Friday, February 10, 2023

the last book I ever read (A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, excerpt ten)

from A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib:

In a standard game of spades, played with the fifty-two standard cards in a deck, the ace of spades is the most fortunate of cards. The one that promises at least one way out for you and your team. If you have the ace of spades and nothing else, you can be confident that you will bring at least one trick home. There will be some glory at the end of it all, no matter what other useless weeds may sprout out of a hand, how many red fours and sixes bloom from the interior. After a hand is dealt out in a game of spades, there are few feelings like sifting through the bouquet of unspectacular pasteboards until the ace of spades appears. And so, sometime during the Second World War, the soldiers of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American 101st Airborne Division began painting the sides of their helmets with spades symbols, or fastening the cards to their heads for good luck. Playing cards more generally began to play a role in identification during World War II. Regiments would paint varying suits on their helmets to differentiate airborne divisions during combat. But those who stuck the ace of spades to themselves were considered lucky. Promised to survive and at least bring themselves home to a team counting on them.

Another side of this was brought out nearly twenty years later, during the Vietnam War. American troops believed that the Vietnamese feared the symbolism of the spade, that they thought it signaled death and ill fortune. So the military had the United States Playing Card Company send them crates of just aces of spades and nothing else, so that soldiers could scatter them throughout the jungles and villages of Vietnam before and after raids. The dead bodies of Vietnamese were covered in aces of spades. Lands—entire fields pillaged and burned down to the dirt—were littered with the card.

Power, as always, misused in the wrong hands.

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