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Saturday, May 3, 2014

World War II American Comics Versus Japan - Dr. Seuss

I do not like Nips, Sam-I-Am.

America's beloved children author Dr. Seuss, aka Ted Geisel, was asked to create American propaganda for US efforts against its enemies during World War II.

While Dr. Seuss made many comic strips with an anti-German motif, he also did many showing his version of the Japanese, but not my opening line. That's parody to make a point.

While some would look at his depiction of the enemy as being racist—in 2014 ideals, it would be—his depiction is no less awkward than every other artist or writer's stereotypical depictions utilizing slanted eyes, stilted speech, big buck teeth, and more. It was acceptable for the era. (Really... I have a View Master reel from 1948 depicting Little Black Sambo - look him up)

But… if anyone has ever seen political cartoons in their local newspaper of our current era, you would see that parody is still alive and well, though parody through  major stereotypes has been all but eliminated.




So… yes… as you can see, Dr. Seuss did some pretty 'edgy' stuff.

In the top most comic, you can see how his joke implies that all the Japanese living in the U.S. are all turncoats waiting to happen (5th Column) and that internment camps are a good thing.

Kind of makes you queasy, huh, like you just ate some green eggs and ham.

He also helped co-create Private SNAFU cartoons for the U.S. Army… (Snafu - situation normal all fugged up), an adult look at how the average GI Joe needed to survive the war, including how to keep his gun clean… and I'm talking about the one IN his pants. I've got a collection of those on videotape - they are okay…

Anyhow… when the war was over and Dr. Seuss eventually saw this his war efforts might have been over the top, he decided to do something about it.

Have you ever read Horton Hears A Who? Maybe you've only just seen the animated cartoon, or the recent kind of crappy animated film?

Yup.. Dr. Seuss wrote Horton Hears A Who in 1954… it was dedicated to a friend of his… a Japanese friend.

The story is supposed to be a metaphor for the United States' post-war occupation of Japan. Or is it an allegory? Whatever… it's about Japan being occupied by the US after WWII…

Throughout the book, the reader is treated to the theme that "a person's a person no matter how small", and that was something Geisel/Dr. Seuss took back to America with him after visiting Japan in 1953 and noting that the Japanese—thanks to the influx of Americanism upon it—that the concept of the 'individual' was still quite new to the Japanese... as they were used to following the crowd.

Case in point... the Japanese need to follow whatever the Emperor says, and they do, with the knowledge not to question things, as 'the nail that stands up gets hammered down.'

You can see that in Dr. Seuss' topmost drawing where all the Japanese look pretty much alike... glasses, caps/hats, smiling slyly... all following the crowd to do their duty as good Japanese to kill the enemies of Japan....

Horton Hears A Who is Dr. Seuss' way of apologizing to the Japanese while showing them that one person, regardless of how they might be mocked, can make a difference to A world or even THE world.

Yes... Dr. Seuss books actually have meaning.

What? Hopefully you come into this blog and learn something...

Kind of gives one paws (sic).

I wonder where we can get some red fish blue fish sushi where we can all eat our words?

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

2 comments:

  1. How about Japanese Wartime propaganda? Got any of that as a contrast? I recall one from a magazine from many years ago where the Americans were demonized and killed in big numbers by a kamikaze pilot. Was interesting stuff. Not as interesting though as reading about what the actual pilots thought in books like http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/693350.Samurai_

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    1. Contrast? I have been sitting on a piece about Tokyo Rose - THE ultimate Japanese wartime propaganda. So... coming up!

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