Steve Cisler on Mon, 28 Jul 2003 09:09:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> playing cards as tactical media?

San Jose Mercury News (California)

Posted on Sun, Jul. 27, 2003
War inspires dueling decks

   By Jack Fischer
   Mercury News

The thing about a really great idea is that everyone wants in.

That's what the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has discovered since
April, when it issued playing cards to U.S. soldiers with a photograph of
a ``most wanted'' Iraqi on the face of each card.

At first, it wasn't bad. The decks became hot collectibles on eBay, a
commercial card printing company issued copies, and the media leapt
whenever one of the featured faces was apprehended -- even if it was only
the regional Baath Party official who had been designated as the three of
hearts. Plus: The sheer number of bad guys tended to minimize the fact
that the ace in the hole, as it were -- Saddam Hussein -- had not been
dealt out of the game.

But now, as so often happens, things seem to have gotten away from the

So far, in addition to the original deck, at least a half-dozen decks
pertaining to the Iraq war -- three pro-war, three anti -- have been
issued around the country, and the phenomenon seems to be moving beyond
the war to other topics.

Among the most successful of the grass-roots, anti-war decks is one issued
by Kathy Eder, a Catholic school teacher in San Jose whose ``Operation
Hidden Agenda'' deck has been featured in print, radio and television news
accounts internationally. To date, she has sold about 10,000 decks at
$9.95 each. (Eder donates half the proceeds to U.S.  Veterans Dealing with
Gulf War Syndrome and to international peace efforts. She nets a dollar a

A 42-year-old Los Gatos resident and teacher of social justice and
morality at Bellarmine College Preparatory, Eder said the idea for the
cards came to her when a friend showed her a Wall Street Journal story
about all the countries that supplied Saddam with materials that could be
used for making weapons of mass destruction. That, along with the fact
that her tax dollars were being used to finance a war she opposed, left
Eder feeling that ``we're all guilty'' and that she needed to do something
to express her dismay.

She said she is acting out of her Roman Catholic faith, noting that the
pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the war, and that
the church's ``just war'' theory generally condones war only when there is
no alternative.

``I do think Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein, but I created this
deck to help people ask questions,'' she said. ``And one of the questions
is, did we do the right thing for the wrong reasons? The right thing would
be ridding people of Hussein, and the wrong reasons would be the hidden
agenda of people doing it for greed, oil and power.''

Once she struck on the idea, Eder said, she spent five or six weeks of
nights and weekends researching excerpts from the media that raised
ethical questions about the conduct and motives for the war. The sources
ranged from the New York Times to Bruce Springsteen's Web site, and quotes
ranged from Mohandas Gandhi to Donald Rumsfeld. The back of each card
features a picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam in the 1980s.

The reception to Eder's labor of conscience speaks volumes about the
current political climate in the country and the depths of aversion to
political dissent.

Eder was ignored or turned down by 30 companies and organizations that she
approached to help publish the project. At one point, she said, a card
printing company in Missouri, to which she had sent a $3,500 deposit,
pulled out when it saw the subject matter. Finally, a business in Texas,
Liberty Playing Cards, agreed to take the job.

Meanwhile, Eder's employer, Bellarmine Prep, has received sufficient
complaints about her effort -- which has nothing to do with the school --
that Principal Mark L. Pierotti felt compelled to post a letter on the
school Web site essentially supporting Eder's right to make the cards but
condemning any disrespect to the country's leaders. Pierotti also said the
school and Eder are in agreement that use of the cards would not be an
appropriate ``tactic'' within the classroom.

In any case, now that it's off the ground, Eder seems to be finding a
receptive audience for her project. She has sold out a first printing of
3,000 decks and a second of 5,000, already has 2,000 orders for a third
printing of 10,000 and has ordered yet another 10,000 after that.  Most of
the sales have been through the Anno Domini Web site, http://

One of the few retailers she found willing to sell the decks -- Bookshop
Santa Cruz -- asked her for an additional 1,000 decks on the day they went
on sale, in late June. People were lining up for them, Eder recalls. ``At
first,'' she said, ``they thought it was for Harry Potter.''

Still, in Santa Clara County she was turned down by virtually every
retailer, large and small, that she approached. The only place selling
them in San Jose is an art gallery her brother runs, Anno Domini at 150 S.
Montgomery St., Unit B.

But ``now I have a person who wants to be sole distributor in Japan,
someone who wants Europe and someone who wants the rest of the world,''
Eder added. ``I'm doing just what I didn't want George Bush to do -- carve
up the world.''

Of course, sale of Eder's decks and the other offshoots are all a pittance
compared with the original Iraqi ``most wanted'' deck, which the
Department of Defense Web site says has sold more than 1.5 million copies.

The main distributor of the commercial version of the government deck is a
company in Lake Forest, Ill., that runs a Web site called and also sells a companion deck of heroes of the war,
called the ``Operation Iraqi Freedom Military Heroes'' deck.

The second freelance deck in support of the war is being sold by a
conservative online news site, Called ``The Deck of
Weasels,'' it features a cross section of ``villains'' from U.N. arms
inspector Hans Blix and Mexican President Vicente Fox to morning talk-show
host Katie Couric and such movie stars as Susan Sarandon, all thoughtfully
bedecked in Iraqi military berets.

The third is an effort called ``The Ambushers,'' which features
caricatures of a range of war opponents, mostly international leaders,
domestic politicians and a generous array of American entertainers.

On Eder's side of the aisle, there's the ``Deck of Republican Chicken
Hawks,'' created by a Hollywood film director named Jerry Vasilatos and
his wife. This one features pro-war Republicans who have ducked service in
the military. Among the faces are Vice President Dick Cheney, presidential
adviser Karl Rove, humorist P.J. O'Rourke and House Majority Leader Tom

Finally, there's the ``Deck of War Profiteers,'' published by a group of
activists in connection with the Oakland-based, non-profit Ruckus Society,
which trains political activists. This deck features former secretary of
state George Shultz, a senior counselor for Bechtel Corp., which has
received contracts to help rebuild Iraq; the head of the American
Petroleum Institute; and the head of United Technologies, for making
weapons. The makers of these cards say the war on terror ``is about
subjugation, resource extraction and opening markets: a practice once
referred to more honestly as colonialism.''

Of course, Americans like nothing so much as too much of a good thing, as
Beanie Babies and reality TV amply testify. And so the deck-of-cards
phenomenon is spreading well beyond the war in Iraq.

Adam Kamal, general partner of Liberty Playing Cards, said he has received
queries from someone wanting to put his extended family on cards for a
reunion, and a law firm that wanted to put all 52 partners on a deck. And
he has heard from former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach about a
deck for his real estate company.

So in the end, it may be that Kamal's and the other card companies are the
biggest winners.

``Industrywide there's a 10-fold increase in playing-card sales in
general,'' said Kamal. ``It's fizzling a bit, but I think the interest
will keep going at least until Christmas. From what I've seen, there has
never been such a time.''

Contact Jack Fischer at jfischer@ or (408) 920-5440.

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