Social Security numbers on your arm and those Cold War memories

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I’m sure that by now you have read about this little jewel of disaster planning:

A local leader in one coastal Texas community is advising residents who are not evacuating ahead of Hurricane Harvey to mark their names and Social Security numbers on their arms.

The mayor pro tem of Rockport, Texas, said that grim step is necessary to prepare for the worst in case of deaths among people who remain in the area.

“We’re suggesting if people are going to stay here, mark their arm with a Sharpie pen with their name and Social Security number,” Rockport Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios said at a news conference this morning.

It’s  a lovely little bit of dramatic hyperbole meant to terrify citizens into heading to the Superdome other locations. Rescuers, he implies, will discover your water-logged corpse and make the identification by the social security number you had the foresight to Sharpie onto your forearms. Which raises an interesting question: why wouldn’t you just write your damn name instead? Do they really think a grieving mom will come down to the makeshift morgue and wail “Where’s my baby? Where’s my sweet 409-52-2002?” Of course not. So, while not as famously stupid as the last southern hurricane mayor’s statement, this one is still pretty silly.

Or…is it?

Did you know that at the height of the Cold War, some school districts issued dogtags to children to make their identification easier in case of that big atomic war that we were all expecting? True story. The fine folks at the NYC Board of Edumacation spent $159,000 (in 1952 money) to tag kids like they were elk. But, apparently, dogtags weren’t the only option.

430D639800000578-4776328-image-a-98_1502309278977At some point, someone suggested tattooing as a means of providing identification for citizens (adult and child) who might get caught up in the blast zone. While dogtags were probably not an easy sell, you can imagine the howling that would have followed if a government actor suggested tattooing the population…especially since this was about ten years after a buncha people already tried that sort of thing. (Trivia: as a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the late 70’s it was not unheard of in the summer to see faded tattoos on the bare arms of older men of certain cultural/religious backgrounds. I specifically recall a barber I went to once who had what was clearly a number tattooed on his forearm.)

All the articles I found on the subject were aghast at the concept of issuing dogtags to kids for the purpose of identifying their bodies. Apparently the snowflakes at Slate and similar venues feel that a better choice is for a parent to be denied closure and the comfort of knowing the final disposition of their child.

Nowadays, people take the tattooing thing way too far. There was a point in my lifetime where only a certain kind of woman had a tattoo, and if a man had a tattoo he probably also had a military career behind it. Now kids get tattooed to the point of looking like a comic book.

Even a decade after Katrina, there were still a couple dozen bodies that were unidentified….a big improvement from the 1000 that they started with.

For me, the issue of identification is a non-starter. Even in my day-to-day life I refuse to carry ID. If I die, I’m sure there will be plenty of evidence laying around to let people know who I was (or am, i suppose). But, back in the Cold War days it was a different story, I suppose.