Seuss drew more than cute creatures

Dr. Seuss, born Theodore Seuss Geisel, the man famous for his ebullient illustrations and children’s stories, was a war propagandist. Hard to believe that the man who created fuzzy, genial characters and rhymes would be a xenophobe, but it’s true. During World War II, he was perhaps the most notorious war propagandist, creating hundreds of anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese war posters, political cartoons and war propaganda films.

And no, you won’t find this on Wikipedia’s entry for Seuss, but if you really want to see his propagations for yourself, look for a film titled Our Job in Japan. Good luck finding the film, though. According to Geisel, the American propaganda movie displeased Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the occupation and destruction of Japan, and all prints of the film quickly disappeared. If you truly are interested in watching it, take professor Garth Jowett’s Propaganda and Persuasion course – he screens the film in class.

It was years after Seuss’ talents became popular that World War II began in 1939 and Seuss began drawing political cartoons opposing Hitler and Japanese-Americans. In one inherently racist cartoon, Seuss depicts a Japanese man with a tattoo of a swastika and sickle and hammer on his chest, and in another cartoon he uses a fuzzy character that seems all too similar to those used in many of his children’s books to propose to Americans that the Japanese and Nazi-Germans were parallel.

In fact, in almost every political cartoon he drew (there are hudreds archived online), Seuss juxtaposes a despot such as Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini with the cartoon’s theme – even if the subject fails to pertain to the country historically. In a cartoon he drew about Iranians, he shows a Persian man selling a carpet adorned with swastikas that Hitler is wrapped in. Its caption says, "Now where’s that bug / that was snug / in the Persian rug?" Sounds horribly familiar, doesn’t it?

After his acclaim at political cartoon drawing, the U.S. government made him commander of the Animation Department for the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Force. Just like the "Uncle Sam wants you for the U.S. Army" poster that was plastered around American towns to recruit soldiers for World War I and World War II, Seuss also mastered war recruitment as a method of propaganda. It was at this time that Seuss began producing films supporting the war effort as well as Army training films (Jowett also shows this film in his class).

Interestingly, Seuss also narrated the films he directed and produced, his powerful voice is weighty when intertwined with all the rhetoric about how just and necessary the war was.

Obviously, methods of propaganda are still used today to recruit soldiers to go to Iraq, and though recruitment methods are not as xenophobic as those used more than 60 years ago, they still portray fear or hatred of the stranger or foreigner.

Pay close attention next time you see an advertisement or commercial for the Army or Marines and you will understand why I use the word "xenophobic" to describe them. And the next time you hear Seuss’ incantations about discolored eggs and meat or a cat that talks and wears a hat, it’s up to you to decide whether to tell your children or younger siblings about Seuss’ contempt for others. It’s something to contemplate the next time you see his colorful books in the little hands of young ones.

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