Shooting with shoes

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Shooting with shoes

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Anthropologists estimate it was 26,000 to 40,000 years ago when humans first began to wear shoes. The basis for this argument is that the toe bones of humans started to become smaller in this period. According to this theory, toe bones were thicker before because humans walked barefoot.

The world’s oldest shoe was found in Oregon, the United States, in 1938. Since the shoe was covered with volcanic ash, the sandal made of fiber was preserved intact. Radiocarbon dating ages the sandal to be around 10,000 years old.

Afterwards shoes diversified from their original function of protecting feet. Shoes represent social standing. In Ancient Greece, slaves and free men were distinguished by their shoes. Plutarch wrote that bare feet symbolized slaves’ lowly status. In Ancient Greece no free man would dare to appear in public without sporting sandals.

King Edward III of Britain enacted a law in the 14th century to limit the lengths of spikes, or points, on shoes. The spikes of noblemen’s shoes were not permitted to exceed 60 centimeters, gentlemen’s 30 centimeters, while commoners’ shoe spikes were limited to a mere 15 centimeters. At that time shoes with long, pointed spikes were in fashion. The longer spikes were, the higher the person’s social standing. Sometimes spikes were so long that the person couldn’t walk properly.

Shoes were once used as a means of resistance as well. In Europe in the early 19th century during the early stages of industrialization, shoes were used to destroy machines. As spinning machines were introduced, defiant workers in France and Belgium resorted to the method. They threw their sabots - wooden clogs - into the machines which broke, forcing factories to shut down. This is the origin of the word sabotage, according to the book, “Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear.”

As U.S. President George W. Bush was having a press conference in Baghdad on Dec. 14, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the president. He said they were for Iraq’s war orphans and widows. The act of throwing shoes at someone is regarded as the supreme insult in Arab culture.

The incident reminds us of the shoe bomber who was arrested in December 2001. He hid explosives in his shoes and attempted a suicidal explosion after boarding a plane. The would-be bomber, a British national of Arab heritage, later claimed in court that he was not a terrorist but an Islamic warrior. What will the Iraqi journalist say in court? He might say that he is not a terrorist but an expert in Arabic insults.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo


By Cho Hyun-wook [poemlove@joongang.co.kr]
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