The Real Dr. Suess

Full disclosure: I love this guy. We are apt to think he was just a writer of beginning-reader rhyming books with wonky illustrations, Though his sixty children’s books sold over six hundred million copies translated into twenty different languages, that was not all he did.

He was recently called out for racism, due to his wonky drawings of Japanese leaders during (and after) WWII. I guess it’s OK that he made wonky drawings of Hitler as well. He created war propaganda cartoons supporting U.S. efforts in the war. We forget that enemies in that war were constantly despised and great efforts were made to inspire the nation to support the war and hate the enemy.

After the war, Nazis continued to be despised, but it has always surprised me that the Japanese were quickly forgiven and even praised, though they committed some hideous war crimes. My uncle, who fought the Japanese in the Pacific, absolutely detested them. This was public opinion in the 1950’s and Suess was mild compared to most. I suspect money was behind the whitewashing of the Japanese-after all, they were capitalists and we were obsessed then with communist threats.

I wish we could accept that humans generally think along the lines of social norms. Social norms change slowly and I wish we would just accept that that was the culture in which they lived. No doubt we have some social norms that will horrify future generations. Let’s chill. Let’s learn from our ancestors instead of claiming to be oh, so morally superior.

Shall we cancel Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice because the villain was a greedy Jew? It has been suggested that we do. Ridiculous. Was every slave owner evil, when slavery was not only the social norm, but had been practiced everywhere since time immemorial? Even by Africans themselves?

Can we ever be honest enough to admit that none of us is perfect? That each of us is unique and precious, in spite of our shortcomings? That social norms influence us-today-and we’re too close to them to even see the rotten ones?

“Today you are you,

that is truer than true.

There is no one alive

that is youer than you.” Dr. Suess

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