Dr Seuss books on a shelf

Dr Seuss Was Racist? These Political Cartoons He Drew Say Yes

Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel, would have been 113 years old today. Born March 2, 1904, the beloved children’s book author wrote over 50 books. His best-known titles include One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat In The Hat, and Oh The Places You’ll Go, among others.

What’s less known about Dr. Seuss is that he drew political cartoons, and some of them were disturbingly racist.

As the Business Insider notes, before he was famous, Theodor Seuss Geisel was a commercial illustrator who worked on ad campaigns for companies like NBC, General Electric, and Ford. He also drew ads for now-defunct companies like Standard Oil and Flit. These ads appeared in publications from 1927 into the 1940s.

Some of the ads Seuss drew depict African people as dumb savages dressed only in grass skirts. In other cartoons, he weighed in on the Japanese and their role in World War 2. But in doing so, he drew the Japanese with pig noses, dehumanizing them with a stroke of his pen.

He didn’t just share his political views via illustrated political cartoons as he also created short films during World War 2.

According to Dennis Nyback, a film archivist and historian, Seuss’s children’s book career didn’t start until later in his life.

“We know him as a children’s author mainly because his children’s books are so huge,” Nyback said in an interview with The Journal Star. “The ‘Cat in the Hat’ was his breakthrough book, but he was 50 years old when he did that. He had had this whole life before that.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel started with the cartoon editorials, joined the army in 1943 and then started writing films which were all propaganda pieces for the government, Nyback added. Two of the more notable propaganda films are called Your Job in Germany (directed by Frank Capra) and Our Job in Japan. The films were designed to train US occupation forces in these countries.

“They’re really an embarrassment, using stereotypical images to vilify human beings to reduce them to something less than a human being so we don’t feel bad about killing them,” Nyback said.

Dr. Seuss also wrote Private Snafu, a series of military training cartoons. The main character was an irresponsible soldier who got himself into life-threatening situations because of his refusal to obey orders.

“(The military) found that the soldiers weren’t responding to the training films, so when Dr. Seuss came up with this character of Private Snafu, they realized they had something that these young soldiers would pay attention to — some sex, some racism,” Nyback said.

While all of this may seem damning to Dr. Seuss, it’s important to note that he did start drawing anti-racist cartoons later on in his career.

Ant Racist Ad Drawn By Dr Seuss
Anti-racist political ad drawn by Dr. Seuss. [Image by The Springfield Library And Museums Association]

And if you think that these cartoons are a far cry from Seuss’s work in A Cat In The Hat, Nyback added that the author didn’t like children enough to have any of his own.

“Seuss famously said, ‘I don’t believe it’s true that there’s no such thing as a bad boy.’ He did think that there were some kids who were bad or evil.,” Nyback continued. “He didn’t have any kids, himself. In fact, he said ‘You have the kids, I’ll entertain them.'”

Do the political cartoons and films that Dr Seuss drew and wrote cause you to think any less of his legacy? Let us know in the comments below.


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[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]