Dr. Seuss Political Cartoon Decoded

From KNILT

Dr. Seuss Political Cartoon Decoding

Authorship: This poster/political cartoon was created by Theodor Geisel, or better known as Dr. Seuss. It was published by PM Magazine on October 1, 1941. PM Magazine was a newly created magazine that promoted itself as the only daily picture magazine of its time. The magazine also was noted as not accepting advertising from large businesses to keep it purer.

Dr. Seuss at time was well known for this children’s books that swept throughout the world. As WWII began, Dr. Seuss focused his energy on producing over 400 posters/political cartoons from 1941- 1943, mostly attacking the ideals of both Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and the American isolationists who believed that the US should keep boots off the ground in Europe.

Purpose: The purpose of this poster was to call out the American isolationists in our country during the early stages of WWII. Japan had not yet attacked Pearl Harbor, but the US was not set on sending in ground troops into Europe. Some of my background knowledge on this topic supports the idea that many isolationists had at this time was that the US was making a fortune off selling supplies and ammunition to both the Allied and Axis powers.

The poster shows how horrified innocent children and even animals in the room appeared when an older woman (wearing an America First shirt), was reading about the deaths of “Foreign Children” by a wolf named, Adolf.

The main objective of Dr. Seuss was to isolate the isolationists and show to the public that by being isolationists, we are turning our heads to the gruesome genocide of millions of people in Europe.

Economics: Since the poster was created by Dr. Seuss, and it was published by PM Magazine, the assumption is that both received money for the poster. I believe that following this poster and many other posters, that the US Government and military gained more support in entering in to the was in Europe, which would have benefited economically by all the efforts on the Homefront to raise money and limit usage of things like gasoline and food to send to the troops overseas.

Impact: Everyone who saw the poster, throughout the world was impacted by this poster, and ones just like it. Because of posters like this, American values and opinions shifted to making the ultimate decision to enter the war in Europe. It is often said that if the US had not entered the war in Europe, that most of Europe would be speaking German. The people who were mostly impacted by this I assume were the US troops who were eventually sent in to fight in Europe. As well as the families in the US that they left behind and the many millions of people they helped and freed by their efforts. In contrast, the troops and their families are also the ones who suffered the most from this add and ones like it.

In general, however, the impact was that it helped change the opinion of millions Americans that thought choosing Americans first would help preserve the lives of hundreds of thousands Americans, that entering the war would help save the millions of “Foreign Children” and people that were being interned and murdered across the sea.

Response: The main response I would say to this specific poster was that it helped change some opinions on the US involvement in the war. A few months later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and we entered the war in the Pacific. Four days later, Hitler declared war on the US and in January of 1942, the US sent their first troops to fight the war in Europe.

If I were to have seen this poster in that time period, I would hope that I would have seen what the true message was. The message to me shows that people who were isolationist ideals did not care about people in Europe dying because they weren’t Americans. I believe my faith and morals would have swayed me as they do now to want to stand up and help the people even if it meant the risk to the American culture and to our people.

Other populations that could have different views, such as suffering families in Europe may have viewed this poster as the American people not caring about them and their suffering and would think that the US supported Hitler’s regime.

Content: The content that is displayed in this cartoon is the isolationist ideals that many Americans had to stay out of the war completely because the country had seen what a world war could do to a country and how many lives could be lost (almost 117,000 US troops died in WWI). Other related content shown on the poster is the Nazi Party which has their symbol on the spine of the book titled, Adolf the Wolf.

Most of the messaged that are implied here is that the woman is playing the party of the isolationist and the scared children are the ones who are seeing and understanding the atrocities that are taking place. The older woman who is reading the part of the book that talks about a wolf named Adolf (Adolf Hitler) who chewed up and spit out the bones. The woman is shown smiling and content when she continues to read that it was foreign children who were chewed and spit out. The children in the poster show that they are afraid and concerned, specifically with the female child with her hand over her mouth.

Techniques: The key technique that was used for this poster was satire. The way that Dr. Seuss satirically calls out the people who believed America should stay neutral and not get involved is pretty blatant in this poster. Seuss used scare tactics as well to not only point out the horrible loss of life in Europe, but also the ridiculous feeling of content that many Americans felt knowing that it was only foreign people who were suffering.

The picture draws attention by having typical Dr. Seuss looking characters, which were popular at the time, as the main focus of the cartoon. The cartoon as the first glance looks to be a welcoming one since it shows a older grandmother type character reading to her grandchildren, offering a loving affect. Then once the reader looks over the text above and in the cartoon it either would upset or satisfy the reader depending on their views of the war.

Interpretations: I think the interpretations of this poster would be quite clear. The woman holding a book talking about Adolf Hitler’s atrocities and a woman who believes in “America First”, showing no sympathy for a story of dead children for the sole fact that they were foreign. Also it clearly shows the horrified and concerned look that the children and animal has.

I think the only way this poster could have been misinterpreted is if someone who had limited to no knowledge of the events of WWII and could possibly see this poster as a patriotic poster because of the, “American First” writing.

Context: This poster was published on October 1, 1941. Two months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and a few months before the first US troops set foot in Europe. It is important to remember that at this time, the US was making lots of money and lost no lives while being neutral and dealing with both the Allied and Axis forces.

This would have been distributed by stores and local shops where other magazines could be found, or sent to homes who were subscribers.

What is left out: at the time, it is assumed that most people in the US were aware of the war going on. It is possible that more outside information was omitted and that the average reader would have to have an understanding of the genocide in Europe.

Credibility: Since this is a political cartoon, the idea for the piece was based off of the opinion of Dr. Seuss. There does not seem to be any factual information in the poster. Adolf Hitler was not a wolf and the characters are not human people. There is no factual information offered and statistical data arranged on the poster. This poster was created solely to sway the opinion of the American people and for Seuss to be able to be able to express his political opinion on the US’s early involvement in WWII.

Return to: Lesson Three- How to Connect This With Your Social Studies World War II Unit