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Dr Seuss: parables for today's international relations

By Martin Philip - posted Monday, 30 August 2004

If you thought Dr. Seuss just wrote kids’ books, think again. The creator of “The Cat in the Hat” was also a brilliant political cartoonist. His notoriety as a children’s author has largely obscured his prodigious output for defunct New York daily newspaper PM, for which he was chief editorial cartoonist from 1941-1943.

Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Hirohito were all subjected to the withering wit of Dr. Seuss in over 400 cartoons, 200 of which appear in a recently published book, “Dr. Seuss Goes to War” .

American historian Richard H. Minear provides biographical and historical context to Dr. Seuss’s output, but this article is all about the cartoons themselves.


The cartoon published in PM on June 2, 1941 shows a dragon emblazoned with swastikas straddling the Atlantic. Europe is visibly in ruins on the other side of the pond as arch-appeaser Charles Lindbergh pats the dragon, the head of which bears an uncanny resemblance to Hitler. The speech caption says: “’Tis Roosevelt, Not Hitler, that the world should really fear” .

The same sort of moral relativism is still with us 60 years on. George Monbiot, for instance, assured Guardian readers in August 2002 “the greatest threat to world peace is not Saddam Hussein, but George Bush” .

Dr. Seuss’s cartoons provide other parallels between WWII and the war on terror. The insistence in contemporary pacifist circles that Saddam Hussein’s crimes against humanity offered no cause to violate Iraq’s sovereignty is echoed in a cartoon showing a mother reading her children a story, “Adolf the Wolf”. The children are aghast as their mother reads:

“…And the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones…But those were Foreign Children and it didn’t really matter.”

Those taken in by the renaissance in isolationist thinking, exemplified in John Kerry’s Democratic Conference promise the US would only go to war when it absolutely “had to”, rather than when it “wanted to”, might care to ponder the consequences of a US retreat from world affairs.

In a 1941 cartoon, Dr. Seuss depicts isolationists as ostriches burying their heads in the sand. An ostrich bonnet salesman’s placard promising relief from “Hitler Headache” reads,


“Forget the terrible news you’ve read
Your mind’s at ease in an ostrich head!” 

The idea of the US as the Great Satan had gained some traction even in WWII. Witness the cartoon showing the grotesque Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, alerting the world to America’s limitless evil,

“I appeal to the civilised world in righteous protest…against American barbarism and inhumanity.”

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About the Author

Martin Philip is a postgraduate journalism student at the University of Queensland. He has worked and travelled extensively in Europe, Morocco & Turkey.

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