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Saturday, December 18, 2010

dog tags philosophy

The picture you see is of the dog tags I have been carrying around with me for all these years since 1979.

The dog tags have a specific message.

For the benefit of my civilian friends who may chance upon this write up,"A dog tag is the informal name for the identification tags worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to actual dog tags. The tag is primarily used for the identification of dead and wounded along with providing religion (to provide for calling a Catholic Priest, Jewish Rabbi or Hindu Pandit for Last Rites) and essential basic medical information for the treatment of the latter, such as blood type" (courtesy wikipedia)

In the Indian army there are two metal tags worn by every soldier, one on his wrist and one around the neck. The idea is that one remains with the body and the other is sent to the family and an addition advantage is that at least one of the discs can be located even if some body parts are missing.

It has just five items of data. the service number, rank, name, blood group and religion. Every bit of data has a specific purpose. Service number , rank and name form the mandatory information to be given to anyone (including the enemy if a prisoner of war) for the purpose of identification.

The simple information contained on that small aluminum tag can speak for you if you can't speak for yourself; it could mean the difference between a positive identification and an uncertain future for those who survive you, should your identity be "...known only to God."

What really interests me is the 4th and 5th bits of information, ie blood group and the religion. For a wounded soldier, one treatment that can really mean life/death is timely blood transfusion and you need to know the blood group at the earliest.

In case the casualty is beyond any treatment, then the most important information required is whether to bury or to cremate , to call a panditji or a maulvi ; so there is the mention of the religion.

In short what the tags convey is “tips to save the body or to dispose of the body as appropriate”

In case it is the latter,one of the discs is dispatched to the NOK (next of kin) along with other personal effects of the soldier, as and when the time permits.

For the soldier himself, what a way to live ? What an attitude to live with ? Before an operation the soldiers prepare their wills, make monthly allotments to family and update the address es of NOK. Since you don’t know when a war will break out, these activities take placed during "peace time training exercises”. Once a war breaks out all you have in your person , other than rations , water and warlike stores are these dog tags with their briefest of messages.

Is it possible to wear such an attitude in peace time ? Can we issue clear, concise instructions to people who need to know, as to what exactly to be done to preserve this body or to dispose off the body and of course instructions to dispose off other worldly possessions ? I suppose once you can do that,the chances are that you would actually live longer !