Sunday, September 09, 2012

Book Review:

Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification  by Ginger Cucolo.Allen House Publishing 2012.,346 pages, ISBN 978-0983305705.

One of the ways I rate a book is by looking at what has come before on the subject, and asking if the author has indeed added anything to the body of knowledge.  In this case the answer is: not really.  From a historical tangible artifact standpoint the research on the history of dogtags is just not that great.   Paul Braddock’s 2003 book on dog tag history is just so much better.  I make my case with pointing out that this book does not go into the detail of the various small changes made to the tags during WW1.
Seeing as how the book is about tags, I would expect any actual fact about them to be presented.  I pretty much lost interest when the square tags of WW1 were totally glossed over and the reason for using them was not explained. To correct the book: they were not issued, they were a field expedient.  There is a difference. Moving into WW2 I picked up a lot of omissions, such as the plastic tags used in the Pacific, and an apparent misunderstanding of the green bottle used by the Graves Registration guys.

What totally baffled me was the inclusion of fictional stories of men in the various wars. I’m sorry, but in my opinion (and yours may vary) fiction has no place in a historical work.  Especially when there are genuine stories that could be found.   

An awful lot of the book is just fluff: photos of souvenirs that look like dogtags, stories of tags returned to the original owners, letters apparently written to the author in a request for dog tag material, and.. well… fluff - Nice filler that adds little.  I got the feeling that much of the book came from searching “dogtags” on Google and re-reporting stories reported by others.  

Yes, I am biased. I’ve collected dogtags for a long time. I wrote my first article about them in the late 80’s.  I’ve been privileged to be able to read the dog tag work of Paul Braddock, and the Graves Registration research of Steve West.  A casual reader may find the book cute and interesting, but as a work of history it falls short of the mark.  

Just don't waste your time, and find a copy of Paul's Book.  It is still the best out there.

addendum:  I just noticed that you buy a used copy for less than a buck. OK, for that cheap maybe something in it is worthwhile. Just be sure to double check the historical facts.

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