Spam Report Card: The War Profiteers

Enough nattering about Halliburton as the big, bad profiteer of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sure, Dick Cheney’s former employer should make a mint rebuilding oil wells, but at least the company’s windfall won’t occur until after the howitzers have fallen silent. Within hours of the initial March 19 bombing raid on Baghdad, by contrast, American e-mail in-boxes were awash in war-related product pitches. What’s an armed conflict, after all, without a few tasteful souvenir coins to mark the occasion—complete with handsome display cases and certificates of authenticity, of course.

In case you’ve missed out on the marketing barrage, here’s Slate’s report card on the best and worst of the war spam.

“Game Over 2003” and “We’re Back Iraq 2003” T-Shirts Source: IraqTshirts.com Price: $19.99 (plus $3.99 shipping and handling); $2 more for XXL sizes Patriotic Correctness Grade: B Tackiness: B+ The “Game Over” design, featuring an overly jowly Saddam in the cross hairs, is the best this relentlessly annoying spammer has to offer. The skull and crossbones on the top corner of the despot’s French-style beret is a nice touch and perhaps a subtle dig at the Gallic dissenters across the Pond. “We’re Back,” with its Old-Glory-themed victory sign, seems like it’ll age less gracefully—especially if the coming occupation stretches into 2004. Warning: Web site plays a dreadful .wav version of “America the Beautiful” without prompting.  

“United We Stand” and “Thank God I’m Free” T-Shirt Source: HotProductOutlet.com Price: $19.99 Patriotic Correctness: A-Tackiness: D+ These exceedingly cheesy offerings appear to be leftovers from Operation Enduring Freedom. The vendors avoided an overstock nightmare by simply stamping “2003” on the upper-belly area. There’s no mention of Iraq or Saddam, aside from the vague “Support Our Troops” slogan that graces a few styles. The smirking bald-eagle logo has kitsch value, much like an airbrushed Valkyrie painting circa 1978. The good news: Buy two shirts, and get free shipping—a $5.95 value, per the proprietors.

“One Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” T-shirt
Source: Best4PrintingV2.com
Price: $14.95
Patriotic Correctness: B
Tackiness: B
For the frat boy in all of us: A solider takes a moment to, uh, “drain the main vein” on a pensive painting of Saddam. Currently sold out, alas.

Semper Fi Edition Limited Figurines and Faithful Fuzzies Salutes the Navy Source: CollectiblesToday.com Price: $19.99 (plus $3.99 S&H) Patriotic Correctness: B-Tackiness: C-Obviously targeted toward the parents of soldiers, as few self-respecting jarheads or sailors likely salivate over the prospect of owning a 4-and-a-half-inch “seaworthy teddy.” Those who do fall for the solemn-faced ursine figurines should act fast, as production is “limited to 295 casting days.” The site recommends the “subscription plan,” which ensures that you’ll “never again risk a price increase” if you commit to buying each and every bellicose bear that the Hamilton Collection churns out.  

Operation Iraqi Freedom Coin Source: WebDesignProfessional.com/iraqi_freedom Price: $39.95 (plus $4.95 S&H) Patriotic Correctness: A-Tackiness: C Minted from “.999 Troy Ounce Silver,” which goes for about $4.50 per ounce, this Highland Mint coin features the soon-to-be-immortal Bush quote: “We will bring freedom to others, and we will prevail.” There is a promise that $5 from each purchase will go toward “both a veteran’s charity as well as a relief organization,” though no specific recipients are mentioned. Perhaps another dollar or so could be set aside to teach the spammer about the nuances of capitalization. “A Portion of the Proceeds will be going directly to Charity”?

Operation Freedom Legal Tender U.S. Coin
Source: RazmatazCoins.com Price: $19.95 (plus $5.95 S&H) Patriotic Correctness: B-Tackiness: D As far as I can tell, the word “Iraqi” is not trademarked. So what’s up with the “Operation Freedom” label? Also, note that this is merely a Kennedy half dollar, with the heads side altered by the addition of a colored logo. So, in essence, this spammer is selling disfigured 50-cent pieces for $20. On the plus side, the bauble does feature “the world’s highest quality colorizing,” and a “deluxe jewel case”—deluxe!—is included. Also, for every coin you purchase, Razmataz promises to send a matching coin to “a military personnel” (sic). Just what a soldier needs to get him or her through the long Iraqi summer.  

Defenders of Freedom U.S. Dollar Coin
Source: PerfectCollectibles.com
Price: $19.95 (plus $4.95 S&H)
Patriotic Correctness: B
Tackiness: C+
Another colorized coin, this time a silver dollar accompanied by a “deluxe museum quality display case” and a certificate of authenticity (“a $15 value”). Purports to honor five branches of the military, though the Coast Guard gets the shaft on the heads side. Also promises to send 10 percent of the proceeds to “this nonprofit organization of more than one million veterans disabled during wartime,” though the literature never bothers to clear up who “this” refers to. Oh, and limit five per household, please.

“Do You Support a War Against Iraq?” Internet Survey
Source: InternetSurveyPanel.com
Price: Your Privacy
Patriotic Correctness: F
Tackiness: F
The classic Internet marketing con, whereby you’re asked to participate in an “important” poll—a process which also requires that you reveal details regarding your age, gender, occupation, household income, marital status, and education. “Various prizes” are promised if you kick in your two cents about Iraq. Uh-huh. 

“Interpreting the Signs” Newsletter
Source: LeftBehindProphecy.com
Price: $29.95
Patriotic Correctness: F
Tackiness: D
“Will WAR IN IRAQ launch an unstoppable chain of events of [sic] that lead to ARMAGEDDON?” The authors behind the evangelical Left Behind books claim to have the lowdown on that question, as well as the inside scoop on the sinister connection between ATMs and the Mark of the Beast. At $30 per subscription, eschatological insight don’t come cheap.

Norton SystemWorks With American Flag Bonus Source: Platinum-deal.com Price: $39.95 Patriotic Correctness: A-Tackiness: B+ Show your enthusiasm for Iraqi regime change by protecting your PC against viruses and Internet clutter. Once you’ve got the software installed, go out to the garage and proudly decorate your car with the free American flag antenna ball. No mention of the trinket’s value, but it’s got to be worth at least as much as one of those coin display cases.  

Farouk Al-Bashar’s “Urgent Assistance Needed” E-Mail
Source: A Nigerian cybercafe, most likely
Price: Potentially your entire savings
Patriotic Correctness: F
Tackiness: F
An Iraqi oil heir happens to have $12.5 million in cash lying around, and he needs some assistance spiriting it out of Baghdad. Kindly forward your bank account details, and he’ll give you a 10 percent cut. It’s a new spin on the ol’ Nigerian 419 scam, by which a gullible Westerner is separated from his or her funds. Buy the “Operation Freedom” coin, if you must, but please steer clear of Farouk.