Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dr. Seuss: Radical environmentalist

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. 
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” 

That there will be a new Dr. Seuss book published today, though the author died in 1991, is an interesting story. Even more interesting: Dr. Seuss was evidently some kind of an environmentalist whose The Lorax, published in 1971, caused controversy in Mendocino County in 1989, when The Timber Wars were raging on the Northcoast of California. 

From People Magazine in 1989:

The trouble began the day Sammy Bailey came home from school last spring. The Laytonville, Calif., second grader had just finished reading The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, the sad tale of a fuzzy little creature who loses his forest home when the greedy Once-lers cut down all the Truffula trees. A troubled and thoughtful Sammy had taken the story's lesson to heart. "If you cut down a tree," he told his father, Bill Bailey, "then it's just like someone coming in and taking away your home." 

Another parent might have been touched by his child's sensitivity; Bailey was not. The owner of a logging supplies mail-order business, he was incensed by what he saw as a flagrant attack on the livelihood of Laytonville, a tiny (pop. 1,096), single-industry lumber town 150 miles north of San Francisco. Rounding up support from other outraged parents, Bailey, 46, and his wife, Judith, 42, asked the local school board in September to remove The Lorax from the second-grade required-reading list. "Teachers...mock the timber industry, and some of our kids are being brainwashed," screamed Bailey's full-page ad in the local weekly. "We've got to stop this crap right now!"

From a Laytonville resident's newsletter at the time:

In The Lorax, Dr. Seuss makes an outstanding case against greed and reckless environmental practices. If Bill Bailey thinks the good doctor is in error, let him present a better case. Show us the book, Mr. Bailey, that will put a good face on what your friends in the logging industry are doing to our land. Instead of bullying and braggadocio, show us through intelligent argument the truth and justice of your cause.

Outside of your place of business, Mr. Bailey, you fly a large American flag, but I maintain that every time you interfere with the free dissemination of ideas, you disgrace that flag. There is much wrong with the American system and the American way of life, but one thing we can be undeniably proud of is the right to read and say and think whatever we choose. When you deny that right to our children, you strike at the heart of what is best about this country.

The only Dr. Seuss book I remember from my childhood is Bartholemew and the Oobleck, published in 1949, in which green gooey stuff rains from the sky. In retrospect this too reads like an environmental warning, though I only remember enjoying the whimsical story and the great illustrations:

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