Photo: Wikimedia, CC.
Dr. Seuss’s political leanings are well known—he was a liberal Democrat who opposed fascism in the 1940s and President Nixon in the 1970s. The new movie of his book The Lorax is a fairly unsubtle pro-environment allegory.Less well celebrated are Theodor Seuss Geisel’s early advertising and political cartoons from the 1920s through the 1940s, which feature a decidely racist streak.
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In the ads (from the collection of the library of the University of California, San Diego), black people are presented as savages, living in the tropics, dressed in grass skirts. Arabs are portrayed as camel-riding nomads or sultans.
In his political cartoons (from the collection of the Springfield Library and Museums Association), Seuss inveighed against the Japanese during World War II; he drew them buck-toothed and squint-eyed.
The images are depressing because they reveal that one of America’s most original artist-authors had the same tired views of non-whites that his contemporaries did. During the war, Seuss defended his anti-Japanese view, according to his biographer Richard H. Minear:
“… right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: “Brothers!” It is a rather flabby battle cry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not. We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.”
Later in his career, Seuss mended his ways and drew anti-racist cartoons, a couple of which we’ve also included in this gallery. He also expressed regret for his anti-Japanese views, according to filmmaker Ron Lamothe, who made The Political Dr. Seuss:
“The only evidence I have comes from his biographers, who told me that years later—although still recognising its necessity due to the war—he was regretful about some of his cartoons for PM and some of the propaganda work he did for the Army Signal Corps. I do think the fact he dedicated Horton Hears a Who—a parable about the American postwar occupation of Japan—to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan,” says something of his changing attitudes toward the Japanese (this following a trip he made there in 1953). Though, as Richard Minear has pointed out, Horton Hears a Who still smacks of American chauvinism, and it makes no reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Warning: Readers may find the following images offensive or upsetting.
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