Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dr. Seuss' Wartime Political Cartoons, 1941-43

Thedor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), is best known for his delightfully illustrated children's books, but during the Second World War, Dr. Seuss' hand was used to prod Americans into action.  From 1941-43, Seuss penned political cartoons for the leftist New York paper PM.  An excellent website has made his drawings, held at the University of California, San Diego, available for perusal.

29 April 1941, PM. UCSD
Early drawings in 1941, show Seuss firmly chastising isolationist policy.  Picturing Americans with their heads in the sand and ignoring the war in Europe, Seuss suggests that the "Hitler headache" will necessitate stronger medicine.  Charles Lindbergh, an early proponent of American isolationism, was the target of Seuss' early agitation.  Note the purveyors of these fantastic ostrich hats was one "Lindy Ostrich Service Inc.".

Most shocking for those familiar with Seuss' childrens material is his racist portrayal of the Japanese.  As Richard H. Minear, author of Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, wrote,

 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.

12 December 1941. JM UCSD

As Minear suggests, Seuss took a liberal stand towards the inclusion of African-Americans in the war effort.  In a 1942 cartoon, Uncle Sam chides "War Industry" that "if you want to get real harmony, use the black keys as well as the white."

30 June 1942, JM. UCSD
As Seuss' cartoons were targeted at the American home front there is no surprise that enemies are made of shirkers, wasters, and the corrupt.  The final cartoon in the collection uses the theme of familial recollection, also present in Great War propaganda posters, to chide those complaining about wartime shortages.  The cartoon shows an old timer telling his grandson of how his contribution to the "Battle of 1943" was composed of sitting around and complaining about fuel shortages.

5 January 1943,

Browse the rest of the University of Califonia San Diego's collection, complete with contextual introduction by Richard Minear, here:

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