Before Dr. Seuss was Dr. Seuss, he was Theodor Geisel, and before he achieved tremendous fame for his unconventional children’s books, he drew unconventional political cartoons for PM, a left-wing daily newspaper in New York. Minear’s book, Dr. Seuss Goes to War, returns these cartoons, representing a little-known period in the creative life of Dr. Seuss, to the attention of an American public who knows him only for the Cat in the Hat and the Whos of Who-ville.
Like most of Dr. Seuss’s later works, these cartoons educate as they entertain. They also exhibit his characteristic style and talent, with people, animals, and imaginary creatures that will look quite at home on the pages of Horton Hears a Who nearly twenty years later.
The years 1941-1942, when Dr. Seuss was drawing for PM, fell right in the heart of World War II and provided more than enough fodder for his political cartooning. Though Hitler found his way into the largest number of Dr. Seuss cartoons, the artist also found room over the coals for Stalin, Mussolini, “Japan,” and French premier Laval. One cartoon in particular even suggests the fate of Jews under Hitler. Hitler and Laval stand together in a grove of trees from which hang the bodies of ten Jews. With their lynching done, Hitler and Laval sing together from a piece of sheet music, “Only God can make a tree/To furnish sport for you and me!” (p.101) Though according to Minear, “this is Dr. Seuss’s only cartoon dealing with Jewish deaths in Europe” (p.77), a number of his cartoons address the “racial hatred” Hitler was fomenting in Europe, and the anti-Semitism and anti-black racism prevalent in the United States.
In fact, Dr. Seuss shows no mercy for any of America’s internal enemies, drawing into the fray anyone against the war effort. From the anti-Semitism and racism exhibited by the common American to the vitriol hurled by Father Coughlin, Dr. Seuss exposes the damage and divisiveness such ideas can bring. He even wielded his pen against Charles A. Lindbergh, once a hero for the first trans-Atlantic flight but here vilified for his anti-interventionist and anti-Semitic ideas. Shockingly, however, Dr. Seuss’s racial openness did not extend to Japanese-Americans, whom he unjustifiably portrayed as just another of America’s internal enemies, showing them in one cartoon lined up from Washington State to California to get TNT while “waiting for the signal from home” (p.65).
Minear begins each chapter of this book with an essay placing Dr. Seuss’s editorial cartoons in context. Portions of these essays explore Dr. Seuss’s political vision over the course of his two years at PM and also how his drawings reflect the American response to the War. In the course of these essays, Minear often refers to specific cartoons within the book’s collection, analyzing the imagery and fixing these drawings among the others, deftly illuminating the details for those who want to do more than just browse the collection. The cartoons themselves are sequenced in a way that supports these essays, but Minear also includes a chronological list of the cartoons, providing a way to track a bit of the history of the War through the eyes of Dr. Seuss. With 200 cartoons reproduced in Minear’s work, it is certainly an interesting and insightful view.
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