The Butter Battle Book is a rhyming story written by Dr. Seuss. It was published by Random House Books for Young Readers on January 12, 1984. It is an anti-war story; specifically, a parable about mutually assured destruction and nuclear weapons. The Butter Battle Book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
This book was written during the Cold War era, and reflects the concerns of the time, especially the perceived possibility that all life on earth could be destroyed in a nuclear war. It can also be seen as a satirical work, with its depiction of a deadly war based on a senseless conflict over something as trivial as a breakfast food. The concept of a war based on toast is similar to the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which was nominally based on the correct end to crack an egg once hard boiled.
The race begins when a Zook named Van Itch slingshots the Yooks' "Tough-Tufted Prickly Snick-Berry Switch", which could be used to give Zooks a twitch if they dared to come close to the wall, which was guarded by "the Zook-Watching Border Patrol". The Yooks then develop a machine with three slingshots interlinked, called a "Triple-Sling Jigger". This works once (Van Itch got scared and ran off), but the Zooks counterattack with their own creation: The "Jigger-Rock Snatchem", a machine with three nets to fling the rocks fired from the Triple-Sling Jigger back at the Yooks' side "just as fast as we catch 'em".
The Yooks then discover that slingshots are old-fashioned, and create a gun called the "Kick-A-Poo Kid", loaded with "powerful Poo-A-Doo powder and ants' eggs and bees' legs and dried-fried clam chowder", and toted by a dog named Daniel, the country's "first gun-toting spaniel". The Zooks counterattack with an "Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitz", a machine that shoots "high-explosive sour cherry stone pits, and will put your dumb Kick-A-Poo Kid on the fritz!"
The Yooks then devise a machine called the "Utterly Sputter", a big blue two-legged mech with four faucets on the back, whose main purpose was to sprinkle blue goo all over the Zooks. But the Zooks counterattack with a Sputter identical to the Yooks'! Eventually, each side possesses a small but extremely destructive red bomb called the "Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo", the smallest weapon of all, and neither has any defense against it. The TV special (see below) demonstrates the development of the weapon in a mad scientist-style song (complete with living goo, floating rings, ghosts, snakes, and volcanoes).
No resolution is reached by the book's end, with the generals of both sides on the wall poised to drop their bombs and waiting to see who will do it first. The question is left hanging for the reader to answer by his or her actions, much like the question "UNLESS?" at the end of Dr. Seuss's book, The Lorax. The book thus departs from the commonly-accepted approach to children's writing, of positive themes and resolution of the plot's conflict by the end of the story.
A National Review article finds it plausible that the rejection of the book stemmed from Seuss' promotion of a theme of "moral equivalence," where the difference between the Soviet Union and the United States was equivalent to a disagreement over the proper side on which to butter bread, presumably in addition to the theme of the arms race and mutually assured destruction. This issue was discussed in a National Review article published on July 27, 1984.