Friday, March 14, 2008

Dr. Suess, my hero

The name of my blog, No Matter How Small, came from a saying that you are about to see in the media a lot right now, "A person's a person, no matter how small" from the new movie "Horton Hears a Who", recently released as a full length feature.

Well nowhere on that official movie site will you read the real truth about Dr.Suess and his very very political background. The movie studios like to sanitize everything, to make it all shiny and perfect and boring. But that's not a good idea for a guy like this, or an issue as complex as the ones he devoted his life too. You see Theodore Geisel, or Ted, as he came to be known, was a true believer in human rights, a strong advocate for the little guy and the best all around subversive the world has ever known. Subversive because he spread his message through children and mothers and nursery rhymes. He was the master of subtlety.

All his books are political, because they sprang from his first creation, the political cartoons he wrote. There is a PBS special here all about it. Just check out the gallery, or this site. He started as an advocate for African-Americans who were being treated horrendously in the US under Jim Crow laws and Jews who were being exterminated by Hitler. His position was that he wanted to get the US to declare war on Nazi Germany and the Axis, since it was the only way to save the Jewish people and all the other minorities who were being victimized. Conventional war, not nuclear war, by the way. He didn't like war, but knew that unless someone stood up to Hitler, the atrocities would never end.

Interestingly enough he had a bias against the Japanese people in his early career and his cartoons about them and the Empire are not merely antagonistic, but outright racist. The caricatures he drew were outrageous by today's standards. But that all changed after he went to Japan and met the people who lived there, the people who really were persons, after all.

When Dr.Suess wrote "A person's a person, no matter how small" in Horton Hears a Who he was referring to the unending American occupation of Japan after WWII, during which the Japanese people were treated like dirt, lost all their human rights, and disrespected as potential warmongers and terrorists in the eyes of the occupying forces. (Can anyone think of a modern day example, oh yeah...that Iraq thing.....couldn't be that lovely lefty Hollywood influence coming out?) It also refers to the atrocity of the nuclear bombs that were dropped on the people of Japan at the end of WWII, and the horrendous damage they did.

The dramatic change in his attitude is because he went to Japan and learned about the Japanese people through the friendship of a man named Mitsugi Nakamura, to whom the book is dedicated. He learned he was wrong, and he told the world. Horton Hears a Who is his mea culpa, the ultimate story of why we should never vilify an entire group of people, because after all, they just might be----just like us.

Not many people can publicly admit to making such a horrendous mistake, but he did. Having feet of clay myself, I never cease to admire my fellow life travellers who stumble and fall and have to pick themselves up.

To quote "The Political Dr.Suess" - "Yertle the Turtle, for example, is a cautionary tale against dictators. (Yertle is Adolph Hitler.) The Lorax contains a strong environmental message. The Sneetches is a plea for racial tolerance. (Some sneetches wear yellow stars, others do not.) Horton Hears a Who is a parable about the American Occupation of Japan. And The Butter Battle Book pillories the Cold War and nuclear deterrence. Even the Cat in the Hat's famous red-and-white-striped hat has a political predecessor in the top hat Uncle Sam wears in Dr. Seuss's wartime cartoons."

I have to say that I have always found it curious that the pro-life movement could have mistaken so totally his intentions, and assumed that no matter how small could refer to their movement. Fools---his wife set them straight, she has always guarded his legacy, and used her lawyers and considering my history, yes, I am very very glad of that.

I do wonder why he never had any children. His wife has discussed this slightly, but I've always wondered if they were infertile as well? Perhaps there was history of pregnancy loss with his first wife? Unfortunately, not an answer we'll ever know, but such a curiosity of mine.

Interestingly, even though the movie site has been thoroughly blanded by the movie executives in charge, Suessville has not. It is a very good retelling of his history as an ad executive, his history with PM magazine, Life, & Vanity Fair, his creation of cartoon training films for the troops (Private Snafu was the main character), and his history of authorship. One of the best stories of all time is about the creation of Green Eggs and Ham. Children's literature, and especially primers for children learning to read were very boring at the time, thus Cat in the Hat was created. Bennett Cerf decided that they needed more books this interesting, and wagered a bet that Ted could not write a children's book that rhymed with less than 50 words. The result---Green Eggs and Ham with it's repetitive phrases, and fabulous illustrations. To this day, if I want my kids to try a new food, I know which book to read!

My other favourite story from the site---Art Buchwald in his ignorance, chided Ted for never having written a political book, and Ted promptly picked up a copy of Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!, crossed out Marvin K. Mooney, added Richard M. Nixon, and presented it to his friend. Buchwald put it all in his column the next day, and the day after that, Nixon resigned!

Who knew a children's author could be so powerful?

As for this blog, I have always believed that every person counts equally, whether it be the starving citizen of the Third World, or the wealthy and powerful. We cannot simply exclude others existence, simply because of our North American standard of worth. This was brought home to me when I attempted to get one of our national newspapers to accept as a submission an obituary for one of my lost babies. They had taken the entry for the paid obituary, but told me that any submission for an column obituary had to be of a living person, and one who have lived a life at that. Since he had never done anything with his life, never achieved anything, to them he didn't count. The overwhelming impact on my life---irrelevant. The fact that funerals and obits and grief are for the living---irrelevant to the horrid woman on the other end of the line.

This crushed me beyond words. I vowed right then and there that I would prove that my son did matter, that his life and death, however brief had changed me and the entire world. I would do things in his memory, I would make laws and change hearts and minds, all to let the world know that he had mattered and so did I. I still live by this, and every time I talk to a politician, every time I email a journalist, every time I write a post, I make that vow again.

I am a person, I count. Mothers are persons. We matter, the women and men who remember our babies. The world may think that we are nothing, just a few scattered individuals to be ignored or used but I know the truth.

Someday my very own version of Horton will come along, and instead of being treated like specks of dust, the world will know that grieving parents deserve better. The world will hear our voices ring out loud and clear.

And they will know that grieving mothers are persons too, no matter how small.


  1. very interesting. I never knew that about Dr, Suess and now want to go back and read all the books again!

  2. I'd heard some of this Dr.Seuss information, but not all. I am glad his widow speaks out.
    I wish I shared your optimism about the world treating grieving parents better, though.

  3. Fantastic post! So interesting.


  4. Yeah, really good post.

    Thanks for shaing the info on Dr. Seuss (of who's stories I've always been a fan).

  5. Outstanding post!! You inspire me!

  6. my fav has always been 'oh the places you'll go'

  7. This was great. I knew some of the history but not all, and I am inspired to learn more!

    Oh yes, our babies definitely mattered.

  8. Every so often I want to cancel my subscription, like right now.

    Am also quite irritated at the pro-lifers. While I'm a little scared of genetics encouraging women to terminate wanted pregnancies, I am a whole lot terrified of not having that right.

  9. Great post Aurelia, right up my alley. I wish I could *do* something with my "not small* sentiments. You're an inspiration.

  10. I love this post!

    And BTW, I can not see the title "Horton Hears a Who" without my brain immediately transposing it to: "Horton Hires a 'Ho". I know, it's BAD, but it totally cracks me up. ;-)

  11. I had no idea! Thanks for that info.


  12. great stuff, thanks for the post.

  13. Great post! My daughter's favorite books are The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book. We've used both to discuss environmental issues and how violence creates more violence. The second one works great when trying to teach a preschooler why it's not great to hit someone else (they'll hit you back and then you'll want to hit back harder, etc., etc.)

  14. A very clever way to spread his messages, and great messages they were, too. I guess I'd never drawn the connection between your blog title and The Seuss - just hadn't thought about it. I hope that newspaper article gets voted up because an obit column refusing to publish an obit? Wrong.


  15. Your baby is remembered and mourned, keep telling his story.