Apparently there are “Jack Boots” and there are jackboots. While the former appeals to our fashion sense, the latter is an ominous reminder of 20th century totalitarianism. And it’s this boot in particular, the boot – in particular the studded boot – that serves as a reminder of just how shamefully free the road to depravity can be. Intended for both combat and marching, the studded boots come up to mid-calf or more, have leather soles with heel irons, and up to three dozen heavy-headed studs inserted into the soles to extend the life of the boot. There are no laces, the foot simply pressed into the boot.
For as long as I can remember, black leather studded ankle boots have been synonymous with tyranny. Certainly, wearing these boots does not make you an antisocial, a gang member. Choosing to wear these boots does not necessarily mean that you endorse a political system that deplores all political parties except its own. Just wearing studded boots doesn’t make you a fascist. But all of these scenarios could be assumed unflatteringly. In Western culture, studded boots are considered unpleasant, insensitive, and offensive. May God help us if the abominable heritage of the studded boot should be lost to succeeding generations.
I remember that the American family of the 1950s was more structured and tight-knit than families today. Radical reforms that would divide and subjugate the culture were a decade away. Gathering was ritual, Sunday dinners around my grandmother’s kitchen table felt like tribal gatherings. After dinner, we would gather in the living room, drape ourselves over the furniture, lay on the floor to watch “The Twentieth Century” on TV. Narrated by Walter Cronkite, this was CBS’ historical WWII documentary series, with each episode a tangible tutorial on WWII, victory-ridden evil filmed in 16mm.
Studded boots, I remember them well. I may have only been an elementary student, but I was aware of the pain and suffering of others, aware of inhumane behavior when it presented itself. More often than not poignant camerawork has focused on the boots. So much so that an impressionable young mind could have easily perceived the boots as the engine of chaos, an integral part of war. From city to city, country to country, the studded boots shredded and flayed the world beneath them. Ruthlessly diminishing humanity wherever they went, soldiers in studded boots goose-stepped across Europe, the earth literally shaking under the despotism rejected by racial oppression. Six million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, caught up in the establishment of a new order, were “eliminated as racially, socially and physically defective”.
To call it the work of the devil would be presumptuous of me. But where else do you blame the deaths of some 85 million people in total (the Pacific theater included)? That something vile broods in the hearts of men is evident; to conclude that one man is responsible is ridiculous – it takes more than champagne to launch a ship; it takes a concerted effort from people like you and me.
After the October 23, 1956 uprising in Budapest, Hungary, all that remained of a 26-foot-tall bronze statue of Joseph Stalin of the USSR were his boots. More than half a century later, these boots (or a copy) remain empty on their base. Far from being an empty reminder, passers-by pause and reflect, remembering when Hungary was under the heel of Russian oppression.
Boots remain a symbol of brutality; their image strikes at the heart of fundamental human rights. More than once, they were present when freedom, dignity and life were extinguished. To ignore the legacy of the studded boot is to overlook the evil in this world. To ignore their heritage is to give life and strength to what inhabits them.
Donald Melville lives in West Ontario County. He is a published author, electrical engineer, cabinet maker, Vietnam veteran, husband, father and grandfather. He taught Christian education for 15 years and is still active in Bible study. He contributes to topics of interest and welcomes your comments at [email protected]