By John Wilnes
In 1971, Dr. Seuss published a book you have almost definitely heard of: The Lorax. Generally regarded as a visionary masterpiece of world-making in children’s literature, some predictably called the work out as a didactic, anti-capitalist work of socialist propaganda for its take on the environment’s fraught relationship with corporate malfeasance. In 1984, though, came a lesser-known work, mostly forgotten by time, which advanced long-dormant Seussian politics into an ideological expression that proved too rankling for much of the book’s audience.
The Butter Battle Book, released by Random House in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s transformative presidency, is about the Cold War. More specifically, it’s about the Yooks and the Zooks. These are goofy looking humanoids, clearly of the same species but wearing blue and orange outfits. The blue Yooks (who butter their bread butter-side up) and the orange Zooks (who butter their bread butter-side down) engage in an escalating arms race that features weapons like a “Kick-A-Poo Kid,” loaded with “powerful Poo-A-Doo powder and ants’ eggs and bees’ legs and dried-fried clam chowder,” carried by a spaniel named Daniel. The military dick-measuring between the Yooks and the Zooks, conducted by a laboratory of dorky scientists known as “The Boys In The Back Room,” peaks when both sides develop a “bitsy big-boy boomeroo,” a little glowing bean standing in for the nuclear warheads that generations of twentieth-century citizens lived in steady fear of. The book finishes with an impasse, as a Yook general and a Zook general stare each other down over a bitter land-dividing wall, both holding their atomic beans over the ground. This is followed by an ambiguous blank white page that could be interpreted as the end of all life.