Friday, November 25, 2011

The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y'all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Edwin Starr, War 1969

While browsing through our extensive picture book collection at the branch where I work, I found two Dr. Seuss books I hadn't read.  I never read Seuss' books growing up but they were a staple in the extensive literary diet of my four children. In fact I collected many Suess books and we especially enjoyed Hunches in Bunches, a lesser known title. But there are two I don't have and one of them is The Butter Battle Book which was published in 1984. In this story, a young Yook (as they call themselves) is taken to the Wall which separates his people from the Zooks on the other side. His grandfather tells him,
It's high time that you knew
of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do.
In every Zook house and in every Zook town
every Zook eats his bread
with the butter side down!

The Yooks we learn, eat their bread the correct way, with the butter side up! Because of this terrible difference, all Zooks cannot be trusted and the grandfather is part of the "Zook-Watching Border Patrol". The grandfather Yook was able to patrol the border successfully for a time using a "Snick-Berry Switch" as a deterrant - and most Zooks stayed away until one day, an inquisitive and "rude" Zook named VanItch appears. VanItch breaks the Yook's switch and starts what becomes an escalating series of threats and counter threats made by both sides, until the ultimate weapon in this "cold war" is created by both Yooks and Zooks. Who will use it first?

This book is clearly a satire on the ridiculousness of war. Here we have two societies who are not all that different except for they way they butter their bread! They even look alike in the book. Their weapons look the same, so in many respects their societies are very similar. And yet, they are willing to annihilate each other solely because they butter their bread differently.

The situation outlined in The Butter Battle Book is reminiscent of the situation that existed post World War II and continued into the early 1980's between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. Their homes are filled with posters promoting their way of buttering bread. Zooks are separated from the Yooks by a Berlinesque wall.

The "Cold War" saw both sides in an escalating nuclear arms race, each possessing numerous nuclear bombs capable of annihilating one another several times over. The Cold War reached its climax with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. The bomb, in The Butter Battle Book is called "The Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo", the name of which is an obvious allusion to the first atomic bomb, named Fat Man which was dropped on Hiroshima and the second bomb, Little Boy which was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

I must clarify that I believe there are some things worth fighting against and fighting for. It was worthwhile fighting the evil of the Nazi regime, and the rapacious Japanese expansion in Asia. But many wars arise from greed, misunderstanding or intolerance.  The Butter Battle Book demonstrates that sometimes, war made for these reasons, is good for nothing....

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