Operation Shoe Fly
June 16, 2004 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Operation Shoe Fly • From Afghanistan, Sgt Hook writes, "So my esteemed friends of the blogosphere...I announce the beginning of Operation Shoe Fly in an effort to shoe the children with no shoes on their feet. If you can collect the shoes, used or new, boys' and girls' (age 14 and under), and send them to me, my crewdogs and I will fly them out to the Afghani kids who so desperately need them."
posted by dhoyt (38 comments total)
Note: this is not a pro-war post or anti-war post or even a general post about the need for shoes in the world (none of which are my preferred FPP subject matter anyway). It's just an act of good faith on behalf of the Sergeant which I thought was novel--the idea of someone in a warzone petitioning for donations to the civilian population. In any case, he provides a mailing address should anyone be game to donate their old shoes for the cause.
posted by dhoyt at 12:28 PM on June 16, 2004

It's sweet and all, but there's an assumption here that merely being barefoot is some tragic condition that must be remedied.
posted by Tubes at 1:03 PM on June 16, 2004

Exactly. It's like that saying,
"I cried because I had no shoes,
until I met a man who had no class."
posted by soyjoy at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2004

but there's an assumption here that merely being barefoot is some tragic condition that must be remedied

Is that a bad assumption to make? If people need shoes and I have old shoes, why shouldn't I send them? Are Afghanis being forced to wear the shoes or are they being merely offerred?
posted by mathowie at 1:07 PM on June 16, 2004

Soyjoy, I love that phrase.

And I'm glad someone's making the effort. Is anyone making them put these shoes on at gunpoint? I'm guessing not, but at least someone's trying to do something proactive and constructive there. Which deserves mention all by itself.

If I had any footwear that fit the criteria, I'd send it off in a heartbeat.
posted by chicobangs at 1:16 PM on June 16, 2004

posted by ColdChef at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2004

Don't send shoes like this.
posted by ColdChef at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2004

I cried because I had no shoes,
until I met a man who had no legs
and he gave me all his shoes
because he didn't need them any more.

What was the name of the "operation" in Wag The Dog?
posted by Capn at 1:24 PM on June 16, 2004

Haven't you ever seen Die Hard?! It's almost impossible to fight terrorists barefoot.

/Had to make the joke, is off to look for shoes.
posted by Stan Chin at 1:29 PM on June 16, 2004

there is an assumption that being barefoot is a bad thing.

secondly, blurring the lines between aid and the military does put aid organisations in danger.

thirdly, is second hand shoes a priority in afghanistan? or would philanthropic gestures be more effective in other areas.

fourthly, wouldn't it be better to spend all that postage on actual aid, rather than shoes, that may not be fit for the afghan terrain. rather like the cans of slim-fast that were donated during the ethiopian famine....

has the author actually asked afghanis what they want? their priorities may not be footwear.

who gets the shoes? kids who are friendly to the US military? this is a serious issue. we have seen cases in africa where some do-gooder provided some families with stuff, only for those who didn't get anything to ostracise them and denounce them as either stooges, or as being unfairly favoured.

it doesn't take much imagination to see how some elements will react to a few families getting footwear from the US military - and that is who will be percieved as the donor. in the meantime, aid workers, already being killed will have a tougher job of saying they're not military/spies/stooges of the US

apologies for sounding so cynical, but providing aid is a highly complex business, and amateurs often cause more harm than good.
posted by quarsan at 1:31 PM on June 16, 2004

It's sweet and all, but there's an assumption here that merely being barefoot is some tragic condition that must be remedied.

Being barefoot is only a tiny symptom of the much greater tragedies in Afghanistan which are clearly too large for any one soldier to confront. Which is why a gesture like this--almost a desperate one--seems a hundred times better than doing nothing at all. If a small project like putting shoes on a hundred childrens' feet improves their quality of life--albeit one meager gesture at a time--than I'd say it's a nice start.
posted by dhoyt at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2004

Maybe these shoud not be sent as well.

posted by sharksandwich at 1:49 PM on June 16, 2004

dhoyt, will it help? this is a soldiers idea, he has not asked the Afghanis what they want/need. their perceptions of what they need may be radically different.

here's a couple of possible scenarios:

1, shoes are handed out. later the taliban come around asking who has been given something by the 'enemy' soldiers. in wanting to stop fratenisation they take the parents of some kids who got shoes and kill them.

2, a couple of guys turn up at a place to hand out the shoes, but being fed up with their lot, they throw them away instead of handing them out.

3, a soldier, feeling a long way from home and horny, sees a young girl. would you like these shoes... well, you'll have to do something for me

4, after the soldiers hand out shoes an aid worker appears. people make a connection and decide that he is a soldier. because the aid worker isn't in uniform and has some armed guards, he is a spy.

these are all possible. what safeguards are there in place to prevent this? i see none whatsoever.

aid isn't a matter of just handing out goodies to people.
posted by quarsan at 2:07 PM on June 16, 2004

quarsan, way to jump straight to seeing the worst in everyone.

If a soldier is going to exort sexual favors or make some other power move on someone in the local populace (and obviously it happens, probably more than we'd ever like to admit), they won't need no stinkin' pair of shoes to do it, and they're going to do it anyway.

This project isn't adding much downside to what could and does happen in US-occupied Afghanistan, but it does provide the opportunity for a ton of possible upside.

See, it's not just the shoes themselves. It's a symbol of good faith on the part of the soldiers in trying to make the area they're in a little bit better. Are you going to deny the locals shoes just because they need food more? Or are you going to get them shoes and keep working on the food thing as well?

Some of those soldiers, I'm sure, are just happy they have something positive to offer. What's wrong with helping that impulse along?
posted by chicobangs at 2:36 PM on June 16, 2004

quarson's complaints would apply to soldiers doing anything nice for the people in the country. Just don't send any fucking shoes, quarson, it's okay. Really.
posted by David Dark at 2:45 PM on June 16, 2004

Metafilter - turning nice gestures into negatives since 2004. (I remember similar rumbling about chief wiggles)

Reminds me of an article I just read in the Straits Times, which has since been archived (no link, therefore...)
Why do Republicans seem to have a lock on the US presidency, winning all but three of the past nine presidential races? How did conservatives, hitherto the killjoys who took away the punch bowl just when the party got lively, become the standard bearers of the American Dream? How did the Republican Party, which consisted in the main of isolationist "America Firsters" up to the 1950s, become the party of aggressive internationalists, out to enforce American values on the world?

Part of the reason was liberals gave up on the hopeful agenda.

In place of the positive internationalism that animated Democratic presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy, post-Vietnam liberals became doubtful and hesitant about the uses of US power. In place of the universal, progressive liberal agenda which steeled the US in its confrontation with the Nazis in World War II and the Soviets in the Cold War, today's liberals emphasise relativism and ambiguity. . . .

Conservatives have been winning in America because they picked up where liberals left off. A democracy cannot sustain itself unless it believes in something.
posted by swerdloff at 2:59 PM on June 16, 2004

OMG...can we seriously question the act of giving shoes to barefoot kids, on the premise that "being barefoot is not necessarily a bad thing"?

In a friggin' warzone?
posted by LairBob at 3:16 PM on June 16, 2004

i apologise for seeming cynical, but i have worked for ngo's and have seen some scenarios similar to what i said above.

these are the sorts of possibilities aid organisations have to think about. it's not about being negative, it's about avoiding abuse. it's about thinking things through.

i know this is an unpopular stance, but i have seen people suffer from ill thought out ideas, very similar to this. i'm saying that some thought, not just a knee jerk reaction, should go into this. also the point of asking people what they want, instead of saying take this, is at the heart of what aid should be about, whatever the scale.

at the moment, you're sending shoes to people who may not want them. for example, land mines are a problem in afghanistan. people might think dealing with them might be a better priority. ask them, see what they think.

this isn't about criticising the military, or people's genuine goodwill. it's about giving in a way that is most appropriate.

i do apologise for raising these points, i am not saying that they're 100% right. i'm saying they should be considered.
posted by quarsan at 3:18 PM on June 16, 2004

I've just had the following epiphany: the Liberal Philosophy is hampered by its belief in the Hippocratic Oath ("First, do no harm") and Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong"), while Conservatives get their thinking points from Nike ("Just do it") and Arnaud-Armaury ("Kill them all, and let God sort them out").

Just don't send Cruel Shoes.
posted by wendell at 3:27 PM on June 16, 2004

it's about looking at possible problems and trying to stop them happening. we've seen things like this idea, where no thought went into preventing possible problems. and things went very, very wrong. it's about stopping that and doing something effective. it's about making things work

the first step should be to ask people what they need, rather than saying 'take this'
posted by quarsan at 3:35 PM on June 16, 2004

the first step should be to ask people what they need

Sounds like they do that all the time in conjunction with various aid groups. Shoelessness is just something one soldier (or group of soldiers) noticed on his own volition and decided to help out with. Perhaps you could email Sgt. Hook with your concerns. Not being snarky--being serious.
posted by dhoyt at 3:41 PM on June 16, 2004

Good find, dhoyt. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on June 16, 2004

They don't have clean water to drink, but at least they'll be lookin' fine with their new kicks right? Next we can build some sweatshops so they can improve their standard of living! "Just Do It" indeed.
posted by banished at 4:15 PM on June 16, 2004

If you want to send shoes fine. If you don't want to send shoes, don't send shoes. If you think supporting a NGO is the way to go, support it. But why stop somebody who obviously believes they are doing something positive? I have a hard time believing something worse off will hapen should some kids get shoes. I suspect the following:
1. Shoes are needed and would be welcome.
2. Other things may be as/more important than shoes.
3. This sergeant has information that shoes are wanted.
4. The sergeant is going out of his way (and may be violating military rules) to do something to help. This is obviously improving the morale of his men.
5. I doubt we're going to see some Col Kurtz story in 6 months time as a result of this.

Nevertheless, if it is a concern have you notified him? I didn't see anything but overwhelming positive replies in my admitedly quick skim.
posted by infowar at 4:46 PM on June 16, 2004

Oh, puh-leeeze...of course, there are other things that folks their need, and if you conducted a research effort to prioritize those needs (which is part of what I do for a living, so I'm not denouncing that), then yes, they might place other things above "shoes".

Nevertheless, shoes were invented like how-ever-many thousand years ago because being barefoot when you don't want to sucks. It's like the "coat drive" that folks run every winter here in NYC, or the "toy drive" that runs every holiday season, or the "used spectacles drive" that comes around every once in a while--yes, a hot meal or a utilities payment might rank even higher on the list for homeless families, but are you really going to begrudge them a coat, or toys, or glasses, because you can theorize something else more important?

If this guy is earnest (which he seems to be), and he's really going to give the shoes to kids (which there's no concrete reason to doubt), why argue against this?

I just don't get it.
posted by LairBob at 4:55 PM on June 16, 2004

"I doubt we're going to see some Col Kurtz story in 6 months time as a result of this."
"These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing -- food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those shoes on the stakes, if their soles had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen -- and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with a rounded toe -- a shoe that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry laces showing a narrow white line of the aglet, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber."
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:14 PM on June 16, 2004

I think quarsan makes some good points. The soldiers, after all, aren't going to be there to see what happens when they've headed back to base, and things shake out for good or for ill for the shoe recipients.

Very sad, because there is a lot of goodwill there, people clearly want to help. It would be spiffy if there were a way to focus and channel this goodwill in a way that would be *certain* not to cause any unhappy backlash on the recipients. But this "life" thing, being messy and all, doesn't tend to work out that way.
posted by beth at 5:20 PM on June 16, 2004

Even as a pretty liberal guy, I'm still at a loss here...how can "things shake out for ill" when you give a kid shoes? I mean, how "*certain*" do you have to be before you'll hand over a pair of used shoes to a barefoot kid in a warzone?
posted by LairBob at 5:32 PM on June 16, 2004

Hey quarsan, do you want to take a dump on the "Spirit of America" campaign, too?
posted by davidmsc at 7:23 PM on June 16, 2004

i'm not dumping on anyone, i'm simply saying that some thought needs to go into it to prevent possible negative outcomes. i am not saying he shouldn't continue, but to consider it.

there was a school in asia, near a major tourist spot. a couple of people met a teacher and wandered around the school. they saw hard working teachers desperately trying to drag their pupils out of poverty. how could they help, they asked. send us textbooks, excercise books etc was the answer.

so they set up a program where people visiting the country would take some school supplies out with them, and get shown the school. this way tourists could see something of the real country and learn something during their stay.

sounds like a cool idea, right? well they hadn't thought about possible negative outcomes at all, they were relying on people's goodwill.

it went well. untill one guy turned up with a bag of books. he was shown round and got chatting with the kids. he told one of them that, he had other books to give out, but they weren't for everyone. if the kid came back to the guy's hotel, he could have one. the young boy, desperate to improve his education agreed and went to his hotel.

the guy sexually assaulted the boy.

the ngo that organised the books never verified anyone's ID. the guy simply gave a false name and was never caught. if they had taken all the book carriers passport details, for example, this probably wouldn't have happened.

think about possible problems and plan to stop them happening. that's all i'm saying. if you want to flame me for it, then so be it.
posted by quarsan at 12:23 AM on June 17, 2004

The most important point that quarsan makes is that aid workers should never be put in harms way due to a fuzzying of the lines between military and aid people.
To do so is reckless and irresponsible.

It is a fundamental fault of aid programs historically that they do not service the needs of the recipients, because the recipients have not been consulted.

These are valid concerns.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. /cliche
posted by asok at 3:13 AM on June 17, 2004

Wow. So folks criticize the military for not helping the people, and when the military (or at least elements within the military) *do* decide to help, they're STILL criticized. Damned if you do...

Oh well. Good for SGT Hook for doing this -- I have no doubt that the people in Afghanistan he helps will be appreciative, regardless of what we on MeFi might say.
posted by armage at 6:23 AM on June 17, 2004

I don't think anyone here is really down on Sgt. Hook or his good intentions. Thank You to him and his friends in the military for wanting to make a difference. A few of us have expressed concerns with the details -- I'll take another stab at it:

People know when they are hungry, because their bellies feel empty. But they can't as easily look around and see who else is hungry, or who may have been fed recently. Introducing a few shoes into a society of barefoot kids may be quite visible -- and having been a kid, I recall how sensitive, judgemental, and vindictive kids can be about superficial inequality.

Kids who have never worn shoes may not give it a second thought. Many, given the option, would rather not. I'm not being "culturist" here, it's true in America too. Other than coping with very cold temperatures, there is little physical reason for any of us to wear shoes on a daily basis. There are situations, of course, where protective clothing makes functioning in, say, industrial environments possible. For most of us it's done in conformity to custom and fashion. (see barefooters.org if you want more on the natural adaptability and durability of the foot.)

Imagine an advanced race of alien saviors dropping in to rid our cities of crime and disease, and noticing that most of our kids had no helmets. Gosh, what if they found themselves in an environment where things might fall on their heads? Clearly, this tragic situation could be remedied with a helmet drive...
posted by Tubes at 7:17 AM on June 17, 2004

I think the other thing going on here is the need to find something positive involving the US military.

Sgt. Hook isn't stripping and sexually humiliating grown men? You mean to tell me he's actually making an honest attempt to do something decent for the people he's ostensibly trying to protect? Well, right on. (Now there's something to thumbs-up a camera about.)

I'm inclined to believe Sgt. Hook about the need for shoes, because he's actually there and I'm not. Yes, when you bring something of value into a place that has nothing of value, you might fuck up the ecosystem, but he's been there a little while, and I'd be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he says a shoe drive is something worth doing.
posted by chicobangs at 7:43 AM on June 17, 2004

Wasn't there an "incident" where Law Enforcement Officers in the US were requested (by an active officer) to send used bullet proof vests to Iraq to 'armor' unarmored Humvees (or similiar vehicles). US officials were embarrased and discarded the vests censoring the requester.

This differs how? Are Iraqi children's feet more important than US forces in unarmored vehicles?
posted by DBAPaul at 7:54 AM on June 17, 2004

I would think that after the first "shoe drop" if there are any problems, they would become known. For example, maybe the village elder would come and launch a complaint. Or the soldiers would figure out that nobody was wearing the shoes.

They already give the kids candy occasionally. I suppose that has caused irreparable harm as well?
posted by infowar at 7:56 AM on June 17, 2004

like the food drop?
posted by quarsan at 8:23 AM on June 17, 2004

I give up. You win. Nobody should ever try to help.
posted by infowar at 7:03 PM on June 17, 2004

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