Saturday, July 16, 2016

When Dr. Seuss Shot Down Lucky Lindy

 When an American icon in the making launches a strong attack against a nationally recognized and up-to-then respected American icon, it definitely has historical interest.  The incident occurred in 1941 during the run-up to World War Two and involved Theodor Geisel, “Dr. Seuss,” and Charles Lindbergh, “Luck Lindy,” hero of the first trans-Atlantic solo flight.

In 1941, Geisel as “Dr. Seuss” was barely known.  He had done several modestly received children’s books and a number of advertising cartoons.  In 1941, with World War II raging in Europe and impending for the U.S., he turned to political cartoons, drawing more than 400 during two years as the editorial cartoonist for a left-leaning New York City daily called PM.

By contrast, Charles Lindbergh was known in virtually every household in America as the “Lucky Lindy” who had earned worldwide fame when he piloted his monoplane, “Spirit of St. Louis,” nonstop from Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France.  By 1941, however, Lindbergh had become the face and voice of The America First Committee, the most powerful isolationist organization in the country.  The photo left shows him speaking at a meeting of that group.
When Geisel, who strongly favored standing up to the Fascist powers, took up his editorial pen for PM in 1941, he quickly used it to skewer Lindbergh.  Three of his first four cartoons dealt with the aviator.  The first, on April 25, showed Lindbergh in a airplane trailing a banner that read, “It’s smart to shop a Adolf’s, all victories guaranteed.”  This was a reference to Lindbergh’s contention that the German war machine was invincible.  The high-flung bird at the top of the cartoon is a typical Dr. Seuss whimsical animal depiction.

The next PM cartoon, dated April 28, continued the comic assault on Lindbergh.  Captioned, “Since when did we swap our ego for an ostrich,”  the image is a Seussian idea of the flightless bird, one that legend said stuck his head in the sand at any sign of danger.  It is displayed on a mythical “Lindbergh quarter.”  Geisel’s reference to the ostrich was taken from an allusion FDR had made in his inaugural address earlier that year.

Obviously taken by the symbolism of the ostrich, Geisel repeated it the very next day.   This time it is an “ostrich bonnet” being handed to Americans by someone who has donned the hat and is promising that it relieves “Hitler headache.”  A piece of verse, often a part of a Dr. Seuss production is included:  “Forget the terrible, news you’ve read.  Your mind’s at ease, in an ostrich head.”  The dig at Lindbergh is in the smallest print:  “Lindy Ostrich Service, Inc.”
In May, the aviator was the cartoonist’s target only once, on the 28th, apparently after Lucky Lindy had made a speech for the America First Committee that apparently was considered an embarrassment by some observers.  Geisel never attempted to depict Lindbergh realistically, often showing just his back but here he shows a partial face that bears little resemblance to the man himself.  We know it is Lindbergh only because it is written on his hat.  By this time the artist had settled on an eagle with an “Uncle Sam” headpiece as the symbol for America.  Here the eagle comments: “BOY!  Is His Face Red Today!”

Geisel followed up five days later with one of his most memorable Lindbergh jabs.  Here the American Firster is seen on a soap box petting the head of a sea monster with a Hitler-like hairdo and swastikas running down his body.  In the background is a smoldering ruins of a city.  Lindbergh is intoning:  “Tis Roosevelt, Not Hitler that the World Should Really Fear.”

In July Geisel made Lindbergh a target three times.  His first cartoon ran on Independence Day, July 4.  He resurrected the ostriches who now are carrying a sign reading “Lindbergh for President in 1944.”  The humor of twenty-some marching birds with smug smiles is dampened by a trailing, furtive individual wearing a mask and identified as “U.S. Fascists.”  His sign says “Yeah, but why wait ’til 1944?  The implication here is that some may be plotting to oust Roosevelt who was still in the first year of his third term. 
The July 16 offering was truly in the Dr. Seuss ludicrous mode.  There a whale, spouting water, sits on the top of a mountain peak, startling a climber.  The image sets the scene for a limerick that prefigures so many clever rhymes from the head of Geisel:

The Isolationist
Said a whale, “There is so much commotion,
Such fights among fish in the ocean,
I’m saving my scalp
Living high on an Alp…
(Dear Lindy!  He gave me the notion!)

The last PM cartoon for July returned to the pilot theme that marked Geisel’s first slap at the tarnished hero.  Here Lindbergh is depicted as an aviator presumably guiding the American eagle with a detached steering wheel.  The message here is a bit opaque:  “Atta boy, Lindy!  Keep me under control.”  The implication is that the Nation itself is happy to guided toward isolationism, as Lindbergh was preaching, at a time when public opinion actually was moving, albeit slowly, toward intervention.

Avoiding Lindbergh in August, Geisel returned to the attack on September 2. This time the Uncle Sam eagle is seemingly an alarmed captive bird who is being asked by the America First orator to mate with a similarly distressed jellyfish.  A little over a week later Lindbergh would give a speech that one author has said, “fully knocked him off his pedestal.”  His anti-Semitism was fully on view as he blamed the Jews for pushing the country into war.  “Their greatest danger to this county lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”  
This outburst was met with outrage from many quarters, including from Geisel. It triggered a Dr. Seuss editorial cartoon with the most savage attack yet.  Geisel depicted Lindbergh standing on top of a pile of garbage, shoveling it off, replete with cats and fish bones.  Written on the side of the wagon was “Nazi Anti-Semite Stink Wagon.”  The identification of the former U.S. colonel with the Fascists was in the caption:  “Spreading the Lovely Goebbels Stuff,”  a reference to the anti-Semitic rants of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda.  On September 22, he followed up with another with the American eagle wearing a sign, “I am part Jewish,” and an alleged repost by Lindbergh and Senator Nye, an anti-Semite , that “This bird is possessed of an Evil Demon.”
With increasing number of U.S. merchant ships being torpedoed in the Atlantic,  on October 31 the cartoonist featured an American sailor floating on a raft with a radio, hearing that “Uncle Lindy-Windy” would be explaining that: “There ain’t no boogy man now!”  That was a clear reminder that Hitler’s Germany was not shy in targeting American shipping.

Then on December 7, the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor and four days later Hitler declared war on the United States.  On December 8 Geisel featured an editorial cartoon that featured an explosion labeled “WAR,” blowing the isolationism bird out of the sky.  He would go on for the rest of the war doing cartoons that encouraged the U.S. military effort.

Lindbergh attempted to recoup his reputation by seeking to re-enlist in the U.S. military.  Roosevelt denied him that privilege.  As a civilian he later flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific (avoiding Germany) and in later years redeemed some of his reputation by becoming a prolific author, international explorer, inventor and environmentalist.  Whether he ever changed his anti-Semitic views seemingly is not recorded.

Note:  The complete set of Seuss/Geisel’s cartoons for PM were archived 2012 on the Web by the University California - San Diego under the title:  “Dr. Seuss Went to War:  A Catalogue of Political Cartoons. The Dr. Seuss Collection in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the university contains the original drawings and/or newspaper clippings of all of these cartoons. This website makes these cartoons available to all internet users and were the source of this article. In a post of July 7, 2010, entitled, “Dr. Seuss Sells the Sauce,”  I previously featured the cartoonist’s ads for whiskey and beer.  

Postscript:   Since June the number of "hits" that this blog has experience have increased markedly.  Since it was begun in 2010, Bottles, Booze and Back Stories has averaged from 1,000 to 2,000 look-ins per month.  By contrast, this past June 39,583 hits were recorded, about 18% of the five year total of 221,624.  That pace seems to be continuing in July.  What is going on?  I am hoping some alert follower will give me a clue by leaving a comment below.  

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