Dr. Seuss’s Racist Anti-Japanese Propaganda (And His Apology)

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:

japanese-proverb

liberators-of-america

righteous-protest

save-your-country-from-them

signal-from-home

sneer-face

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.

Seuss Apologizes

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.

horton-hears-a-who

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.

  • grimpoteuthis

    I was shocked when I learned about this (and Disney’s WWII propaganda) when I was working in a book store, but I never knew about the apology by way of Horton, I’ll have to give that one another read!

  • DAVIDPD

    Nationalism is a powerful thing.

  • http://twitter.com/intheinaka Matthew Loten

    The imagery utilised by the ‘apology’ is very interesting as well. The huge, benevolent Horton guiding and rescuing the tiny (let’s not forget that line ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small’) Whos.

  • grimpoteuthis

    Also, this isn’t propaganda related but it reminds me of stumbling onto a copy of Roald Dahl’s “Switch Bitch” when until then I had no idea he wrote anything but (my favorite) children’s stories. Love his adult stuff too now, but at first I prob just stared at it with my mouth open for a minute hehe.

  • http://twitter.com/WESTPAC_NAVY John Andresen

    Applying a a 21st Century sense of ‘righteousness’ to events which occured in the midst of a war of aggression perpetuated by the Japanese Empire 70 years ago seems inappropriate. In the context of the barbaric and egregious acts committed by the Japanese government and military, Dr. Seuss’s acts seem trivial. This sort of propaganda was ubiquitous.

  • grimpoteuthis

    So, by extension were the Japanese-American internment camps trivial? That may seem an
    unfair comparison but I think the point is that Seuss himself later came
    to realize that even in a time of war it’s wrong to demonize entire
    races of people.

  • http://twitter.com/MomijiSoule Leslie Soule

    I’m pretty sure wrong is still wrong no matter the scale. Dr. Seuss is admirable because when he realized what he did hurt people, he took responsibility for it and apologized (in a quite memorable way). Let’s not forget that propaganda like this reduced the men of the most decorated military unit in U.S. history, the 442nd regiment in WWII, to a caricature of a balding, buck-toothed, squinty-eyed dude. Now that’s just plain disrespectful to your countrymen – I don’t care what era you’re from.

  • orangedude

    During wartime it’s easy to forget that the people you’re fighting are human beings. It’s easier to write them off as something less than human, or as barbaric. We look back with shame on the memories of when we did such things, yet we are still doing this today.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I think the fact that the Whos are tiny works better as imagery for the Japanese being a minority in the US. The quote works well with that thought too.

    Of course, he could have just been joking about the Japanese being short too.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    We’ve been doing it since the dawn of civilization (or maybe even earlier). That’s just how humans are; it’s difficult to kill another person, but to kill an animal… well, you do that all the time, so what’s the problem?

    It’s a defense mechanism that the brain uses. It’s really difficult for an average human to kill something they see as a person. During conflict, the brain separates the combatants into two groups; you and them. ‘Them’ are inferior. They are evil. They are less than human. You don’t feel any empathy for them.
    Apply that to a war between nations and it’s no wonder such propaganda shows up.

    And by the way, Them can be decided based off of anything, not just race. Religion is the number one choice when creating a concept of Them. Next is nationality and then race. After that, it can be anything really. Mental state, disease, etc. can all be used to create Them.

  • ABC123

    Imagine if you were an artist, and the government comes to you with a commission for war propaganda (hey, you’re famous and you’ve influence in schools), and then you refuse. Good luck with that. God only knows what’s going to happen to you. Lose your job and fame? Might even lose your life.

  • CorrBlimey

    It would be interesting if we could see what the Japanese drew us as in WWII. I’d love to see an article about that!

  • Drew Parlow

    In his defense, he probably never
    *Puts on sunglasses*
    spotted a Jap.
    YEEEAH.
    Luckily, I never cared for his works too much (I was reading Harry Potter by the time I was 5 1/2 or 6, leaving little time to remember Dr. Suess) to be too disturbed. Not to mention the times were racist AND war was usually fueled with whatever they’ve got. I mean, some people are doing propaganda against terrorism by fueling anti-Muslim feelings; which of course is forgetting that the majority of US domestic terrorism incidents are caused by Right-Wing extremists and Eco-terrorists (together making up about 85% of said domestic terrorism).
    OK, end rant-ish thing. BYE BYE.

  • SJacks

    The art community was still struggling out of the Great Depression (imagine trying to sell something to hang on a wall when a huge portion of the country didn’t have walls anyway). I’m sure it didn’t take much to get an artist to scribble a political cartoon. And if you refused, there were tons of others willing to take your place.

  • Moormanoid

    Interesting story. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/MULLY5150 Jim Mullins

    It amazes me how simple and narrow minded people can be….and I’m talking about the people that are shocked about this. In 2013 something like this is reprehensible, i agree 110% on that. But when he did that it was a different time, a different place, a different world. Today you would be left with your jaw agape if you heard a white man call a black man a nigger. Back in 1850 that’s how the USA was. Was it ignorant? From what we know now, yes. But I bet that each and everyone white person that reads and/or comments on this would have been right in there if they were living at that time. Yes, stuff like this is a black mark on our history, but it’s nothing to be shocked about today. Again, the world was a different place at that time. And, for what it’s worth, I’m a US citizen that has lived in Japan for 22 years and has a Japanese wife. I shake my head at things like this but I can’t condemn Dr. Seuss for doing something that was the norm in his day and age.

  • Michael Moore

    I think grimpoteuthis’ diagnoses was correct. Its one thing to encourage your country, and even to make distasteful propaganda against violent acts and enemies, during a time of war. Its another thing to include your own citizens and allies in that propaganda, encouraging unconstitutional acts against them just because they share a similar heritage to the nation at war. Demonizing a race because of international politics and war is ignorance in action. I’m glad Dr. Seuss recognized that, and corrected himself in this.

  • Jim

    Wow! I’m especially shocked by the “waiting for the signal from home” illustration. These also remind me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon I saw as a child in which Bugs played up the “Jap” stereotype. War is hell!

  • fsdhjhgfdgefr

    well i think the movie is fine

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624507772 Steve Gans

    I’d be interested to see anti-American propaganda that circulated in Japan at the same time.

  • Charlie Smith

    Mat Dr. Seuss burn in Hell with the rest of the racists.

  • face

    hi

  • -Rin

    Are you talking about the movie which included that stereotypical anime reference? XD

  • -Rin
  • Kadeem Tyrell

    Wow everyone here trying to justify his actions because the image of him you once had is now in conflict with BLATANT evidence of his racism. Cognitive Dissonance, look it up. This wasn’t an accident, and there are other ways to make a living. Though selling your soul is probably the quickest. I already knew of his racism before this article because I do so much research on history, mainly the World Wars. I can’t believe the comments I’m reading on here of people trying to rationalize racism because it’s coming from someone who you didn’t even know personally, but feel so emotionally attached to his works. This is the same crap that goes on today. This is why people here a bomb goes off in America and immediately think it’s a Muslim terrorist. Propaganda has made you fear all middle eastern people, yet you don’t even realize it. Regardless of whether or not they are American citizens, we are all human beings. I don’t know why what Dr. Seuss did is more or less atrocious because they were or weren’t Americans. Americans have this heir of superiority that is undue to them. Look at the death toll in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I’m not talking about the thugs we sent over there to kill I’m talking about citizens of invaded countries. Millions of lives in exchange for the thousands lost during 9/11. No “weapons of mass destruction” not even Osama Bin Laden, because he was in Pakistan. Some of you people need to wake up before it’s too late.

  • jeffmagic

    The man was pure scum, just like Roosevelt.

  • Sabina

    Or that the story would later be used as propaganda against women’s rights groups…

  • yolanda

    well isnt the US doing almost the same thing with the people in the middle east?

  • Darcy

    In all honesty, I really liked the movie. A lot. It’s one of my favorites.
    I would say something about the actual content of the article, but it makes my heart all weird so I can’t really think of what to say.

  • Tudza White II

    So how did he justify these comics while drawing others supporting the rights of blacks and jews?

  • Annoyed law student

    The difference is that, they wouldnt feel bad about it at all. They are still denying that their soldiers committed war crimes in China during World War II. Apparently raping thousands of Chinese girls and taking sex slaves “never happened”.

  • Int’l Crim law student

    Why is it so bad, but ok to draw insulting images of the Nazi’s. While it is wrong to treat Japanese Americans badly when there is no proof that they are helping the Japanese army (of course), Japanese soldiers in WWII, like the Nazis, were brutal. They conducted Medical Experimentation on Humans, and killed Chinese civilians in front of their families, raping thousands of girls, and then forcing them into sex slavery. And many people in Japan now deny the war crimes even occurred, which is a horrible and not productive for modern Int’l law, International relations, and the global cooperation to avoid future atrocities.

  • Horton

    No relation. Being wrongheaded about something doesn’t mean you have to be wrong about everything. Furthermore, if you actually read the article, he apologized and did what he did best to try to make things right.

    You never have to justify standing up for the repressed.

  • Horton

    Spoken like pure scum.

  • jeffmagic

    Propaganda is powerful against weak minds. Try to remember that a naval blockade is an act of war.

  • jeffmagic

    US troops raped thousands in western Europe. Look it up.

  • EM

    Don’t forget there is a big difference between a people and their government! That’s the government’s stance.

  • Claire Nguyen

    The difference is that anti-Nazism isn’t necessarily anti-German. The USA never interned German citizens, there aren’t caricatures of German stereotypes, etc. Look at the Mount Rushmore cartoon: that’s not Hitler and Hirohito, that’s Hitler and Japanese Stereotype. Most WWII era anti-Nazi propaganda targets specific people, or at least someone who is clearly wearing a Nazi uniform; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same for the Imperial Army. The message here: Nazis are evil, all Japanese people are evil.

  • Chouxchoux

    Yes but the people did nothing to change their government’s stance nor change what they teach children as their text books do not teach the truth about attrocities. My grandmother told me about the attrocities she saw when I was a child and I don’t buy anything Japanese if I can help it! Go see the Railway man. The scenes of torture is only half as attrocious as what she described!

  • Mike Barrett

    Good point. In fact, the first myths about goblins were based on the Picts (tribal, pre-Christian inhabitants of Scotland). They would paint their skin blue and bleach their hair with piss. And they were also rather short-statured. But they were feared and demonized nonetheless. Hadrian even built a wall, to keep the “goblins” out.

  • Japanese-American and PROUD

    Oh yes, because a nation that didn’t have democracy for a VERY long time, who had survived by giving power over to individuals that were not elected but born into their roles, and who had shown in their history could only seriously get changes for bad things with major civil wars, could just change their government’s minds. Don’t apply your opinions of how government works based off America onto others; the Japanese didn’t have any more chance of rebelling against their government than the Germans who didn’t approve of the Nazis did in Germany. In addition when has the government actually even listened to it’s people even when it should? The American government certainly doesn’t always do a great job of that, even when a whole communities of its people are fighting against something they’re doing.
    As for textbooks, I’m not sure what’s in Japanese textbooks but I’m aware of what’s in AMERICAN ones and they certainly don’t talk about all the atrocities we’ve committed, or even a different opinion until we’re older, forcing kids to believe that “Oh Germans and Japanese people were all bad in that time though we did intern some unfortunates”. It’s not until later we learn about the fact that Germans in their homeland were under constant fear of death or worse because of the SS, that a lot of kids were brainwashed into telling on others including their own families, that actually a good majority of the nation disapproved of Hitler’s ways but were so scared to say anything because their very lives and the lives of those they love were in danger. Now Japan wasn’t under a dictator at the time, not anymore at least (damned Tokugawa), but we are talking about a nation that has always valued unity and loyalty, and a nation that would often hurt even itself to get those things. To disapprove was just as much a death warrant for them and not everyone actually wanted the fighting or even understood any of it. I’m sure their textbooks don’t give a lot of detail on things like the Rape of Nanking or some of their worst moments but tell me: how long did you go in school before you found out the fact that America treated even legal immigrants like garbage? How long did it take you to find out the details of slavery? How long until you found out about the internment camps or the Chinese Exclusion Act or about the Phillipines and the fact it was an US COLONY and yet its people weren’t even allowed to be counted as American ith rights or the fact that WAY before WW2 America was treating Asians, Japanese included, as aliens who didn’t deserve basic human rights? How long until you found out the cancer and irreparable damage, the horrors of what the atom bombs did to the civilians of Japan, the vast majority of whom never hurt anyone, never wanted to, who were children who didn’t even understand the war, who had to then spend the rest of their lives (short as they ended up) suffering in pain for the actions of the government and military forces?
    You want to go see something? Read Toto-chan or the story of Sadako; read about those children who didn’t understand, who NEVER understood, and had their lives upended. You want to go off and be racist and use your grandmother as an excuse for being an asshole and thinking that the crimes of a past generation of a nation justifies treating the current generation, most of which were those kids, like they’re bad too and not buying their wares then fine, go be a racist but don’t do it here. Because it seems pretty obvious you’re one of those closeminded people who never actually listened in history class and used common sense to think “hm, maybe they’re a REASON why the common people didn’t stand up to their government, maybe they’re more to this than just what my grandmother told me”. The Japanese did do bad things, no doubt, though so has every other nation in the history of forever, but that doesn’t make them as a people bad.

  • Tsuki

    It was wartimes I’d have to say. Especially here in America national pride weighs the strongest when we’re at war and often even good people with good intentions do what turns out later to be bad things. There’s no real justification, he still went along with it and made the propaganda, but it’s worth remembering that how powerfully many people feel national pride and duty during wartimes; we can’t really condemn him for his actions when during our own recent war we made a similar mistake by making all Middle Eastern and/or Muslim person out to be a terrorist.
    Also for the supporting one over the other, that’s actually what America’s always done ^^; We like to pick and choose our enemies and often will find ourselves allying with the group we used to treat as the enemy when we have a new one. We hated the Chinese after all who were in the states before but when the war started up suddenly the Chinese-Americans and other Asian groups were our friends against the Japanese. This whole debacle seems like he was just another person; I myself am Japanese and most of the WW2 stuff angers and frustrates me, on both sides, but I recognize that Dr. Seuss was really just a person in the longrun and there’s no reason to hate him for his propaganda in hindsight.

  • Samantha

    You are a Queen

  • Chingate

    And, I sure as hell avoid buying anything Made in China because it tainted, because they use slave labor, et al.

  • Filthy Liar

    Roosevelt was a better president than any of the last six.

  • jeffmagic

    Roosevelt was a proud facsist who locked up the Japanese into concentration camps. Great guy.

  • Filthy Liar

    Nah, that was shitty. He wasn’t a fascist though. He actively held back corporate power. Unless you’re one of those idiots who think Goldberg’s book was right.

  • jeffmagic

    He did anything but hold back corporate power. His policies were exactly fascist – designedvto cartelize all major industries.