UCSD Digital Collection
Fifteen years before he wrote “The Cat in the Hat,” at a time when the United States was facing world war, Dr. Seuss dropped everything and joined the war effort. Inspired by the aggression of Adolf Hitler, Dr. Seuss went after people who pushed others around to the point of being a bully himself. While he decried fascism, he also took swipes at isolationism and other aggressive bullies of the time. He was too old to be a soldier, so this is how Dr. Seuss fought in WWII to bring down Hitler.
1. April 28, 1941
Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, was the famous writer of whimsical children’s books that manage to dazzle adults too. He took a break once upon a time and focused his energies on uniting America toward winning WWII, despite already having written a number of children’s books, including “The King’s Stilts” and “Horton Hatches an Egg.”
The comic above appeared in the New York daily newspaper PM almost eight months prior to America’s entry in WWII, and as you can see, the cartoon is taking a shot at Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was an American hero when he became the first person to cross the Atlantic in an airplane in 1927, but Dr. Seuss criticized him because he wanted the United States to stay out of the war.
Next: Why the ostrich?
2. April 29, 1941
We can see that Dr. Seuss stuck with the ostrich theme in this cartoon, and if you look at each cartoon, you can probably guess why. Ostriches are commonly known for burying their heads in the sand, and those who turned their back on the fact that WWII had already been going on for 20 months were in much the same category.
It would be over a decade before Dr. Seuss became a household name, but we can see early signs of his style in this cartoon with the caption, “We Always Were Suckers for Ridiculous Hats . . .” (like cats with hats). Not to mention,“Forget the terrible news you’ve read, your mind’s at ease in an ostrich head!”
Next: Strange dreams for Uncle Sam
3. May 5, 1941
Uncle Sam sleeps soundly in his bed, and it’s a good thing that he doesn’t sleep in the same bed as Europe. The United States adopted an isolationist policy when war broke out on September 1, 1939, as America’s geographic isolation from aggressive nations such as Japan and Germany enabled such an attitude to prevail.
Notably, there’s the “Stalin itch” pertaining to Russia, who at that point was fighting a war of aggression, and the“Blitz Pox,” which had to do with German aggression. You’ll notice that“Italian mumps” is dead, and that’s because Italy’s war of aggression was already long over—by the late 1930s, they had failed in North Africa, and were only a real threat because Germany bailed them out.
Next: A cow and a bad shepherd
4. May 19, 1941
This is our first impression of how Dr. Seuss felt about Adolf Hitler, and you can guess his feelings about the bully dictator of Germany. Except, by May 1941, Adolf Hitler was effectively the dictator of all of Europe, as Germany had gobbled up every nation on the continent that wasn’t neutral.
By this time, Hitler had completed his conquest of the Balkans, which brought his total of conquered nations to eleven. Dr. Seuss was anti-bully from the beginning and he saw Hitler as a stooge bent on world conquest. But he did have a healthy fear of him, so he put a question mark on the last cow asking the Americans who would be the twelfth nation conquered.
Next: Hitler goes for #12
5. June 25, 1941
Hitler and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin stunned the world in August 1939 when they signed a nonaggression pact that ensured the demise of nearly every nation in Europe. The world was shocked and horrified by the treaty, as the two nations were immensely powerful, but at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Skeptics knew that this meant the two nations were bent on world domination.
Then, something incredible happened. On June 22, 1941, Hitler broke his treaty with Stalin and launched an all-out assault on Russia that included 3 million men. Operation Barbarossa, as it was called, dragged an unprepared Russia into the war, but as Dr. Seuss depicts, Russia was no game animal for the wall, and would eventually give Hitler all he could handle.
Next: Uncontrolled flying
6. July 21, 1941
Charles Lindbergh was one of the most famous people in America, and arguably the planet, prior to WWII. His solo flight across the Atlantic was a major feat of extreme daring, and it captured imaginations all over the world. But in January 1941, he went before Congress and told them that not only was it “absolutely impossible” for the U.S. to be attacked, but entry into the war would be a disaster.
In this cartoon, we see one of the best pilots the nation ever saw piloting American public opinion without a working stick. You can see he’s worried, and he should be, as world events were becoming more ominous every time it turned.
Next: Lindbergh’s friends
7. October 21, 1941
Charles Lindbergh was an isolationist, and he certainly had his fair share of followers. In this case, we see Senator Wheeler of Montana, who just four days earlier said, “I just can’t conceive of Japan being crazy enough to want to go to war with us.”
Senator Wheeler may have been right that an attack on the U.S. by Japan was “crazy”—in the end it did bring about their demise—but unbeknownst to Wheeler, the Japanese had already started planning their attack on the United States. There were signs that it was coming, too, as diplomatic solutions were quickly drying up, turning them from isolationists to “dying isolationists.”
Next: Francois Darlan
8. November 23, 1941
Dr. Seuss pulled no punches attacking isolationist Americans, but he also took shots at those misbehaving leaders abroad who were trying to rule the world. The man depicted below is Francois Darlan, who was a top general in the puppet Vichy, French government.
As of late May 1940, the Germans occupied half of France, and set up a French government that was sympathetic to the Third Reich in the other half. General Francois Darlan was an opportunist type, as he collaborated with both the Nazis and Allies whenever it suited him. Here, Dr. Seuss is criticizing him for trying to open up French ports to Germany in North Africa, which would’ve given them an extreme strategic advantage.
Next: The origin of the Axis powers
9. November 27, 1941
Hitler had what felt like the whole world singing his tune in late 1941, since mainland Europe had been consumed by the unstoppable German blitz. Dr. Seuss depicted Hitler with an eleven-nation cow earlier in the year, and had a question mark on number twelve. By this time, number twelve was Russia.
The part that says “Anti-Comintern” refers to the pact that Germany signed with Japan in 1936 to prevent communism from taking over. We also see Hitler cracking the whip on eleven other nations that joined the pact (willingly and unwillingly) in 1941, as many nations were willing to stomach fascism as long as communism was defeated.
Next: “A date which will live in infamy”
10. December 8, 1941
Dr. Seuss, the loving children’s book writer, evidently wasn’t above being spiteful. December 7, 1941, was a decidedly infamous day, as the Japanese Empire “suddenly and deliberately attacked” the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. The next day, the United States declared war on Japan.
Of all the things that Dr. Seuss could’ve depicted, to maybe lift people up or make a commentary on what was to come, he instead chose blowing up the very people he’d been taking shots at for almost a year. It was an ultimate “I told you so!” moment, and if Dr. Seuss wasn’t scared to death like every other American, he just might’ve enjoyed being right.
Next: Still throwing jabs
11. December 31, 1941
By now, we’ve seen a side of Dr. Seuss that we’re not used to seeing. For an artist and writer of children’s books to put down everything and take a job as a political cartoonist, it must’ve taken some powerful motives. But PM magazine never pulled any punches, and Dr. Seuss liked that.
Dr. Seuss once said, “PM was against people who pushed other people around. I liked that.” Well, Dr. Seuss also liked to take jabs at people, and in this instance, he’s railing against apathy. The man in the cartoon is quite content to leave the hard fighting to someone else while he rides out the war in comfort. Dr. Seuss was lighting the proverbial fire under people’s keisters.
Next: A new year and something stinky
12. January 26, 1942
Months after the United States entered WWII, the country still wanted answers about how it allowed its fleet in Pearl Harbor to be caught so unprepared, unable to repel an attack. But the public, and Dr. Seuss, would have to wait, as the issue was so controversial that Congress didn’t order an investigation until 1945.
When the report did come out, Dr. Seuss was right: it stunk. At the time, people were so angry that some thought President Roosevelt baited Japan into the attack so America would go to war (there’s some evidence this is true, but certainly not proven). In the end, it was found that among others, General Marshall, the chief of staff of the armed forces, was ultimately responsible.
Next: Thick as thieves
13. February 16, 1942
Dr. Seuss takes another shot at the United States government here, but this time there’s plenty of blame to go around. In this case, we’ll go right to left and point out that the Maginot was an ad hoc defensive network set up by the French after WWI.
And that was its problem, because in WWI the battle lines didn’t move, but in 1940 the Germans just went around it. Pearl Harbor was another instance where one of the Allied nations was robbed blind. If you think that’s bad, then consider that British General Percival surrendered Singapore to a Japanese force that was a third its size.
Next: Between a rock and a hard place
14. March 17, 1942
This was a dark time for the United States and their Allies, as Americans must’ve felt that they were caught between two ferocious enemies looking to smash them between their armies. By mid-March 1942, the United States had yet to go on the offensive, and just about every territorial possession of the country had been attacked or taken.
Even given this heightened state of fear, Dr. Seuss was still not pulling any punches. He sincerely meant it when he implied that the American public needed to solve this problem. Dr. Seuss was in his late thirties when he started writing for the PM, which meant he was too old to fight. Reportedly, Dr. Seuss saw the PM as his service to the country and the war effort.
Next: Hitler’s problem
15. May 22, 1942
Maybe some of the magic of Dr. Seuss hadn’t quite developed here, because he missed a gem of an opportunity to write something like, “I might drive here, I might drive there. Or I MIGHT just drive around in my underwear.”
Perhaps Tolstoy said it more poetically (describing the German Army’s annihilation of the city of Kharkov—notice the Kharkov headache that Hitler is sporting) when he wrote, “I saw Kharkov. As if it were Rome in the 5th century. A huge cemetery…” By May 1942, there had been a Second Battle of Kharkov (there were three total), which basically flattened the city entirely.
Next: The tide begins to turn
16. June 10, 1942
Arguably, America’s most important victory in all of WWII was its first major battle. Unbeknownst to the Japanese at the time (or throughout the entire war, actually), the United States had cracked their secret code early in 1942, and were prepared to take on the Japanese fleet as they made their way toward invading Midway Island.
Not only were the Japanese unable to land troops on the island, but they suffered devastating losses at sea, capitalized by the sinking of four of their major aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers were the most important ships in the Pacific Ocean during WWII, and after Midway, the Japanese were forced to rely heavily on outdated battleships.
Next: Idle hands are the tools of the devil
17. August 12, 1942
Of course Americans could join the armed forces to fight (thank you, boys), work at an arms factory (thank you, Rosie), or write political cartoons (thank you, Dr. Seuss) to serve their nation during WWII, but they could also do something to help that was far simpler: buy war bonds. Let’s talk numbers.
It’s estimated that WWII cost the United States $300 billion (about $5 trillion today), of which about $186 billion was raised through issuing war bonds. Most of the rest was paid for by raising the federal budget. It was so dramatic that the budget set in 1939 for $9 billion was raised to $98 billion by 1945.
Next: A man Dr. Seuss depicted as worse than Hitler
18. September 24 , 1942
Hitler was a terrible, maniacal fascist that is a strong contender for worst human being in history, but if there’s one nice thing we can say about him, its that he loved his country. Anything lower than that might put a person on the same level as Norway’s Quisling, or France’s Laval.
In a famous speech in June 1942, Laval, who was the former prime minister of France and a part of the pro-German Vichy government, declared that he wanted Germany to win the war. Not only that, but in good faith with his German overlords, he pledged to provide French labor in German factories. After the war, Laval was executed for treason.
Next: Conservation, WWII style
19. September 30, 1942
It would seem that some people in the United States were having a hard time wrapping their heads around (or letting anything in) how much everyone needed to work together to win the war. On top of service toward the war effort and war bonds, there were also several conservation drives that required people to make significant sacrifices.
One example of this was rubber. Rubber plants were pretty much exclusively located in Southeast Asia, and when Japan invaded, they cut off U.S. supplies. Eventually, the U.S. invented synthetic rubber to combat the problem, but before then, people were encouraged not to drive, and when they did to go less than the speed limit to make sure they didn’t blow their tires.
Next: German wonder weapons, Dr. Seuss–style
20. October 15, 1942
This cartoon shows a time over a year before the first V-1 rocket slammed into England, when the German Fuhrer promised to make the world pay using advanced German technology. By the time of this cartoon, the V-2 had already flown its first successful flight.
Below the wonder weapon that Hitler is riding, there’s the sign that says “Berchtesgaden proving grounds.” The Berchtesgaden was Hitler’s home away from home, high up in the Alps at over 6,000 feet (oddly enough, Hitler was afraid of heights). When the war started going badly for Europe, Hitler’s plan was to make his last holdout, with an army and a few V-2 rockets.
Next: Il Duce like you’ve never seen him
21. November 17, 1942
You might remember Benito Mussolini as the grandfather of fascism, but by late 1942, things were not looking good for Il Duce (“The Leader”). Dr. Seuss is taking a serious shot at him here, as the title of this cartoon depicts Mussolini with the feminine“La” before Duce.
Mussolini is so rattled in this cartoon that he’s beyond scared of his shadow and far more concerned about his reflection. The Italian dictator’s fall from grace would come quickly, as he would be arrested by his own people just weeks after the Allies invade his country. In the end, Mussolini would be hung by his own people in Milan.
Next: Problems for Germany
22. November 19, 1942
Dr. Seuss managed to capture what the German High Command feared the most: a two-front war. The Allies were still six months away from invading Italy, and were over a year and a half away from invading France, but somehow Dr. Seuss summed up Germany’s problems perfectly in late 1942.
The Russian front was just starting to turn the other direction in late 1942, as the Germans were repelled at Moscow, and the Russians were giving them hell at the strategically important city of Stalingrad. Apart from maybe D-Day, Stalingrad was the most important battle of WWII, because the Russians successfully destroyed an entire German army.
Next: Thanksgiving 1942
23. November 26, 1942
Dr. Seuss cooked up a special cartoon and made his punchline Thanksgiving baste (sorry) when he wrote, “. . As Ma always said, the tougher the bird, the more you hafta baste it . . .” By late 1942, the Americans and British were several months into a bombing campaign on Germany that ran round the clock.
On Thanksgiving Day 1942, something happened (or didn’t happen, for that matter) for the first time since 1924: the Macy’s Day Parade was canceled. In an effort to support the rubber conservation movement, Macy’s ceremoniously donated their giant rubber floats to the United States government.
Next: Throwback Thursday cartoon
24. December 8, 1942
Okay, so December 8, 1942 was a Tuesday, but this cartoon is a throwback because Dr. Seuss is taking shots at pacifists and isolationists from the WWI era. The line, “We could go back into this one…” refers to the rickety house built the year the Allies won WWI.
Here we see lawmakers looking over a crumbling Parthenon atop a shaky Acropolis that could lead to the demise of the country. It might seem inevitable to us nowadays, but the end of 1942 was still a bleak time for the United States, as the road to victory was still going on.
Next: Bugs and repellent
25. December 19, 1942
Now this looks more like the Dr. Seuss we know, except it appears that Dr. Seuss is injecting his usual sort of WWII venom. In this cartoon, there is a Hitler mosquito, an Emperor Hirohito mosquito, and a much, much smaller Mussolini mosquito, ready to suck the blood of the American eagle.
The Eagle in this depiction is given the orders “Quick, Henry, THE FLIT!” Henry refers to Henry Stimson, who was appointed Secretary of War shortly after the United States entered the conflict. In this image, he’s armed with pesticides to kill the bloodsucking menaces, and U.S. war bonds are his weapons for victory.
Next: Christmas and a monster
26. December 24, 1942
The war didn’t pause on Christmas for anyone, so Dr. Seuss didn’t let up on the cartoons. Dr. Seuss was concerned with inflation rising out of control, and again, instead of conveying anything positive, Dr. Seuss chose to draw this. As if the country didn’t have enough problems, this was a big one.
Inflation rates were steady toward the end of the Depression, but in 1941 and 1942, they skyrocketed out of control. To put it in perspective, the inflation rate rose 9.9% in 1941, and 9% in 1942, which (with one exception) didn’t happen again for over 30 years. The caveat was that the U.S. economy expanded more than it ever has.
Next: A belly and a flag
27. December 28, 1942
In a time of conservation, the hoarder may be seen as the ultimate sinner. At the expense of everyone else’s sacrifice, this man’s belly holds the flag of his country, signifying his allegiance. His lying down with everything around shows that he doesn’t care about doing anything to protect the country.
Earlier in 1942, rationing was such a theme that it extended to food. It’s hard to imagine the nation all being on one page about one effort, but the mindset of citizens of the United Sates during WWII was to think about the war effort with every decision made.
Next: Dr. Seuss throwing shade
28. January 1, 1943
If the wonderful Dr. Seuss was guilty of one thing in the WWII era, it’s that he stuck to his convictions to the fullest. He once said that he never would’ve gotten into political cartoons if it weren’t for his disdain for Hitler, and as it turns out, making commentary on things he hated suited him very well.
“The Kidnaper” here is about to gobble up the poor isolationist that Dr. Seuss so adamantly decried. But New Year’s Day 1943 had little room for promise and only provided a sliver of hope. It was going to be a hard year for the Allies, and by the end of it there was still a high mountain to climb.
Next: A bad example
29. January 5, 1945
The WWII generation was proclaimed the “Greatest Generation” for a reason, and that reason was certainly not that they sat on their butts. The veteran in the cartoon is retelling his role in the war like so many other battle stories go, but in this case, the problem is he didn’t partake in it.
Here we see the old man in the cartoon saying, “I sat in this chair and groused about the annoying shortage of fuel oil!” Oil was another item that was highly conserved in WWII, and may have been the reason Pearl Harbor got bombed in the first place, as an oil embargo on Japan in 1941 greased the wheels toward war.
Next: What Dr. Seuss did next
30. “Private Snafu – The Goldbrick”
This is where our collection stops, because Dr. Seuss left the PM after less than two years there. So did Dr. Seuss return to writing children’s books and drop the war effort? Absolutely not, as Dr. Seuss was driven away from PM and steered toward “Private Snafu – The Goldbrick.”
Snafu was a WWII term that was an acronym for “situation normal: all fouled up,” and was popular among combat soldiers. The cartoon wasn’t for kids (well, kind of), as it was meant to instruct new recruits (who could be as young as 17 years old) on what not to do as a soldier.