It’s always strange to see the more human, adult side of people who were important to us as kids. I was weirded out when it was revealed last year that Charles Schultz used Charlie Brown to hook up with his mistress.
So when I found out that Dr. Seuss made anti-Japanese propaganda, I was a pretty shocked. How could the author of Cat in the Hat and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish have created such ugly caricatures?
As we saw in How To Spot a Jap, WWII was a time for American artists to use their talents to make racist propaganda for the war effort.
And given the size of WWII, everybody who could contribute something did, including Theodor Seuss Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss.
While Dr. Seuss created propaganda against every enemy of the US (including a lot of quality Hitler caricatures), his propaganda against the Japanese really stands out.
Unlike his propaganda against Nazi Germany, Dr. Seuss’s anti-Japanese propaganda had a racist element behind it. All of the nasty racist stereotypes you’ve ever seen- buck teeth, slanty eyes, replacing Rs with Ls – Dr. Seuss included in his drawings.
You can also see Dr. Seuss’s distinct artstyle. Check out some of the propaganda for yourself:
Dr. Seuss dutifully cranked out drawing after drawing for his country, trying to turn his fellow citizens against the enemy. But eventually the war ended, and things changed.
After the war, Dr. Seuss began to question his beliefs about the Japanese. He’d created anti-Japanese propaganda for the US and had supported Japanese internment, but was it all justified?
Not one Japanese-American had been convicted for any sort of sabotage or treason, and the evil monsters that Dr. Seuss had drawn in his wartime propaganda turned out to be much different that he’d imagined.
So how did Dr. Seuss apologize to the Japanese? By writing a children’s book, of course.
Dr. Seuss wrote Horton Hears a Who!, in part, as an apology to the Japanese that he’d demonized during the war with his propaganda.
Published in 1954, Horton Hears a Who! was dedicated to a Japanese friend of Dr. Seuss, and the story itself is meant to be a metaphor for American postwar occupation of Japan.
While I don’t think that people will ever forget Dr. Seuss’s propaganda, I think that it’s fitting that his apology is much better remembered. It’s a great children’s book that really stands the test of time, and has a heartfelt core message.
Although if Dr. Seuss had known that Horton Hears a Who! was going to be turned into that awful movie, I’m sure he would have found another way to apologize.