Dr. Seuss was a beloved children’s author who created timeless classics such as Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and The Lorax. These books are beloved by everyone from children today to those who were children when they were first published. His books are so popular they have in turn become animated movies, which have grossed over 585 million dollars collectively. What did a man with such a whimsical and imaginative mind do before he was a children’s author? He created ads for companies as well as political cartoons. In fact, he created over 400 of these cartoons during World War II. Many of these cartoons stirred up controversy, and were blatantly racist towards the Japanese. These pictures inspired patriotism in everyday Americans, but did so in a very slanderous way, by instilling fear in the minds of Americans.
Back in the 1930’s to mid 1940’s, many cartoonists created hundreds of these kinds of pictures. What makes Dr. Seuss’s cartoons so much more controversial, however, is that most people don’t know about these pictures. Most have no idea what kind of man Dr. Seuss was, what he believed in, and what he stood for. Dr. Seuss was a very patriotic man with a great deal of pride in his country but he was also a very blatant racist. Some argue that our modern-day perception of these pictures are not accurate and valid; our levels of tolerance today are much much higher than they were back during WWII. If he had tried to publish these pictures today, they would not have made it. Back then, these weren’t considered as racist, or intolerable. They were a mere chuckle, accurate, scary. Although the great Dr. Seuss created over 400 cartoons, the four pictures discussed here are some of the most impactful he created. They all demean the Japanese, and one even goes as far as to call into question the Japanese that already lived here on American soil. Dr. Seuss depicts the Japanese in highly stereotypical ways.
The first of these four is a black and white picture that depicts Hitler or a Nazi-looking man around the corner of a building holding a street organ and a rope leading to a monkey. The monkey is dressed in stereotypical Japanese clothing with big bold letters spelling out “Japan.” The monkey has apparently knocked on the door of a bird who is wearing an American patriotic hat. The monkey then yells to the Nazi, “Master! What do I do when they won’t come across?” Japan being a monkey tied up to the Nazi represents how Germany during World War II used Japan to pull America into the war. America stayed neutral during the greater part of the war but when Japan attacked the US that forced the US to join and launch counter attacks on Japan and join the war in Europe. The monkey grinder metaphor used by Dr. Seuss in this picture is a pretty fair metaphor in regards to what actually took place at the time. The Germans had used Japan to get America into the war and knowing that people viewed the Japanese as a pawn in Hitler’s plan. They viewed the country as a monkey, an animal that was just following instructions it was given. As far as the picture goes it is incredibly demeaning. It makes the Japanese look like nothing but a pet to the Germans. The Japanese were nothing but a pawn to the Germans; the Germans had been using the Japanese to pull America into the war despite the US being neutral through most of the war. This picture puts emphasis to this point and stir up controversy by depicting the Japanese as animals. Instead of drawing a Japanese man he elected to draw a monkey to insult the Japanese he calls them inferior, that they’re animals, and with the quote it has it makes them seem stupid, like all they’re good for is taking orders. The monkey is asking Hitler what to do after his first actions didn’t bring the results they had wanted.
In another picture, there is a picture of Hitler and a Japanese man on a huge billboard. The words “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TODAY TO HELP SAVE YOUR COUNTRY FROM THEM?” are written across the top and along the bottom of the billboard. At the foot of the billboard stands a man looking up at it, on his back is the word “You.” This black and white picture is simple and gets straight to the point. Dr. Seuss, unlike other big corporations, created these pictures out of pride for his country and to help instill patriotism in the hearts and minds of Americans. This pictures, although a bit racist, has a good point to it. It asks the reader what they have done to help support their country during this time of war. It shows not all of Dr. Seuss’s pictures were nothing but racism manifesting itself into the form of these pictures but rather a call to action for American citizens. Whether it be 6 million women who stepped up and filled the jobs in factories, or for the everyday citizens to do their part as well. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TODAY TO HELP SAVE YOUR COUNTRY FROM THEM?” is a great line to ask of his readers or viewers. It makes the reader ponder what they have done recently to help the US. The word “YOU” on the man makes this picture so much more personal than any of the other pictures. This picture exploits the logos to a degree the rest don’t.
A third picture doesn’t have as profound affect on the reader on such a personal level. This picture consists of what seems to be thousands of Japanese Americans all in a line to pick up TNT from a shack. Inside the shack is another Japanese man passing out the TNT one by one to the rest of the Japanese. The shack is labeled “Honorable 5th Column” and has a man standing on top of it with a telescope pointed out to sea or in other words towards Japan. He is telling everyone waiting in line that they are “waiting for the signal from home … ” Dr. Seuss also uses a bit of reality in this picture creating the location of the picture on the west coast of California, Washington and Oregon. Out in the ocean it looks to be like two ships are coming in to port, which at the time is how the Japanese were coming to America. The so-called “honorable 5th column” was the reason Executive Order 9066 was put into action. For the people who don’t know what the 5th column or Executive Order 9066 are, the 5th column was believed to be a group of Japanese who were still loyal to their homeland while still being citizens and living in America. Executive Order 9066 was put into action to counter the so called 5th column before they could attack. Executive Order 9066 was the order to send and detain all Japanese Americans, and anyone of Japanese descent to internment camps. This picture shows just how much paranoia there was back at the time. It exploits this paranoia that Americans had but uses fear more than racism. It creates the scenario of there actually being an 5th column, a group of Japanese Americans still loyal to Japan and how they are plotting against America. This paranoia led to a lot of negatives for the Japanese. They were taken from their homes, and businesses and lost everything they couldn’t carry or take with them. This picture was published before Order 9066 and it played with the fear that everyone had of an attack from within. After Pearl Harbor or Black Sunday Americans took real pride in their country and called for retribution against the Japanese, only fueling the fire political cartoonist like the great Dr. Seuss had started. The racism and stereotypes continued to grow and fuel the hatred towards anyone of Japanese descent. After that sad day in December this picture took on such a profound meaning the threat of an attack corning from within the country combined with the high population of Japanese Americans on the West Coast made the threat seem so much more credible not only with the public but with the government, and thats when 9066 came into play.
War bonds were a big source of funding the wars we had. In another picture, Dr. Seuss promotes buying war bonds and stamps. “Wipe that sneer off his face! Buy War Savings Bonds & Stamps” written along the top and bottom of the cartoon. In the middle is an old Japanese man with squinted eyes, old man glasses, buck teeth, wrinkly and saggy skin, a penciled in mustache and he’s bald. The old man has a sneer on his face as if he’s holding in a laugh. War Bonds and Stamps were big ways of raising money and were promoted heavily back during World War II. The fear and paranoia that Americans had was a great reason to promote selling of war bonds and stamps. The fear of losing to the Japanese and essentially Germany was a great motivator for everyone to pitch in and buy a war bond and stamps which at the time everyone used. The hatred people had towards the Japanese would make them hate the picture of the man sneering in your face. Seeing the Japanese man in the cartoon would’ve put the people of the time period in a mood where they want to just do anything to shut him up. Although it’s a cartoon, the message behind this cartoon is powerful. It says that the Japanese are just sitting back sneering laughing at us. This tugs on the emotional strings of its readers.
These pictures were created during a time of controversy, by a man with one of the greatest most imaginative minds the world has ever known. That being said, are our perceptions of his pictures the ones he had meant them to have? We’ll never know, but this was the way I saw the pictures, what I think they meant, and what I feel he meant them to mean. Even though their tolerance level was no where near what its at today these picture were still very racist. Dr. Suess didn’t stray away from the controversy, having created over 400 cartoons. These are only four of them and only one man’s ideas of what they stood for.
Dr. Seuss. Monkey. Who-sucks. com. Who-sucks, 5 Oct. 1941. 6 Nov. 2012
Dr. Seuss. What have you done today. Who-sucks. com. Who-sucks, 5 Mar. 1942.6 Nov. 2012.
Dr. Seuss. 5th Column. Who-sucks. com. Who-sucks, 13, Feb. 1942.6 Nov. 2012.
Dr. Seuss. War Bonds. Who-sucks. com. Who-sucks, 13 October 1942. 6 Nov. 2012.