Dr. Seuss’ World War II Propaganda Films: Your Job in Germany (1945) and Our Job in Japan (1946)

Most of us come to know the work of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel through his chil­dren’s books (I, for instance, remem­ber Hop on Pop as the first book I could read whole), and while he remains most famous as a pro­lif­ic teller and illus­tra­tor of sur­re­al­ly didac­tic tales for young­sters, his pro­duc­tiv­i­ty entered oth­er cul­tur­al areas as well. Per­haps the most sur­pris­ing chap­ter of his career hap­pened dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, when Seuss, who had already demon­strat­ed his strong anti-Hitler, anti-Mus­soli­ni, and pro-Roo­sevelt sen­ti­ments in polit­i­cal car­toons, went to work script­ing pro­pa­gan­da films.

Hav­ing joined the U.S. Army in 1943 as a Cap­tain, Seuss went on to take charge of the Ani­ma­tion Depart­ment of the Air Force’s First Motion Pic­ture Unit. Work­ing under Frank Capra toward the end of the war, he wrote the short films Your Job in Ger­many and Our Job in Japan, both intend­ed to get Amer­i­can sol­diers into the right mind­set for the occu­pa­tions of those defeat­ed coun­tries. “With your con­duct and atti­tude while inside Ger­many, you can lay the ground­work of a peace that could last for­ev­er,” says the nar­ra­tor of the for­mer, “Or just the oppo­site.”

Unlike the sim­i­lar­ly G.I.-targeted Pri­vate Sna­fu car­toons we fea­tured last year, noth­ing of Seuss’ fan­ci­ful style comes through in these films, which use all-too-real footage to illus­trate to “our boys” as vivid­ly as pos­si­ble what could go wrong if they let their guard down in these only-just-for­mer ene­my ter­ri­to­ries. “The Ger­man lust for con­quest is not dead,” the nar­ra­tor warns, “it’s mere­ly gone under­cov­er.”  The Ger­man peo­ple, he insists, “must prove they have been cured beyond the shad­ow of a doubt before they ever again are allowed to take their place among respectable nations.”

Our Job in Japan also holds out the prospect of a pro­longed peace — “peace, if we can solve the prob­lem of 70 mil­lion Japan­ese peo­ple.” But this short does­n’t have quite as damn­ing a tone as Your Job in Ger­many; instead, it focus­es on how best to reha­bil­i­tate an “old, back­ward, super­sti­tious coun­try” full of impres­sion­able peo­ple “trained to fol­low blind­ly wher­ev­er their lead­ers led them.” Accord­ing to the script, the emi­nent­ly teach­able and adapt­able “Japan­ese brain” just hap­pened to fall under the sway of war­lords who decid­ed it could “be hopped up to fight with fanat­i­cal fury.” Patron­iz­ing, cer­tain­ly, but a far cry from the pop­u­lar con­cep­tion in the west at the time of the Japan­ese as a cru­el, pow­er-mad race inher­ent­ly bent on blood­shed.

Seuss him­self had a his­to­ry of anti-Japan­ese car­toon­ing (also fea­tured on our site), but it seems his views had already begun to turn by the time of Our Job in Japan, which argues only for set­ting an exam­ple demon­strat­ing that “what we like to call the Amer­i­can Way, or democ­ra­cy, or just plain old Gold­en Rule com­mon sense is a pret­ty good way to live.” As a result, no less a play­er in the Pacif­ic the­ater than Dou­glas MacArthur found the film exces­sive­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to the Japan­ese and tried to have it sup­pressed, a kind of con­tro­ver­sy that nev­er erupt­ed around the likes of Hop on Pop. But as far as the actu­al win­ning of Japan­ese hearts and minds goes, I sus­pect Seuss’ chil­dren’s books have done a bet­ter job.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Archive Show­cas­es Dr. Seuss’s Ear­ly Work as an Adver­tis­ing Illus­tra­tor and Polit­i­cal Car­toon­ist

Pri­vate Sna­fu: The World War II Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons Cre­at­ed by Dr. Seuss, Frank Capra & Mel Blanc

Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japan­ese Car­toons Dur­ing WWII, Then Atones with Hor­ton Hears a Who!

Don­ald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream and Four Oth­er Dis­ney Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons from World War II

“The Duck­ta­tors”: Loony Tunes Turns Ani­ma­tion into Wartime Pro­pa­gan­da (1942)

200 Ansel Adams Pho­tographs Expose the Rig­ors of Life in Japan­ese Intern­ment Camps Dur­ing WW II

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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