These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II

Larry Holzwarth - January 30, 2019

Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to the world by his nom de plume Dr. Seuss, is renowned for his books which were mostly written for children, among them The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Hoo, and his Christmas tale which has become an essential part of the holiday in America, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The Grinch alone has become a feature in advertising campaigns, the subject of ornaments, cards, and wrapping paper, and featured in films, recordings, costumes, and other presentations of the yuletide season. Despite being remembered primarily as a writer of children’s books, Seuss (he pronounced it rhyming with voice rather than juice) never had any children of his own.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Theodor Geisel wrote popular children’s books before and after World War 2, and was an often controversial cartoonist and writer during the war. Wikimedia

Before he became famous as the author of children’s books, Seuss was a writer and illustrator within the advertising industry, as well as a noted political cartoonist. The skills he developed in those capacities led him to becoming a propagandist, generating both editorial cartoons in newspapers and magazines as well as producing propaganda drawings and films for the United States government both before and during American involvement in World War II. His editorial cartoons displayed a support for President Franklin Roosevelt, Lend-Lease (including to the Soviets), and for the incarceration of Japanese Americans for the duration of the war. In the early days of the Second World War Seuss drew more than 400 editorial cartoons for the New York newspaper PM before shifting his considerable skills of persuasion to the production of propaganda and training films.

Far from being merely an avuncular writer and coiner of new words for the entertainment of children, Seuss was a scathing political cartoonist and effective propagandist, as seen in these examples of his lesser known craft.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
An early cartoon, signed as Theo. S. Geisel, indicating it occurred before he worked for Judge Magazine. PBS

1. He became famous in the decade before the outbreak of World War II

Geisel began his career as a writer and cartoonist working for several publications, after adopting his pen name, Seuss, while attending Dartmouth University. He was the editor of the school’s Jack ‘o’ Lantern magazine when he and several others were caught drinking in the dorm, and his participation in all extracurricular activities was suspended in the disciplinary action which followed. In order to mask his continued participation in the magazine he began signing his work “Seuss”. The school’s administrators were aware of the subterfuge, but his work was of such quality that they looked the other way. By 1927, Seuss had acquired national attention with cartoons published in The Saturday Evening Post and Judge, a New York based humor magazine. It was in Judge where the pen name “Dr. Seuss” first appeared.

By the end of the 1920s Geisel was contributing to national advertising campaigns as well as producing cartoons for magazines. With success came the opportunity to travel, and he and his wife Helen made several trips to Europe, where he observed first-hand the rise of the Nazis and the Fascists. It was on a return trip from Europe that he wrote a poem which later became the book And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. At the same time his cartoons began to take on a sharper edge in their depictions of the events in Europe, particularly the antisemitism which he had observed, and he confronted the isolationists and America First movements in the United States, with thinly veiled attacks on notable Americans such as Charles Lindbergh. By the end of 1940 he was internationally known, and a noted supporter of the American Democratic Party and President Roosevelt.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
November 1941 edition of PM, published just days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Alamy

2. Dr. Seuss worked for the liberal newspaper PM for two years

PM was a New York daily newspaper which began publication in 1940 with a liberal slant to its news coverage and editorial content. It supported FDR, Lend-Lease, the New Deal, and other programs seen by the conservatives of the day as being so far left that they were socialist. In order to avoid pressure from businessmen who were most often conservative in nature it refused to accept advertising, a business model which doomed the paper from the start. It ceased to exist after only eight years of publication, but for two of those years Dr. Seuss published editorial cartoons in the newspaper, which were critical of Hitler, Mussolini, conservative members of the American congress, Republican Party leaders, and others critical of America’s growing support of the British and Soviets in Europe. Some of his work in this period was among the most scathing of his career.

Many of the cartoons he drew during this period would be considered racist in a later day, though they were socially acceptable for the time. He resorted to the stereotypes of the time in his drawings of Japanese, presenting them with slitted eyes, round goggles for glasses, and buck teeth. In November of 1941, less than three weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he produced a cartoon condemning American labor unrest, showing Hitler happily sharing the news of labor strife with the German people. On December 9, 1941 his cartoon presented Uncle Sam (in the form of one of his fantastically drawn birds) being jolted out of its rocking chair by a swarm of Japanese attacking him with clubs and slingshots. The caption read “The End of the Nap”.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Dr. Seuss followed the tendencies of the time to use racial stereotypes for the Japanese, as in this poster urging the purchase of War Bonds. National Archives

3. His cartoons were used to sell war bonds.

While working for PM as its primary editorial cartoonist, Seuss also drew cartoons to advertise for and encourage the purchase of war bonds. War bonds preceded American entry into the war as Defense Bonds. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they were quickly renamed War Bonds, and the earliest advertising exhorting Americans to buy them came soon after the Japanese attack, at a time when American outrage towards the Axis powers was primarily directed toward Japan. His first War Bond cartoon appeared in PM on December 12, 1941, and featured caricatures of Adolf Hitler and a Japanese (presumably meant to be Tojo) replacing the heads of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore. The caption urged Americans not to let those faces be carved on American mountains.

The War Bonds cartoons appeared in PM and were also published in other periodicals, as well as issued as posters for display in businesses and other public areas. In December of 1942 Seuss published a cartoon featuring three reindeer asking the general public to give War Bonds as Christmas gifts. By that point of the war the bonds were available to be purchased in many places, including in the lobbies of movie theaters, and their purchase was recommended at the end of the films, as well as during the cartoons, newsreels, and short films which preceded the feature film. Earlier that year Seuss produced a War Bond cartoon which criticized Americans for using less than ten percent of their income to purchase bonds, with a pair of cats sneering at an American claiming to be willing to give his life for his country, noting that ten percent for bonds was another matter.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Dr. Seuss drew editorial cartoons of the Eastern Front which invariably cast the Soviets in a favorable light. Alamy

4. Dr. Seuss depicted the Soviet army in a positive light in 1942

1942 was the darkest year of the war for the Americans, though their presence on the battlefield was cheering for the British allies in North Africa, and the equipment provided to the Soviets via Lend-Lease had greatly strengthened their armies. In June 1942 the US Navy won its great victory at Midway, and later that summer the Americans went on the offensive at Guadalcanal, triggering a series of naval battles in the Solomons, with heavy and disheartening losses. Dr. Seuss published numerous cartoons depicting the defeats suffered by the Axis, particularly as the Soviet Army began to grind up the Germans at Stalingrad, and he also portrayed the Japanese lamenting the heavy losses they suffered in the Pacific campaigns, but the majority of his work during 1942 was directed at policies and politics.

1942 was the year that rationing began in the United States, and the year that scrap drives began to collect metal and rubber for the war effort. Travel was assigned priorities for rail, air, and sea. The American people were asked to make sacrifices, and Seuss produced cartoons which condemned those who did not support them fully and freely. He continued to attack the isolationists and those who did not support Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, as well as those at home who hoarded the products which were becoming increasingly hard to find in stores. Dr. Seuss also directed his ire towards the press which opposed Roosevelt’s policies throughout the year of 1942, with one cartoon featuring a tank labeled the McCormick – Patterson Press spraying what he called disunity gas on the American people.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Dr. Seuss used many tactics to alert Americans to the imminent danger they faced during the war. National Archives

5. Dr. Seuss used cartoons to shame the American people

In June 1942, Dr. Seuss published a cartoon in PM which depicted an American worker lying in bed, wearing a derby labeled “you and me” and placing a phone call to General MacArthur, calling in sick and expressing the hope that the act wouldn’t have a detrimental effect on the general’s plans. The cartoon was a response to figures released by the War Production Board which indicated that sick days and injuries on the job which resulted in lost work time cost 6,000,000 work days every month. The implication of the cartoon was clear. Calling in sick resulted in less production, which led to less supplies for the troops fighting the war, which led to military operations being held up, which led to a longer and more costly war.

In a similar vein, Dr. Seuss also produced cartoons which condemned tax evaders, presenting them as the size of mice being closely watched by cats and other creatures drawn in his inimical style, which eyed the evader with contempt. He gave similar attention to those who did not adequately support the drive to purchase War Bonds. In January of 1943 he produced his last cartoons as the editorial cartoonist for PM, all three of which were directed toward the home front, addressing the subjects of rejecting isolationism, the need for each to pay a fair share of income taxes, and his final effort for the newspaper, which predicted the future. In it he depicted a veteran of the war in 1973, telling his grandson that when surrounded by Germans and Japanese, he remained firmly in his chair complaining about gas shortages.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Throughout early 1942 Dr. Seuss urged his readers to support rationing and increase production. PM

6. Dr. Seuss presented arguments for sacrifice consistently

During World War II, as rationing took hold across America, one of the most consistently complained about sacrifices demanded of the American people at home was the manner in which gasoline was rationed. There was not one formula applied to all. Some received higher amounts of gasoline depending on a variety of factors, which included the need to travel for war related issues or work in critical industries. Those receiving less regarded their lot as unfair, those receiving more often complained that it was still not enough. The argument was made by many that there was no shortage of fuel (which was true) and that there was thus no need to ration gasoline. After voluntary means of rationing were tried and failed, mandatory rationing was imposed in December, 1942.

During the voluntary phase (which included the imposition of a national speed limit of 35 miles per hour) Dr. Seuss produced a cartoon which tried to present the argument for conservation of fuel. The cartoon depicted an American family happily motoring along and delivered the argument – popular among those that opposed rationing – that a full year’s driving only consumed enough gas to drive a tank 653 miles. A second panel showed a soldier in the tank pointing out that his trip, however short, was more important. The real reason behind the rationing of gasoline was the need to save on wear of tires, since there was a rubber shortage, as most of the world’s rubber came from areas which had by then been overrun by the Japanese.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Dr. Seuss presented arguments in support of the internment of Japanese Americans such as this fifth column cartoon. PM

7. The Japanese fifth column was presented to support the internment of Japanese Americans

Dr. Seuss drew several editorial cartoons for PM which indicated his disapproval of racism and antisemitism in the United States and elsewhere, though his disapproval waned in his consideration of Japanese Americans. Early in the war he presented all Japanese Americans as being fifth columnists, ready and willing to take action against the United States, in a cartoon which was clearly supportive of the internment of those living along the American West Coast. The cartoon showed a seemingly unending line of Japanese, drawn in the caricatures stereotypical at the time, stretching from Washington to California, all waiting for their turn to be issued a package labeled TNT.

The same year, in June of 1942, he drew another cartoon for PM which depicted a long line of Americans, under the heading, “What This Country Needs Is a Good Mental Insecticide”. In it, each person in line is waiting for Uncle Sam to spray an insecticide through their ears, driving out what is labeled in the cartoon the “racial prejudice bug”. Another presented the same month shows a maze surrounding a building labeled US War Industries. To reach the industries and the jobs within the maze must first be negotiated successfully, and the entrance to the maze has a sign above it reading. “Negro Job Hunters Enter Here”. The disparity between the racist attitudes and depictions of the Japanese and those of the Black American and Jewish population displayed by Dr. Seuss was a feature of his work throughout the war.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
During the war Army Air Force Captain and later Major Geisel worked extensively with Frank Capra, seen here receiving the Distinguished Service Medal from George C. Marshall. US Army

8. Dr. Seuss joined the Army in 1943

Throughout 1942 Dr. Seuss, in addition to his work for PM, drew posters for first the Department of the Treasury, and later the War Production Board. In January 1943 he produced his final cartoons for PM and joined the US Army as a Captain, placed in command of the animation department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Force. Other members of the unit included Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, and the man who would later become famous as television’s Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore. Director Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life) was one of his bosses. Dr. Seuss was tasked with running a unit which wrote and produced animated films for the purpose of propaganda, training, and information. He worked primarily as a writer during his period with the Army.

One example of his writing during the period was revealed in a film which was screened to American troops in the latter days of the war in Europe. The film was intended to prepare the occupation forces to deal with the German people and was entitled Your Job in Germany. It presented the Germans as possessing diseased minds. “The Nazi party may be gone, but Nazi thinking, Nazi training, and Nazi trickery remains,” the film informed its audience. The film made clear to the troops that fraternization with the German people was prohibited, including interactions with children and civilian refugees, the first time this policy was formally announced to the troops (though it was already being freely violated throughout Germany.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Ronald Reagan was just one of the Hollywood stars who served in the First Motion Picture Unit alongside then Captain Geisel. US Army

9. Dr. Seuss also wrote a film entitled Our Job in Japan

Throughout the war, Dr. Seuss produced cartoons and posters which presented the Japanese in the racist caricatures common for the day and the war. The same caricatures were presented in film and other works. They presented the Japanese as being buck toothed, with slitted, slanting eyes, often with a thin beard or mustache, and usually grinning. Goggles were a frequent feature of the portrayal. But in the film Our Job in Japan, which was written by Dr. Seuss to prepare American troops of the occupation of Japan with a presentation of their duties and the difficulties they would face, he was considerably less judgmental. The Japanese were presented in the film in a more sympathetic light.

Instead of condemnation of the Japanese in a manner similar to that of the Germans in Your Job in Germany, Dr. Seuss condemned the military leaders who had corrupted the educational system of Japan and the ancient traditions of the Shinto religion to essentially brainwash the entire population. The film was suppressed by American military authorities, according to some sources by MacArthur himself. The film was later adapted and lengthened into the film Design for Death in 1947, winning an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Dr. Seuss wrote the expanded film, working with his wife Helen, though the RKO production received mixed reviews from critics. The script for the expanded film is in the archives of Geisel’s papers and other work at the University of San Diego.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Animated training films were created by Geisel and others to alleviate an illiteracy problem during training. Wikimedia

10. US Army training films were created in response to a literacy problem among the troops

As the draft drew more and more of America’s young men into the military, a problem with literacy levels among the troops arose. Many of the young men lacked fundamental reading skills, with some having had minimal schooling. To address the problem, the military created a series of film shorts, which were animated, and a series of comic books to reinforce the lessons of the films. The cartoons were intended to be humorous, somewhat risqué at times, and were classified documents intended for distribution within the military only. They featured a character created by Frank Capra named Private Snafu, the name being a long standing military acronym meaning Situation Normal – All Fouled Up in the cleaner of its two meanings. The other substituted a commonly used expletive for the word starting with the letter f.

Most of the series was written by Dr. Seuss, in his standing as Captain Theodore Geisel. The series introduced new recruits and draftees to military life and situations, protocols, and expectations. Private Snafu, as written by Geisel, became an example of what not to do. He was presented as stupid, obtuse, and lazy in some of the films, several of which end in his own demise, demonstrating to the audience the danger of not doing whatever the army told them to do. Snafu thus lives up to his name in each of the films, demonstrating that the situation may well be fouled up, but it is thus because of the failure of the hapless GI to complete his assigned duty in the proper manner. The films were among the most popular of all the training films presented to the troops.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Technical Fairy First Class transforms Private Snafu into Snafuperman in one of the shorts. US Army

11. Dr. Seuss created a character called the Technical Fairy, First Class

A character within the Private Snafu films appears in nine of the shorts, dressed in an Army uniform hat, shorts, and socks, and wearing the translucent wings of a fairy, upon which the rank symbol of technical sergeant appears. When Snafu is unhappy with an assigned task, or with some other aspect of his situation, the Technical Fairy appears, with a total of nine of the shorts featuring his character. His role is to grant Snafu’s wish, which usually leads to a task being incorrectly completed, or ignored altogether. The result is chaotic, and the viewers are left with the impression that ignoring procedures, or protocols, or other aspects of military life invariably led to some form of disaster which all too often was to be suffered personally.

In a 1944 short, Snafuperman, Snafu annoys his bunkmates while they are trying to study by listening to music at high volume. An argument with his fellows led to him being visited by the Technical Fairy, who grants Snafu powers similar to Superman’s. Tasked with bombing Berlin, Snafu – unable to read a map because of his lack of studying the subject – instead bombs Washington DC. He later accosts an American tank, believing it to be Japanese, and subsequently blows himself up when he fails to properly identify a German bomb as having a time-delayed fuse. He survives though, to demand a field manual from the Technical Fairy as he is recovering in the hospital. Thus the trainees were demonstrated the virtue of diligent study and the perils of taking shortcuts.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Private Snafu films were intended to train young soldiers in all aspects of life far away from home. Youtube

12. Private Snafu was used to train soldiers in how to spend their time off too

The Private Snafu films were also used to help rectify the lack of experience in dealing with situations where some people attempted to take advantage of the young American soldiers being sent to locations all over the world. In most of the films Snafu is voiced by Mel Blanc. In the film Payday, released in 1944, Snafu encounters the Technical Fairy at a bazaar somewhere in North Africa. When the Fairy shows him his perfect future in which he was to be allowed to invest, Snafu is tempted by a devil, who convinces him to go to another shop and spend his money on souvenirs. As the hapless soldier spends his money the picture of the perfect future returns, but changes as the car promised gradually is reduced to roller skates.

Snafu then appears in the Caribbean, where he again encounters the Technical Fairy, who warns him about saving his money, but is instead lured into a bar and his money vanishes in drinks. As it does, the picture of the future returns again, with its former perfection seriously degraded. The final scenario features Snafu in the Arctic, where his paycheck goes to gambling, and as he loses the perfect picture worsens further. Eventually, Snafu loses even his clothes and the perfect future vanishes. The message to the trainees – save your money – was further reinforced by the admonishment following the film to buy War Bonds, which was a request made of all servicemen every payday, wherever they were in the world.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Food shortages and waste were other topics written about by Geisel in the Private Snafu series. Youtube

13. Dr. Seuss used Private Snafu to address food shortages

By 1944, the new recruits and draftees had experienced two years of rationing in civilian life, as food to meet the needs of the military was limited to civilians at home. Among the most expensive of food items in terms of ration points needed for civilian purchase was beef, and the army attempted to limit the waste of beef among its troops. Military personnel were not limited to the amount of food they could request at mess, but they were urged to take no more than they could eat, in an effort to reduce waste. This was practiced in all branches of the service, and was reinforced by a Snafu film written by Geisel in 1944 entitled The Chow Hound. The film was narrated by the ghost of a prize bull who volunteered to be sacrificed as food for the American war effort, rather than complete his honeymoon.

The bull follows the process of his volunteering and being delivered for processing, his butchering, and his production as canned meat products for use of the military. He further describes the effort and time consumed processing and shipping the meat he provided as it goes on its long journey to reach Snafu somewhere in the Pacific. Snafu rushes to the head of the chow line, demands more food than he can ever eat, nonetheless gorges himself, and then throws away the rest. After remonstrating Snafu, the bull’s ghost again stresses that he had voluntarily given himself up as food for the war effort, only to see part of his efforts go to waste. In The Chow Hound, Dr. Seuss stressed the sacrifices of the home front creating a responsibility for the troops. According to Army records, it was one of the least popular of the Snafu films.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Even before the United States entered the war Geisel addressed the European refugees and the America First movement’s indifference to them. PM

14. Dr. Seuss and Adolf the Wolf

In October 1941, two months before America’s entry into the World War II, Dr. Seuss published what was likely his most fervently expressed attack on the isolationists and America First supporters of the United States remaining out of the Second World War. The cartoon was untitled, but came to be known as Adolf the Wolf due to the appearance of that phrase within. The cartoon featured an American woman wearing old fashioned high topped buttoned-up boots and glasses, placing her as a grandmother, and reading to two children, one sitting on either side of her. The book from which she is reading is entitled Adolf the Wolf and the two children appear to be stunned by what she is reading, which is shared with the person viewing the cartoon.

“…and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones…” reads the cartoon. Then beneath it another line reads, “But those were Foreign Children and it really didn’t matter”. The grandmotherly figure is smiling, and it isn’t clear if the second line was read from the book or an expression of her opinion, though the America First which appears on her sweater would seem to indicate that it was the latter. A swastika appears on the spine of the book to further clarify to whom Adolf the Wolf referred. The cartoon was published at a time of great debate in the United States, including in Congress, over whether to alter American immigration laws to allow the entry of the rising numbers of refugees from Europe, including raising the quotas for Jews, an option thoroughly and rabidly opposed by the American First movement.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
A depiction of what the film called “booby traps”, a quip which would not have passed the civilian censors of the day. Youtube

15. Dr. Seuss’s work on film was not subject to the film censors of the day

When Dr. Seuss was writing the Private Snafu and other films for the military the resulting work was not subject to the film censors which held rigid control over what the public was allowed to see in the movies. The resulting films were viewable by only active duty military personnel, and the army wanted them to be as entertaining to the troops as possible. The result was he was allowed a bit more leeway in the production of the films, and innuendo and sexual references which would never have passed the civilian censors were found in the movies, which the troops enjoyed even as they were being subjected to military training. Several of the Private Snafu films used double entendre in their presentation, such as the reference to well-endowed female enemy spies being referred to as booby traps.

Private Snafu’s animated bare rear end was depicted in one film swimming in a river, and was a target for a female mosquito which bit him there in a lesson about the perils of malaria. Malaria was a serious problem for troops serving in the South Pacific and other areas which featured a tropical climate during the war, such as the Canal Zone. Some profanity also was featured in the animated training films, though not to the level that profanity was featured in the everyday conversations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines throughout the course of the war. With Dr. Seuss writing the majority of the twenty-seven Snafu films (26 of which survive today) the military was able to present each branch of the service facing perils and problems equally, with none of the branches having it easier than any of the others, and all sacrificing for a common cause.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
The film Gripes saw Private Snafu in charge, speaking in verse, and issuing two women, referred to as “dames” to every soldier. Youtube

16 Dr. Seuss used verse to narrate many of the movies he wrote for the army

Characters in the training films written by Dr. Seuss while serving in the army often spoke in verse, a trait which marked the characters of most of his children’s books after the war (before which several had been written in prose). In the film Gripes, both Private Snafu and the Technical Fairy speak in verse. Snafu is engaged in a dreaded army task, KP (kitchen patrol, peeling potatoes, washing pots and pans, and the general grunt duties of working in a kitchen) when he says to the audience, “I joined this here army to join the fun. A-jabbin’ the Jap and a-huntin’ the Hun. And look at the job they handed to me; KP, KP, KP, and KP. The rhythms of the Cat and the Hat and others of Seuss’s later works were clearly apparent, and part of the means he used to make the films entertaining.

Free from the restraints of the censors, Dr. Seuss was also able to write stories which the animators built upon which would never have been deemed acceptable for civilian consumption under the Hays Code. Snafu is allowed to fantasize about an army with himself in charge, one in which each GI would be issued two “dames” in the film’s parlance, as well as be free from the work and discipline of army life. The animators drew the “dames” in revealing poses and costumes, with one before her makeup table dressed in a garter belt and little else. The good girls, depicted as the all-American girl next door, nonetheless demonstrated a healthy eagerness to accommodate the brave boys in uniform. For Dr. Seuss, it was a creative freedom which he had never had before, and would never enjoy again, and he made the most of it.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Major Theodor Geisel was awarded the Legion of Merit for his services in World War II. Pinterest

17. Dr. Seuss received the Legion of Merit for his war service

When he returned to civilian life in 1947, it was with the rank of major and the Legion of Merit award for his services to the military and the nation during the course of the war. His return to civilian life marked a return to the writing of children’s books and his experience using the written word, the cartoon, and animation were reflected in his post-war career. The strong anti-Japanese viewpoint which he had held during the war, and which was amply illustrated in his editorial cartoons and propaganda work began to wane. He reflected on the Japanese culture which he had represented in the scripts of training films late in the war, and began to shift his views towards the people of all cultures, which can be seen in several of his later works, but in none more so than the 1954 book, Horton Hears a Who.

It was the second appearance of the character Horton the elephant, who was featured in the pre-war Horton Hatches the Egg (1940). In the story the elephant hears voices from a small speck in a pond, which he learns is a small planet which contained Whoville, occupied by the tiny Whos (later appearing with the Grinch). Horton is led to conclude, as he protects the little community, that “a person’s a person no matter how small”. The book was a reference to the post-war American occupation of Japan and an indication of how much the author’s view of the Japanese people had changed in the aftermath of the war, driven in part by the American use of Japan as a staging base in the recently ended Korean War combat operations. Seuss used the lessons he learned to sway public opinion against the Japanese (and others) during the war to educate children, and dedicated the book to a friend from Japan upon its publication.

These 18 Facts Prove Dr. Seuss was a Huge Influence in World War II
Years after the war Dr. Seuss returned to the theme of stacked turtles he first presented in this 1942 cartoon. PM

18. Yertle the Turtle and a return to Adolf Hitler

In 1958, Adolf Hitler was long dead (except to conspiracy theorists) and the Cold War with its antagonism between the Soviets and Americans well underway when Dr. Seuss published a book of three separate stories under the title Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. In the main story of the title, Yertle is the king of his pond who orders other turtles of the pond to stack themselves one upon the other, for his use as a throne since the rock he was accustomed to using was not tall enough for his taste. With each additional turtle added to the stack the poor turtle on the bottom feels greater pressure. Yertle continued to expand his kingdom and add turtles to the pile until finally the turtle on the bottom yielded to the pressure and burped, toppling the stack and Yertle into the mud (the word burp than being considered impolite).

Dr. Seuss later explained that Yertle represented Adolf Hitler, and that he had used the images of stacked turtles in a political cartoon when still working for PM early in the war years. The story of Yertle was the story of the futility of autocratic rule and that the enormous weight it placed upon those under it would eventually cause it to collapse. Dr. Seuss frequently protested that he never began a story with the intention of presenting a pre-defined moral to the audience, but that the story would develop a moral of its own as it was told, and that children in particular were more likely to see morals in his work, since, “kids can see a moral coming a mile off”. By the beginning of the 21st century, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, despite its message and the originally perceived crude use of the word burp, had reached 125 on the all-time list of children’s books sold in the United States.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Beginnings of Dr. Seuss”. Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. April, 1976

“PM: A New Deal in Journalism 1940-1948”. Paul Milkman. 1997

“Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel”. Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan. 1996

“The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss”. Thomas Fensch. 2010

“The Political Dr. Seuss”. Springfield Library and Museums Association. March, 2000

“PM: New York’s Highbrow Tabloid”. Roger Starr, City Journal. Summer 1993

“Interview with filmmaker Ron Lamothe about The Political Dr. Seuss”. Hayley Wood, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.

“Dr. Seuss, the cat in the Army hat”. Brian Schlumbohm, Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Officer. March 10, 2011. Online

“Our Job in Japan: Making Sense of the American Creed”. Jeffrey M. Hornstein. Pdf, online

“Winning the war, one frame at a time”. Patricia Ward Biedeman, The Los Angeles Times. January 26, 2011

“Ignorant Armies: Private Snafu Goes to War”. Mark David Kaufman, Public Domain Review. Online

“Private Snafu Shorts”. Sean Axmaker, Turner Classic Movies. Online

“Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Sort Films 1939-1945”. Michael S. Shull and David E. Wilt. 2004

“Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons re-emerge amid criticism of Donald Trump”. Josh Hafner, USA Today. February 2, 2017

“Technical Fairy First Class? Is This Any Way to Run an Army?” Michael Birdwell, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television. June, 2005

“Hollywood went to war in 1941 – and it wasn’t easy”. Larry Margasak, May 3, 2016

“Dr. Seuss Goes to War”. Richard H. Minear. 1999

“When Dr. Seuss took on Adolf Hitler”. Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, The Atlantic. January 15, 2013