- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

It's all in the cards. While analysts and pundits caterwaul over the greater implications of September 11, the bubble-gum folks have cut to the chase.
The Topps Company has just issued "Enduring Freedom" trading cards: 90 straightforward vignettes that clearly point out the heroes, villains and hardware of the war on terrorism.
There are 11 President Bushes, three Mayor Rudolph W. Giulianis and one National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. There are bright American flags, proud police and rescue workers and 42 spectacular shots of troops, choppers, fighters, bombers and aircraft carriers.
And yes, there is an Osama bin Laden card in somber black and white, billed as "The Suspected Ringleader," with historical details gleaned from FBI reports.
"People may ask, 'How could you put that in?' Well, how can we not put that in?" counters company Chairman Arthur Shorin. "The kids may want to tear it up, stomp on it, throw it in the garbage. We don't intend these cards to be collectibles which you hold with tweezers."
A million free cards are being sent to American troops on these shores and overseas, meant as an immediate mini-morale booster. A portion of the profits are also going to charity.
The patriotism, meanwhile, is unabashed and compelling. The war according to trading cards features former presidents at prayer, staunch shots of congressional leaders and a truly fabulous cornucopia of military he-men.
But there are no images of exploding skyscrapers, no rubble or destruction, as repeated ad nauseam in national media coverage. "That's just a cheap shot," Mr. Shorin said.
Based just six blocks from ground zero, the Topps offices on Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan rocked and swayed during the terrorist attacks seven weeks ago. In the immediate aftermath, the company's production teams worked continual 17-hour days to produce the new cards in a matter of weeks a process which normally takes six months or more.
"We didn't want to go on and on about those acts of destruction, or how terrible it all is," Mr. Shorin said. "We want to give information on civilian and military leaders entrusted to guide us through this fight. Kids need to understand that the president and his team will keep them safe, and that the evildoers will be punished."
A trading card is a familiar format, he said.
The glossy color cards are upbeat but gutsy, offering simple mottoes like "NATO stands tall alongside America," "Army Special Ops: Troops at the ready" and "The USS Cole returns to action on the high seas."
"We're focusing on America's strengths," Mr. Shorin said.
The new collection won't break an allowance. A seven-card pack is $2, and each contains a patriotic sticker ideal for a bike fender or backpack.
Though the new cards have only started to arrive in stores in the last 24 hours, collectors are already descending upon them.
As of last night, more than 70 hopeful dealers were already offering full sets of 90 cards for auction on Internet-based EBay, with starting bids at $25.
But there's no bubble gum to be found, though. The 62-year-old company removed the squishy pink slabs from their trading cards a decade ago after Desert Storm-themed cards proved so popular on their own that gum became superfluous and annoyed serious collectors who claimed it compromised "mint" condition.
But new stars were born. Showcased and star-spangled, generals and military hardware had become pop culture heroes, right along with Hall of Fame baseball players Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.
The cards had attained "collector status among the troops," wrote Gen. Norman Schwartskopf in a 1991 letter to the company. Colin L. Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marveled in a memo to Topps, "A good part of my time is now spent signing the backs of cards brought into me by people all over the Pentagon."
The "Enduring Freedom" series may prove more than a novelty item or stocking stuffer.
"This is just what the doctor ordered," said Los Angeles-based psychologist Robert Butterworth. "These are heroes which a kid can focus on at their own pace, and on their own terms. It is an instructive alternative to the all-encompassing, repetitive violent images in the media."
Those images have inspired experts of every persuasion to offer guidelines for those charged with "explaining the unexplainable" to children.
Some focus on reassurance and values, others on preventing racism or violence.
Children have not been overlooked even on the highest levels. President Bush himself asked young Americans to contribute a dollar each to a fund for Afghan children; about $600,000 has arrived at the White House so far. First lady Laura Bush, meanwhile, is featured on a public service announcement, advising parents to "talk to your children, and hug them."
"We don't talk down to kids," said Topps executive Mr. Shorin, 65, a grandfather. "We're putting out the facts for them in a tasteful way. The kids will take away what they want from it."

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