A Footnote from the Mid-Eighties

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If you’re under the age of 40, you probably have little idea and certainly no recollection of the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s in which (to summarize briefly) the Reagan administration did a deal whereby (1) Israel would supply arms to Iran (yes, you read that right); (2) Iran would use its influence to obtain the release of American hostages in Lebanon; (3) the US would resupply Israel with weapons; (4)  Israel would pay the U.S. for the weapons; and (5) the U.S. would use the funds from the arms sales to support right wing guerrillas trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, something the government was prohibited by law from doing. Got it?

Well never mind if you don’t. The critical bit, from our perspective, is the subsequent inquiry held by the U.S. Senate, and in particular the testimony of Fawn Hall, secretary to the architect of the whole scheme, U.S. Marine Colonel Oliver North, a staff member of the National Security Council. Appearing before the Senate Committee on June 8, 1987, Hall made the entertaining admission that she had smuggled top-secret documents out of the NSC hidden in her boots.

North had asked for Hall’s assistance shredding various incriminating papers relating to the various transfers of arms, money, etc., but a few days later she discovered that she had missed several documents. What was she to do? ”I took the copies of the altered documents, folded them, and placed them inside my boots,” she testified. Then she ran into another official’s office and stuffed some computer memos down her back. ”I asked if he could see anything in my back,” she said of Colonel North, whom she had called and insisted that he come to the White House once she discovered that not all the papers had been shredded, ”and he said no.” Later, when she and Colonel North were in a car together, she took the papers out and gave them to him.

I will not pass any judgement on these nefarious activities, or on Fawn Hall, who was given immunity from prosecution on charges of conspiracy and destroying documents in exchange for her testimony. I will merely note that, had this occurred during the Watergate scandal of 12 year’s earlier, Hall would not have been able to fit the documents into her boots, as they would have been much tighter around the legs. It was only the loose fitting boots of the eighties that let her get away with it.

Incidentally (and perhaps not coincidentally) it’s very hard to find any images of Fawn Hall wearing boots. The rather grainy offering above, from 1987, is the best I could do.

And I apologize for the terrible pun in the title of this post.


  • Iran-Contra Affair: Wikipedia article.
  • Dowd, Maureen. 1986. The Fawn Hall Story: A Big Hit On The Hill. New York Times, June 9, 1987

Image Source:

  • Fawn Hall leaving her attorney’s office, 1987: AP/New York Times.

3 thoughts on “A Footnote from the Mid-Eighties

      1. Maybe. You’re referring to the idea that eighties broad-shouldered silhouettes are what made full-shafted boots unfashionable. Designers’ and fashion editors’ ideas about what’s necessary for “balance” and “proportion,” though, can be completely different from one decade (or even year) to the next and hence pretty arbitrary. In the sixties, for instance, they said that short skirts demanded low, mostly flat, heels. In the eighties, they said exactly the opposite.

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