back to the Black Table
     
  YOU NEVER COUNT YOUR IRAQIS, WHEN YOU'RE SITTIN' AT THE TABLE.  
   
   
 

Boo. War's over. Everything's all happy again.

But now, disenchanted patriots and war mongers can continue to humiliate Iraq by playing a rousing game of Texas Hold 'Em with cards emblazoned with all your favorites from Saddam's fallen regime.

In search of some answers concerning a most recent collectibles craze, The Black Table spoke with The United States Playing Card Company’s Vice President of Marketing, George White, just one of the many magicians, er, card mechanics (you’ll see) that brought us the Iraqi Most Wanted.

 

BT: Given the incredible popularity of your Iraqi Most Wanted decks of cards, I imagine you've been pretty busy dealing with the media lately. Who have you spoken to so far?

GW: You name it.

BT: So we're not the first? Hmmm. Well, how do you explain the popularity - the mania, really - behind these cards?

GW: Well, I just think that these cards have really captured a moment in American time. Some people are interested in them as a collectible and some are interested in them as a virtual time capsule.

BT: Sure. Who are these people?

GW: Well, we just had a one-day sale out of a tent that we set up in our side yard - we've never done anything like that in the history of our company and we've been around for almost 150 years - and four thousand people came through and were buying decks. I spoke to a bunch of them, and responses varied from, "I'm saving these because they're going to be worth a lot of money" to "I'm buying these for my grand-children" to "Everybody's talking about them, and I just wanted to have one."

BT: Cool. Now, USPC actually has a long history of working with the US Military. How did that start out?

GW: We've been making cards by and for the military for almost 100 years. During World War II, we produced "spotter" decks that the military designed. These cards had pictures of enemy airplanes, ships, and tanks on them, and the pack also came with instructions from the US Government - basically so that our soldiers could tell the difference between the various Japanese planes, et cetera.

And then there was another deck -- a secret deck -- that we made with the military. These decks were water-soluble and were sent to prisoners in Germany, and when they were soaked in water the prisoners could pull the cards apart, and when they put all fifty-two card pieces together they formed an escape route map out of Germany.

BT: Neat. And the Germans never caught on?

GW: As far as we know…

BT: What about in Vietnam? What was with the Ace of Spades over there?

GW: Well, this is the story that I got first-hand from one of the lieutenants who originated the idea. He had read an article in the Stars & Stripes indicating that the Vietnamese were a very superstitious people and that the men were afraid of the Ace of Spades, which was the death card in French fortune-telling - the French, of course, being heavily involved in Vietnam before that time - and also that a statue of a woman foretold a "bad day". Anyways, this guy, along with three of his fellow-lieutenants were playing cards with one of our Bicycle decks, which fortunately they liked to use, and they noticed that the Bicycle Ace of Spades had a statue of a woman in the middle of it, so they figured that this was a potentially good psyops (psychological operations) weapon. So they contacted us and we sent them some decks and they started using them, basically as calling cards. And then all their friends wanted some. And eventually, the military asked us to produce a deck that had fifty-two Bicycle Aces of Spades. The pack was labelled, "Secret Weapon: Bicycle Ace of Spades".

But then I asked this guy, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brown, "Did you ever actually see the Vietnamese in terror from this card?" And he said, "Well, we did use them. When we would clear villages, we would leave them to show that we had been there. We left them on dead bodies and our guys wore them on their helmets." And though he did not have a first-hand account of it being effective as a psyops weapon, it did serve as a morale booster for the guys in the military. Mostly, they were just pleased that this company all the way back in Cincinnati was making the effort to send them all these containers of Aces of Spades. It was a kind of unifying factor for members of the Army.

BT: They probably appreciated the support back then too.

GW: Yes, and, in fact, many units adopted the Ace of Spades as their kind of icon.

BT: Do you produce these old cards anymore?

GW: Yes, at the military's request, we did a reproduction of the Bicycle Ace of Spades deck during Desert Shield. And we are now working with our partner in the Iraqi Most Wanted venture to produce the "International Aircraft Silhouette Spotter Cards", the same "spotter" ones that I was talking about before. These authentic reproductions will be available for sale later this year.

BT: Um, so now, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you a question that kind of makes me feel like a real journalist…

GW: Yeah, come on!

BT: All right, fine. Do you ever feel guilty for making money off the war?

GW: No. When we first started selling these decks to the public we announced that we would be donating the majority of the proceeds to charity. In fact, today, we announced that we would be donating $50,000 to the Norwood Service League, which provides food bank, clothing and other support services to the needy here in Norwood, a community in Cincinnati. And next week we'll be donating $50,000 to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which supports families who have lost loved ones in the armed services.

BT: So you're not really hoping for any more wars, to make more money?

GW: No. When the military asks us to do something for them, we will do that - in wartime and not in wartime - and we hope to continue to do that. In fact, the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) just ordered a few cases of the Iraqi Most Wanted decks to sell in their gift shop at the Pentagon. And we were pleased with that.

BT: So what's in the future for USPC? Did you ever think of teaming up with the FBI, or maybe John Walsh, and doing an America's Most Wanted deck?

GW: Yeah, you know, I've taken lots of calls about "the next big idea", but in my opinion, this Iraqi deck is a one-off that has captured the American imagination. I'm sure that people are going to be producing all kinds of other decks now, but what makes this one special is the fact that it's a real product. It was introduced to the public by Centcom (United States Central Command), so I think that any subsequent effort, if it's not backed up by something like that, will not do nearly as well. It would be artificial and not the genuine article.

BT: Tell me about the work USPC does with Hollywood.

GW: Sure. You see our products in lots of movies and TV shows.

BT: Any new projects coming up?

GW: Yeah, there's a new movie called Shade that was filmed last year with Sylvester Stallone and Melanie Griffith. Actually, our president had a cameo in that. Anyways, the writer/director is a card mechanic - card mechanic being the proper term for magician, they don't like being called magicians - and he is one of the great card mechanics in the world, and he loves USPC products.

BT: Cool. Have you heard of that movie Malibu's Most Wanted? Now there's a cross-promotional idea for you.

GW: (Laughing) No, I don't know that one.

BT: Probably for the best.

 

*BT*