Have we, or have we not, won the War on Shoes?
The awkward, clumsy, sometimes rude, and always smelly screening of America's shoes has been in full force for over a decade now since Richard Reid gave us all the gift of footwear paranoia. And in all that time, all those shoes, and all the money spent on Keens which slip off and slip on with minimal effort, there has yet to be a shoe discovered in the process of attacking America (although the TSA has 'claimed' it has discovered "dangerous items" in multiple shoes, whatever that means).
Most every country in the world has ended the War on Shoes (or at the very least has engaged in a prolonged armistice), including Israel. U.S. Homeland Security has tried to get us to believe that of all the technologies in the world currently employed to detect 'evil shoes' (including the ones used by Israel) none of them are good enough for the U.S. If you've ever been through security at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv you're well aware of how serious Israelis take security (it makes U.S. security look like you're being screened by the cast of Romper Room).
I became fixated on this topic today because as I passed through JFK's Terminal 4 security I saw a ray of hope on the info screens: We are experimenting with technologies that will allow passengers to keep their shoes on... I was ecstatic!
When I reached the back of the front of the actual security belt I was about to use (20 minutes later) I proudly asked the TSA agent monitoring/yelling at the folks in line, "Is today a shoes on day?"
"What are you talking about, it's never a 'shoes on' day," and with that she voided my hopes. I was completely confused why security personnel had posted the 'idea' of an experiment with 'shoes on' if no such thing was taking place, and I wasn't alone. A mini-discussion formed amongst the travelers in my line and the TSA over "The Shoes."
"If you're over 75 or under 12 The Shoes stay on...
If you're military The Shoes stay on...
if you're anything else The Shoes come off," which just seemed to prompt more questions.
"If I used to be military can I leave my shoes on?" ... "No."
"If I'm traveling with an 80-year-old and a 10-year-old can I leave my shoes on?" (I think that one was meant to be funny) ... "No."
"Why are my 13-year-old's shoes dangerous and my 11-year-old's shoes not dangerous?" ... Sarcastic look.
I imagine these conversations happen every second of every day, 365 days a year in airports all over the world (scratch that), all over the U.S.
... and this is where I will share how I really feel:
The War on Shoes is an American construct, fueled by unintelligent paranoia, and a sense of grandiosity in how the U.S. thinks of itself when it comes to fear of imminent doom. It's blatantly obvious to anyone who flies internationally that America's airline security is a clown show of misplaced priorities and ineptitude. The only positive story I've ever read about the TSA which didn't come from their own blog was in The Onion.
And now that it's widely known that the technology exists to allow us to screen shoes and keep them on (they're admitting as much in JFK terminal 4 even if they're not actually using it like they claim to be... still confused), it's time to admit that America is incapable of winning the War on Shoes. We've let 'The Shoes' defeat us!
Wrapped in our own suffocating veil of self-importance we, our nation's security apparatus, freely admits that we cannot protect our citizens or guests and keep our shoes on while doing it (no matter what the technologists say).
So it's time for me to leave the U.S. and head for countries where the shoes' boogyman has been vanquished and air travelers can breathe at least a partial sigh of relief (it's so beautiful in Africa this time of year). If someone ever knits anything horrid into a sweater I pray that we are strong enough to win the War on Sweaters (you laugh, but the War on Backpacks and the War on Purses became our reality after the Boston Marathon bombings).
I did notice one other thing today at JFK that actually made me smile. When they redesigned Terminal 4's security they put in big metal tables where discombobulated passengers could put their shoes back on, put themselves back together, and regain sanity. Hurray for small victories!