Thursday, February 26, 2009

Class One - Dr. Seuss on WW II - Japanese Internment cartoons

I found a great article about Dr. Seuss' World War II cartoons on a blog called Parableman. It includes a link to a piece at the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, where one of the commenters provides a link to the cartoon above.

What do YOU think? Were the Japanese Americans just "Waiting for the Signal From Home?" You're probably more certain of your own opinion than of Dr. Seuss'. I know I am! I think it's sort of ambiguous. Does the good doctor really think that there's a threat from a "Fifth Column?"

I found this cartoon below reassuring that I hadn't
misunderstood the heart of the creator of the Sneetches and the Lorax:

You can see more of his work in the book Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel. The review of the book acknowledges that Seuss did some pretty nasty pieces about Japanese Americans despite his usual anti-racist mentality:
He also turned his pen against America's internal enemies--isolationists, hoarders, complainers, anti-Semites, and anti-black racists--and urged Americans to work together to win the war. The cartoons are often funny, peopled with bowler-hatted "everymen" and what author Art Spiegelman calls "Seussian fauna" in his preface. They are also often very disturbing--Seuss draws brutally racist images of the Japanese and even attacks Japanese Americans on numerous occasions. Perhaps most disturbing is the realization that Seuss was just reflecting the wartime zeitgeist.

Another site judges Seuss pretty harshly, with varying reactions from commenters. I was struck by the points made by kbrichards:

You still have cartoonist with seeming good set of morals and then something happens and they are convinced that a little racism is OK.

In 2005 Danzinger created an editorial cartoon showing scientist unearthing a roulette wheel at an Abenaki archaeological site. Examining the “artwork” carefully one finds in very small print “Sweat Lodge Casino.” This racist portrayal of Indians heritage as casino operators outraged Native Americans across the country. Previously a respected editorialist, he currently is seldom featured in any of Vermont’s newspapers.

Being a little bit racist is like being a little bit pregnant.

Have you seen similar, seemingly contradictory messages about more recent issues? Did cartoonists who normally support human rights attack middle easterners and Muslims because of September 11th? What do you think about that?


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I think the internment of Japanese Americans has sometimes been compared to the persecutions, expulsions, and dislocations of other ethnic minorities in the context of World War II, in Europe and Asia