Cards As Propaganda Weapons

The idea of using playing cards as convenient portable, entertainment for troops in the field as well as a useful aide-memoire for fighting men and women has a surprisingly long history. The most notorious example of course is the “most wanted” cards issued by the Americans during the Iraq war. Using the standard 52 card deck as a weapon of propaganda and compact way or whiling away the time goes back as far as the American Civil War.

Playing Cards as Propaganda

The French Revolution
The symbolic power of cards obviously has a precedent in continental Europe’s tarot, but the change that swept through aristocratic France in the late 18th Century made figurative heads roll off the face of the pack. The French court had a tradition of naming the Kings, Queens and Knaves of the four suits after various historical figures. King David (Spades) Charlemagne (Hearts) Julius Caesar (Diamonds) and Alexander the Great (Clubs) were the line up of rulers, but these figures were toppled in the French revolution. Kings became ‘Genius’, Queens became ‘Liberty’ and Knaves became ‘Equality’, all democratic ideals the French were attempting to uphold. The cards did however retain their initials, making the packs more of a patriotic novelty than some of the more radical impositions of revolutionary France.

World War II
In World War II, decks printed with the silhouettes of German and Japanese fighter aircraft were in wide circulation especially among the Observer Corps and are worth hundreds of pounds today if you find one intact.

Airplane Cards

Vietnam War
The infamous Black Ace of Spades “Death Card” used in Vietnam (or at least in the movie Apocalypse Now) is another use of a playing card whose potency and morale-sapping effect has been raised to a myth. The reality is there is no black ace of spades in most card games the Vietnamese play, so it certainly did not have the meaning to the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army troops that the Americans seemed to think it had.

Vietnam War

Vietnam War


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