seuss. Clearly, World War II was essential training for the pro-community, pro-progressiveness stories that three generations have now grown up with.
Dr. Seuss was so enraged by Italian pro-fascist propaganda that he sought a role in political cartooning with P.M., a New Deal liberal daily newspaper in New York. The newspaper did not carry advertising, and cost much more than other papers. As a result, it had a daily circulation of only 150,000. After two years, he volunteered for the service at age 38 and took a job in the Army signal corps creating propaganda movies (some of which won him Oscars).
Most of these cartoons would be ones that anyone would be proud to have drawn, for both their humor and the targeting of those who favored dictatorships and complacency about fascism. On the other hand, Dr. Seuss did a few that are certainly racist (although generally he was antiracist, opposing the ill treatment of blacks and Jews). The focus of his racism were Japanese (lots of slanted-eyes drawings of evil plotting) and Japanese-Americans (one cartoon shows Japanese-Americans picking up explosives after Pearl Harbor).
The book is also interesting for capturing the debates of those years in a fresh and visual way. I wish my studies of World War II in high school had included looking at some of these cartoons and discussing them. Because almost all of us know Dr. Seuss's later work so well, this book has a special usefulness to us in understanding U.S. politics of the time.
A lot of the cartoons are hard to understand unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of World War II. As a result, I suggest that you read the accompanying essays by Richard Minear that fill in the gaps. There is also a chronology to relate the dates to the events. The cartoons themselves are arranged by subject matter, all the better to tie together with essays. Some may find this ordering (rather than one strict beginning to end grouping) a little confusing. However, compared to most cartoon books, this one is very well documented.
I suspect that people from the Greatest Generation would enjoy receiving this book as a gift.
Overcome your stalled thinking about the politics of today being the way things are by seeing how much our views have changed since World War II! Maybe, just maybe, we have some misconceptions today that we are not aware of like Dr. Seuss did about Japanese-Americans (who were later rounded up into concentration camps). Perhaps our misconceptions relate to ignoring the travails of the poorest 3 billion people on the planet. Think about it.
I was also struck that peacetime uses of Dr. Seuss's talent created much greater work than did wartime efforts. Perhaps that is true for all of humanity. That's another argument in favor of peace.
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