Guest Column: A veteran’s perspective—Israel missing the mark

I served in the fire direction section of an artillery battery in Vietnam for a year determining the information for aiming the guns. How do you aim at something that you cannot see? Magnetic north is used for direction and the physics of trajectory for elevation of gun and target, wind speed and direction, air density, wear of the gun barrel and rotation of the earth. The accuracy of the shooting data depends on the accuracy of the information used. First, you have to know the coordinates and elevation of the gun and where North is. Topographical maps are used to determine gun and target locations.

We had computers that calculated the direction, barrel angle and amount of powder required to hit the target. If the computer failed, there were books of tables and formulas. There is a lot of room for error. The scale of maps we used was 0.62 miles (3,274 ft.) per inch. If the pins stuck in the map to locate the gun or the target are off by 1/32 inch, the map scale means the calculations will be off by 102 feet. Barrel angle assumes the gun is setting level. If it is not, the barrel is not at the true angle you think it is. If the gun alignment for true North is off 0.5 degrees, your aim is off 460 feet at 10 miles. Meteorological data is obtained one or two times a day, but wind speed and direction change constantly. It is normal for the first shot at a target 10 to 15 miles away to miss by 200 to 300 yards. Mistakes in the target information can mean misses measured in miles.

Artillery is not viewed as a precision weapon, even though our training manual described it as “the greatest killer on the battlefield.” Its main function is to be “damaging and devastating.” If a forward observer is providing feedback about where the shot hit, the shooting data can be adjusted to get closer to the target. It takes several shots to get close enough to a target to damage it. Most nights, we shot a long list of targets several times. They were called H & I (harassment and interdiction) targets , until that term became politically incorrect. There was no forward observer. The intention was to scare whoever was out there and disrupt their activities, not to actually hit anything. There were often targets near villages; at least one was too near. We weren’t “winning their hearts and minds.”

What is my purpose for this? I see the pictures on the news of Israel’s army shooting 155mm self-propelled howitzers (same as I had at first in Vietnam) into the Gaza Strip and Lebanon’s cities. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. How many innocent people are getting hit? Even if they have forward observers, and they have good target information, the first rounds are not likely to hit the targets. How would you feel if your house was within a couple hundred yards of something Israel decided was a target? Are they creating more hatred and future enemy fighters than they are destroying? I do not know how the other side aims their rockets. They do not have the technology Israel has. I am picking on Israel because that is the side we are financing and are supposed to be able to influence. A Google search revealed that each round costs $4,000. With our deficits and our financing of Israel, one could say our excess Social Security taxes are being used to shoot folks in the Middle East, most of whom are civilians.

I am embarrassed that my government’s policy is to shoot first, and negotiate later. In Lebanon, instead of joining the rest of the world to stop the killing and start talking, our policy is to continue the shooting until there isn’t enough of one side left to resist. Our Secretary of State says complete military victory is necessary before we are ready to talk. Can these be the same people that get upset about “killing” excess fertilized eggs in a petri dish by using them for stem cell research instead of tossing them in the dumpster? Would they change their minds if the eggs were the products of “terrorists” or their neighbors?

Curt Freeberg is a retired engineer, a Vietnam veteran and a resident of Ogle County.

From the Aug. 23-29, 2006, issue

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