A VIEW FROM
In 2003, America led a coalition into war with Iraq.
More specifically, they went to war with Saddam Hussein and his regime. His sons, his henchmen, his entire brutal dictatorship. These people held power by a mixture of mass murder and terror.
So the real job, as much as fighting the Iraqi army, was to remove these men at the top.
But how could they do that when no one knew what they looked like. At least, the soldiers on the ground didn’t know. If they knew, they could capture or kill them and end the war a lot quicker.
So the question was: how to get the average GI to recognise the Iraqi leaders?
How to disseminate that information to ordinary soldiers?
This is basically a media question: how to reach a target audience? But there was no media in the desert. So the really creative step was to realise that everything is media. Start with a question. What could they find that GIs would carry with them and look at often?
It was no good giving them a book or pamphlet – no one would take that out and look at it.
As the man given the task, Lieutenant Hans Mumm said: “We didn’t want to make another nonsense intelligence product that no one was going to read.”
He knew any army publication would be used as toilet paper.
There were about 50 enemy faces that needed to be studied and memorised – how do you get ordinary GIs to care enough to study 50 faces? The answer is what the answer always is. You don’t start from what you want people to do, you start from what people want to do.
One of the things soldiers like to do is spend a lot of time sitting around passing the time. For that, they need a pack of cards. There are 52 cards in a pack. Everyone studies their cards carefully when they’re playing.
Each time they play, they get given different cards to study.
Everyone knows what the most valuable cards are and they look out for them.
Soldiers look after their cards and carry them with them everywhere. It was a perfect media fit. And the 52 most important members of the Iraqi regime each got their photo on a card. Starting with the most important and working down. So Saddam Hussein himself was the Ace of Spades. His sons, who’d organised mass murder, were the other aces in the pack. Then the generals, and leaders of the government. Down to the heads of surveillance and torture. But the names were very difficult to remember – well, luckily, that didn’t matter.
Ordinary soldiers remembered them by their ranking in the pack.
They didn’t have to say they’d just found Ali Hassan alMajid, just the King of Spades.
The same with Barzan Abd al- Ghafur Sulayman Majid (the Queen of Hearts).
Or Sayf Al-Din Fulayyih Hasan Taha Al-Rawi (the Jack of Clubs).
By the time the war was finished, ordinary soldiers had found most of the men they were looking for. Thirteen of those pictured on the cards were dead. Twenty-nine were in custody. Four were captured and released, and just six were never caught.
That’s how media solves a problem creatively, by realising that everything is media.
Even when there isn’t any media.