Thursday, September 29, 2016

Harry tributes hit songs written in 1937

Harry loved writing about – and recording music from his era. 
On an afternoon in 2012, I was having lunch with my parents at Nancy’s Kitchen near their retirement community, Leisure World in Silver Spring, MD. My 91-year-old dad asked, “Do you hear the music they’re playing? I gave them a box of CDs and they play them all the time.” And then a manager called out,“Hi Harry!” That was my dad; he recorded music on CDs and shared them far and wide. He knew the restaurant patrons would enjoy them. Here are two stories Harry wrote for his community newsletter.

April 19, 2013 - That Old Feeling

Some songs evoke memories – of people, or events, or special occasions. As soon as you hear it, a memory clicks into place. This is one of those songs. You don’t hear this one at all these days, but I’ll bet the very thought of it will call forth a memory in your mind. It was written by Sammy Fain, with lyric by Lew Brown. A word about the writers.

Sammy Fain (his real name was Samuel Feinberg) was born in New York in 1902, and died in 1989 at the age of 87. He was a prolific composer who worked mainly in collaboration with Irving Kahal, though he worked with many others on an occasional basis. With Kahal he wrote “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella”, among other hits. He taught himself to play the piano and, though he played by ear, as they say, he became good enough to give an occasional concert for friends. Sammy Fain composed the music for more than two dozen films from the 1930s through the 1950s and was nominated for the Best Original Song Academy Award nine times. He won that Oscar twice, in 1954 for “Secret Love” from the movie “Calamity Jane”, and in 1955 for “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” from the movie of the same name. The lyrics for both songs were written by Paul Francis Webster, with whom he worked quite frequently. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1962.

Lew Brown (his real name was Louis Brownstein) was also an old pro in the music business. He was born in 1893 in Russia and his family came to the U.S. when he was five. He grew up in the Bronx and died in 1958, at age 64. Brown was a member of the three-man team of Ray Henderson, Buddy DeSylva and Brown who, in the 1920s wrote dozens of popular songs in “Tin Pan Alley”. He also collaborated with many of the great song writers of that era including Harold Arlen and Albert Von Tilzer. He wrote lyrics for a number of Broadway shows, too, including “George White’s Scandals” and “Mr. Wonderful”.

This song was published in 1937 (one of the best years ever for popular music) and first appeared in the movie “Vogues of 1938”. It was an immediate hit. Throughout the late 1930s and early ’40s it was extremely popular. Then, in 1952, it was featured in a Susan Hayward movie “With a Song In My Heart”, the story of Jane Froman. Patti Page had a million-seller recording in 1955, and Frank Sinatra had another in 1960. In 1997 the title was used for a movie that starred Bette Midler and Dennis Farina and featured performances by Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson. Almost all of the great singing artists of our times have recorded it.

That Old Feeling (Lyric)

I saw you last night and got that old feeling,
When you came in sight I got that old feeling.
The moment that you danced by, I felt a thrill,
And when you caught my eye, my heart stood still.
Once again I seemed to feel that old yearning,
Then I knew the spark of love was still burning.
There’ll be no new romance for me; it’s foolish to start,
‘Cause that old feeling is still in my heart.

May 27, 2013 - I’ll Be Seeing You

Some songs are immediate hits with the public from the time they’re first performed. That’s the way it was with last month’s song, “That Old Feeling”. Some songs, on the other hand, take years before they become popular. That’s the way it was with “As Time Goes By”, which I wrote about last year. It was written in 1930-31, and even though it was performed by Rudy Vallee, one of the most popular singers of the early 1930s, it was not until 1942-43, when Dooley Wilson sang it in “Casablanca”, that it really became popular. And that’s the way it was with this song, too.

“I’ll Be Seeing You” was another one of the great songs written in 1937. This one, too, was written by Sammy Fain, who wrote last month’s song. The lyric for this one was written by Irving Kahal and it was used in a Broadway musical called “Right This Way” in 1938. It had everything going for it – successful composer and lyricist, a Broadway show to introduce it – and yet it did not impress the public. The show closed after only two weeks and the song sank without a trace; that is, until Bing Crosby recorded it in 1944 and it was featured in a movie of the same name that starred Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotton. After that, it was used in countless movies and television shows and recorded by just about every recording artist of the 20th century.

In retrospect, it’s easy to understand. By 1944, millions of us were in war zones overseas and lovers everywhere looked forward to the day when they would see each other again. This song reflected the sentiment of separation and hope that all of us felt. There was a preamble to the words, too, very touching though not ordinarily included in most performances.

I’ll Be Seeing You (Lyric)

Cathedral Bells were tolling and our hearts sang on,
Was it the spell of Paris or the April dawn?
Who knows if we shall meet again?
But when the morning chimes ring sweet again.

I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces all day through.
In that small cafe, the park across the way,
The children’s carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well.
I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day,
In everything that’s light and gay,
I’ll always think of you that way.
I’ll find you in the morning sun,
And when the night is new,
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Snapshots of Harry’s sentimental side

Sandy and her Zadie in 1984
Im dedicating todays post to a sentimental family occasion the wedding of Harry’s granddaughter, Sandy. She is learning more about her Zadie because he saved letters and emails in computer files. The rest of us, too, are getting a closer look at Harrys memories, beliefs, and relationships. He wrote this letter to a dear friend in 1994, when he was 73. (I changed the names of the people in the letter.)

Dear Mary:  It is one of the mysterious truisms of life that the male friends of a newlywed man are never fully at ease with his new wife. There is some obscure chemistry at work that makes the friend and the wife view each other with suspicion, or, at least, not with complete acceptance. There is, no doubt, another kind of chemistry at work with a female friend of the groom and his new wife, but that’s another story.

Anyway, even though we seldom see each other or communicate these days, I have for a long time felt that Mike and I were as close as friends of two different generations can be. In fact, I really don’t feel as though we are separated by a generation gap, probably because we shared some common experiences together. Until now, I could never hope to feel a similar closeness to Mary. I could only think of her as Mike’s new wife. But now, Mary, everything has changed.

Harry in the mid-1990s
The two articles you enclosed with your letter have convinced me that we share a common kinship. First, we are both criers. Second, we have learned to listen to what other people say instead of to ourselves. And third, we want to tell others about the things we’ve learned and the things we feel instead of keeping it bottled up inside. It’s taken me some 70-odd years to reach this understanding about myself. It’s taken you only thirty.

About crying, by the way, I can only say that I am easily moved to tears, and always have been. When I was a kid, I used to cry when the cowboy kissed his horse and rode off into the sunset at the end of the movie. (They never kissed the girl in those days; that would have been unmanly, and all the kids would have booed at such behavior. Times have, indeed, changed.) For years I tried to repress the tears as best I could, or to hide them, which is not always possible. Now, however, I go with the flow, so to speak, and I don’t care at all if people think I’m crazy. I’m sentimental and proud of it. Thus, I can shed a tear when my grandchildren hug and kiss me or when I think of all the joys my own parents missed because they died so young, before my children were born. So I’m a crier and your article on tears moved me – to tears – and made me feel very close to you.

You have a natural talent for writing, Mary, and from the perspective of a professional reader who has spent most of his adult years reading, writing and editing, I would urge you to forsake any other ambition you may have for a career and concentrate on writing. I can foresee a great future for you as a syndicated columnist, free to write on subjects of your choice rather than being confined to any one area of expertise. You should cultivate and nurture this talent, and just keep sending off articles to a variety of publications. I predict success for you in this field and if you have any doubts in your mind about it, banish them.

There is an old saying among pilots that the second greatest thrill known to man is flying. There are varying opinions among non-pilots about just what the greatest thrill is, but again among pilots, the greatest thrill is landing – safely, of course. But I can tell you as a man and as a human being that the greatest thrill of all is holding your own newborn baby in your arms and knowing that you created this miracle with God’s help and praying that it will grow and prosper and make this old world a better place.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes and, having survived that kind of experience, I can attest to the truth of that statement. But here is a greater truth – nobody can look at his own newborn child and not believe in God. I can’t tell you how delighted I am to hear your news. And let me say, for the record, that August is a good month. Jeanette and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary last August, the fifteenth, to be precise. It will be a great month to celebrate your first child’s birthday, and our 51st anniversary.

* * *

Here’s another snapshot of my dad’s sentimental side. In March 2014, a couple months before he passed away, he emailed the following reply to a relative who had thanked him for his Army service in the 1940s. The relative was prompted by someones emotional description of a WWII veteran who attended a model exhibit of the Vietnam War Memorial. (Again, I changed the names for this blog.)

Harry in March 2014
Dear Steve: Your email touched me deeply in many ways, and I had to think long and hard for the past week or so on how to respond. First, though, let me say how much I appreciate what you said, but I’m also a little embarrassed, too. I didn’t do anything special to deserve thanks or applause or, to put it another way, I only did what millions of other guys did, and to single me out is unfair.

Tom Brokaw got it right when he said we should thank a whole generation for what they did in WWII. It was the whole country, everyone, not only those who went to war but also those who stayed home and contributed to the war effort. Everybody was involved. I cannot describe or define the feeling of togetherness that permeated the country at that time. It lasted only a few years and it never came back.

Today, sadly, we are fighting a war, and most people are not involved or remotely touched by it. Those guys who have been fighting and dying and getting maimed in the Middle East wars deserve our thanks because they are just a tiny fraction of our people.

Anyway, what I did was so long ago that it is mostly forgotten history now. I’ll tell you who my heroes are, now. You are. You and Karen, who have the courage to adopt and raise kids in this troubled world and teach them the values and morals of Americanism and Judaism. You are what made it all worthwhile.


Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The media and lies in the Middle East

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
When I read Harrys old articles, my mind inevitably goes to our current events, and I imagine how he would feel today. In March 1991, he drafted a comment to a long-time journalist friend, titled “Whom Did We Fight?”, about the war in Iraq. A month later (and after several more essays on the subject), he wrote an article simply titled “Lies” in his computer files. Both reveal exactly how he felt at the time.

March 31, 1991 
Whom Did We Fight?                    

The notion that we were not at war with the Iraqi people, or that we never had anything against the Iraqi people but only against their government, seems to me patently absurd. The President and various members of the Administration, as well as members of the Congress, have said it on a number of occasions, though, on the face of it, it is neither true nor honest. It is repeated, I suspect, as a sop to the sensibilities of people who are not willing to countenance a war against any country but can accept the notion of a war against a nasty government. Certainly Saddam Hussein and company are as nasty as you can get, but how do you distinguish between a people and its government?

The fact is, we conducted a war against the people of Iraq, a people who by all accounts seemed fully supportive of Saddam Hussein and his policies. The people of Iraq cheered at the takeover of Kuwait. The people of Iraq, represented by their men in the uniform of their country, displayed an order of savagery and bestiality toward the people of Kuwait seldom seen in human affairs. All the television scenes showing the crowds of Iraqis (and Jordanians and Palestinians) demonstrating in support of Hussein cannot be dismissed as pure propaganda. They supported him, they loved him, and we fought a war against them and him.

Since he lost the war, some of his people have turned against him, but only some. If they all rose up against him he would be out by sundown. As it is, he continues to have enough support and enough power to remain in office. If he is thrown out, it is more likely to be by someone close to him, rather than by a popular uprising against him. And if he remains in power, we will continue to wage a war against the people of Iraq, even if it’s only an economic “sanction” war. 

Let’s face it, the “government” of Iraq did not suffer as the people of Iraq suffered from this war. The people paid the price, not the leaders. If there are any lessons to be drawn from this war, one of them, for us, is surely this, that we cannot wage a war against an individual or a government alone – that all wars are waged against peoples. For the people of other countries that are governed by self-appointed despots, they should surely be thinking about exercising a greater measure of control over their governments, their policies and their destinies. 

April 27, 1991

Saddam Hussein may or may not be another Adolf Hitler, but in at least one respect he has taken an important page from Hitler’s book: A lie, repeated often enough, no matter how big or how absurd, will eventually come to be accepted as truth. We Americans naively believe that a lie can be countered with the truth, and that truth will inevitably win out over lies in the minds of rational people; but that’s a Western idea that has no bearing in the Middle East.

There are two aspects to the spread of lies that are especially baffling to a Western observer: one is the propensity of seemingly intelligent and rational young Jordanian and Palestinian men and women to believe Iraq’s lies; the other, and even more baffling, is the attitude of Western media reporters, interviewers and pundits who, upon hearing the most outrageous lies expressed, accept them and publish them without challenge.

The whole world, outside of the Middle East, knows that Iraq launched more than three dozen SCUD missiles at Israeli population centers in a vain attempt to draw Israel into the Gulf War. The whole world also knows that the United States made an extraordinary diplomatic effort to persuade Israel to stay out of the war, for fear that Israel’s entry would have destroyed the coalition arrayed against Iraq.

In retrospect, it’s hard to understand that fear, since the entire Arab world already believed not only that Israel was deeply engaged in the actual fighting, but also that Israel had instigated the war in the first place. Early in the bombing campaign, before the ground war started, the Iraqi News Agency claimed that dozens of Israeli aircraft and pilots were flying bombing and strafing missions against Iraq out of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Baghdad also reported that “hundreds” of the coalition’s aircraft were shot down during the first two weeks. In fact, during the first week, Saddam announced that Tel Aviv had been turned into a crematorium, while the Iraqi News Agency reported that the Israelis had suffered thousands of casualties in the SCUD attacks and that Tel Aviv was now a “ghost town”.

Throughout the Arab world, and particularly in Jordan, there was great joy and dancing in the streets at this bit of news. In Jordan, the Amman newspaper reported that Israel was using Palestinians as “human shields” against Iraqi missile attacks, while the fact that Iraq was using Western hostages as human shields was not mentioned. At the same time, Palestinians being interviewed by Western journalists were claiming that Israel was somehow diverting incoming SCUDs to fall on Arab villages in the West Bank. Some Palestinians even charged that Israel itself was launching all those missiles against Tel Aviv as part of a propaganda ploy to whip up war fever in the U.S. by making Iraq look like a villain.

All this may sound ludicrous to most Americans, but there is ample evidence that it is widely believed, not only in the Middle East, but in the Arab-American community in the U.S., as well. A group of Jordanians, interviewed by Ted Koppel, asserted that a great many Israeli planes were flying bombing missions out of Saudi Arabia against civilian targets in Iraq. The Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations said the same thing in an interview and even declared that proof of this claim would be presented at the proper time. And, in addition to Israeli aircraft flying against Iraq, Yassir Arafat reported from Jordan that the cruise missiles hitting Baghdad were coming out of Israel.

To top it all off, the reason why Saddam pulled his forces out of Kuwait was because the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons against him, according to the Algerian newspaper, widely read in the Arab world. Moreover, the coalition forces, suffering from close to 200,000 casualties at the hands of Iraqi troops, had to seek a cease fire or succumb to inevitable and humiliating defeat. And if any of this sounds too absurd to take seriously, there is now – even now, at this late date – the widespread belief in the Middle East that Saddam faced up to the West and emerged triumphant. Now, having defeated the coalition forces, he is reasserting control over his own country with the kind of savagery that has marked his career from the beginning, and which no one in that part of the world seems willing to condemn, least of all Yassir Arafat or King Hussein of Jordan.

Truth in the Middle East is irrelevant. People there will believe what they want to believe. In a way, that’s understandable. Far less understandable is the seeming willingness of Western journalists to allow such lies to go unchallenged and, in fact, to add credence to them by reporting and thus further disseminating them.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Letters to professors shed more light on Harry’s life

Through this blog, I hope that people who knew Harry are learning more about him and keeping him close to their hearts. This is why I share many of the personal emails and letters he wrote to friends and family. Now we can see that even letters he wrote to his professors at the University of Maryland, in the 1990s, add details to the story of his life. Here are five of those letters.

17 October 1991 

Dear Ms. Towner:

I had thought that you would have been told that I was auditing your course when the class began, but it dawned on me that you really didn’t know until you asked and I confirmed it. What that means, according to the instructions they give us when we senior citizens register, is that we should not add to your workload unnecessarily. For me, it means that I don’t volunteer my opinions or impose my biases in class discussions unless called upon – and I frequently have to bite my tongue to refrain from expressing an opinion. It also means that I don’t hand in a lot of papers for you to read and grade. You surely have enough of that to do without me.

It does not mean, however, that I do not take the class seriously. On the contrary, I find it extremely interesting and informative. I have done a great deal of writing over the years, all non-fiction articles, books and essays. Fiction, though, is difficult for me. Such things as motivation, dialogue, characterizations, etc., all the things that emerge in novels and short stories, elude me. You, in this short time since the semester began, have helped me immensely. You have started me thinking and writing about things I’ve not experienced before and I find it stimulating and enjoyable.

Anyway, I want you to know how much I appreciate the opportunity to audit your class, and I want to commend you on the outstanding manner in which you conduct it. It helps, of course, that you have some very bright young students who seem eager to learn, but you are doing a superb job of eliciting their participation, and their response to you is a reflection of your exemplary performance as a teacher.

18 December 1991

Dear Dr. Moss:

I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your course, History 157: The United States From the Civil War to the Present, this past semester. Not only were you extremely informative in your presentations, your lectures were entertaining, as well. Of course, the period from the 1920s to the present is of special interest to me, since it coincides with my life span – so far. You shed new light and brought new perspectives to events in the American experience about which I have personal knowledge.

It is particularly illuminating to note that the great depression of the 1930s was preceded by a decade of Republican (mal) administration, just as the great deficits and recession of the 1990s was preceded by similarly disastrous Republican administrations. Is there a lesson for historians here? In my view, these past two and three quarters administrations have also set the civil rights movement back a generation or more, and not enough note has been taken of this sad development. In any case, I wanted to thank you for having made this a truly interesting and rewarding semester for me.

29 March 1993

Dear Dr. Belz:

I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your course in Constitutional History. As a Golden ID student who is simply auditing this course rather than seeking credits, I find the subject material not only highly informative, but positively fascinating. The older I get, the more I realize how little I know, not just about historical events generally, but about events that have touched me personally and about the times in which I have lived. Take World War II, for example, during which I served in the Army in the European Theater and gained what I thought was a first-hand view of events. It was not until some years after the war, however, after reading a number of books and listening to countless lectures, that I came to some understanding of what that war was all about and the strategies and tactics that governed its conduct.

And so it is with respect to almost all the events I have lived through during the years since then. I have come to the realization that I have a worm’s eye view of history, looking at events from the bottom up, so to speak, while historians like yourself have a bird’s eye view, an overview of events that derives from a systematic study. I have an enormous respect for the depth of knowledge you consistently demonstrate in the classroom, but even more than that, for the manner in which you go about imparting that knowledge to your students, including myself. 

And, in case you sometimes feel like the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness, let me assure you that many of the younger people in the class, the real students, are equally impressed. You are communicating to them. To me, especially, you are bringing new and refreshing perspectives to my understanding of the recent past. I am profoundly grateful for that.

6 March 1994

Dear Dr. Shulman:

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your lectures. The reason I audit your course on the history of the U.S. from WWII to the present is to learn how a generation twice removed from mine perceives the times I lived through. It’s strange, very strange, to hear these bright young people discuss and evaluate those times and the events that shaped today’s world. In a way I have come to understand the despair that gripped my father’s generation when my friends and I discussed WW I with him and the events that he lived through.

When I talk about WWII today, which is very rare indeed, I find that many historians are little interested. (Historians, by the way, seem to have little interest in history, per se, only in devising new ways to interpret and define the past. All historians are revisionists – which is my generalization for today.) Anyway, I truly admire the way you present and describe events about which I have first-hand knowledge and the perspectives you bring and the pains you take not to allow your own opinions to come through too strongly.

Aside from my military service in WWII, I worked as a civilian in the Pentagon for nearly four decades. The nature of my work, both military and civilian, made it possible for me to meet many of the important figures of our times, which gave me a sort of worm’s eye view of events and policies. When you mentioned Milton Eisenhower in class last week, I was struck by my own recollections about him. You may recall that after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, President Johnson appointed Milton Eisenhower to chair a Commission to study violence in American society. The Commission was supposed to complete its work in six months, but that was not possible. When Nixon became President, he extended the Commission twice, for six months each time.

My office in the Pentagon was deeply involved with Milton Eisenhower in that study for the entire year and a half, and during that time I came to the conclusion that Milton was far brighter and more talented than his younger brother. The fact that President Eisenhower is now slowly creeping up the ladder in the polls proves what I said about historians. They conveniently forget how bad he was. Every time he had a press conference, his press secretary had to go out to explain what the President meant to say – just like Reagan, who knew next to nothing about what was really going on. 

Incidentally, I also knew Allen Dulles and was convinced that he was smarter and more talented than John Foster Dulles, who, in my view, was a terrible Secretary of State. I believe that many of the problems that beset the U.S. throughout the “Cold War” were in large measure attributable to his policies. This is especially true with regard to the Middle East. He practically gave Egypt to the Soviet Union and brought about a full generation of hostility to the U.S. among the Arab states that could have been avoided, with direct impact upon the prospects for peace between those states and Israel. He turned France away from NATO and he also completely destroyed any prospects for peace and stability in the Pacific after Eisenhower engineered a phony peace in Korea (that Korean war, though not many people realize it, is still going on, to this day) and then got us involved in France’s aborted colonial enterprise in Vietnam, from which we are only now beginning to emerge.

Ah well, I voted for Adlai Stevenson, twice, so I’m obviously not in step. But thank you for making life interesting for me.

1 December 1995

Dear Dr. Davidson:

As we approach the end of the semester, I want you to know how much I have enjoyed auditing your course on The Politics of the Presidency. As I pointed out when I asked your permission to attend, I have lived through most of the recent times discussed in class. My earliest recollection of political awareness was the race between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover in 1928. I grew up during the great depression of the1930s, and the first time I voted was in 1942 in the local and Congressional elections. The first time I voted for President was in 1944.

Aside from service in the Army during WWII, I worked for the government (Department of Defense in the Pentagon) from 1949 until I retired in 1986. During those years I met and spoke to every President from Truman to Reagan, all of the Secretaries of Defense and many of the Secretaries of State, participating in briefings on many occasions and participating in preparing the national security elements of Presidential speeches. In short, I was one of those backroom guys who helped prepare position papers, etc., and who had a worm’s eye view of many of the important events of our times and of the key policy makers who controlled and shaped those events. 

Despite my experience, however, the overall view of history as presented by you provided the kind of perspective I never could have attained by myself. I especially admire your low-key and objective view of events, so unlike my own strongly held views and opinions. I have to bite my tongue to restrain from speaking out on so many things you discuss in class, for fear of imposing my own biases on these young students for whom Nixon and even Carter represent ancient history. I also admire your ability to elicit questions and discussions from those young students. 

In any case, I want to thank you for having made this semester not only an informative experience, but an enjoyable one, as well.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Things you might not know about drones

Harry in the 1990s
Recently I read about a trending toy for kids and adults – a modular drone. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the inventors know anything about the history of drones, which I learned only after reading the following article. Harry wrote it in 1991 and filed it (untitled) on his computer. He may have submitted it for Defense Media Review, the newsletter he originated post-retirement. Of course, he would have kept up with the evolution of drones in later years. And, he probably predicted drones as toys.

The SCUDs and the PATRIOTs got the lion’s share of media attention during the Gulf War, with the aircraft, the smart bombs and the tanks getting secondary billing. But there is another weapon that played a vital role – one that seems to have been overlooked by the public. The so-called drones – remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) – served as a critically important intelligence tool in spotting targets for both aerial bombardment and artillery.

The drone is not generally regarded as a high-tech weapon, but that’s exactly what it is. In earlier versions, it would fly over a target area carrying a camera and bring back pictures that had to be developed and studied by expert photo interpreters before commanders could make tactical decisions. By that time, the target situation on the ground may well have changed. Present-day drones, however, are equipped with sophisticated night-vision sensors and television cameras mounted underneath the fuselage to provide an unobstructed view of the ground. They send back information in real time while overflying the target area, thus enabling commanders to make immediate tactical decisions.

Ironically, considering that Iraq tried in vain to draw Israel into the conflict by lobbing 39 SCUD
missiles into Israeli population centers, the drones used by the American forces were purchased from Israel. IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries) is a world leader in the field. The impetus for the development of its drones came from the 1973 war in which Syria’s Soviet-built SAM missiles inflicted unacceptable losses on Israeli aircraft. Israel decided at that time that it would make better sense to use relatively cheap unmanned planes for reconnaissance, rather than the very expensive manned aircraft, to say nothing about the lives of its pilots.

Beginning in 1974, the Israelis invested substantial resources in developing a pilotless aircraft that could make the best use of the rapidly evolving technologies involved in radio, television cameras, computers and communications. By 1982, during the Lebanese operation, Israel’s drones made it possible for its Air Force to eliminate Syria’s SAMs in the Beka Valley in one day with no Israeli losses, a remarkable performance, which the American military studied with considerable interest.     

The U.S. Army in the 1970s tried to develop its own RPV, but after investing some ten years and around a billion dollars, it gave up. The U.S. Navy didn’t really become interested until the mid-1980s, when it lost two of its planes to SAM missiles in Lebanon. After sponsoring an international competition, which IAI won, the Navy bought Israel’s RPV, called the Pioneer system. Modified by IAI for use from battleships instead of land bases or aircraft carriers, these drones were used for the first time by the U.S. in the Gulf War.

At first they were used to monitor Iraqi deployments and fortifications, both in Kuwait and across the border in Iraq. After the fighting started, they were used as artillery spotters for the big guns on the battleships Missouri and Wisconsin, as well as for Army and Marine batteries. Their transmissions showed the gunners exactly where their rounds were hitting, enabling them to adjust their sights for specific targets with devastating accuracy from a few miles to as much as 30 or 35 miles away.

Two people operate the ground facility controlling the RPV system, one to “fly” the vehicle with radio controls, the other to monitor the camera, the night vision equipment, and the communications gear. The payload technician can zoom in on targets without regard to the direction of the drone’s flight, although the two operators must for the most part coordinate their efforts. The effective range is ordinarily no more than about 125 miles, depending on the altitude of the drone, since radio communication between the drone and the ground controllers is by line-of-sight.

Given the spectacular, though largely unsung success of these drones, it seems most likely that the Army and the Navy/Marine Corps gunnery planners will start acquiring more such systems for future use. The Air Force, on the other hand, seems to have little interest in the notion of planes without pilots.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman