Belmont Club

"Do you hear the grasshopper"

The last aerial dogfight in World War 2 on the Western front was between two utility aircraft: a Fiesler Storch and a Piper L4 Grasshopper. Duane Francis and Bill Mart in the Grasshopper shot down a Fiesler Storch they encountered with their .45 caliber pistols, achieving the only air to air combat victory in World War 2 using handguns alone.

These little airplanes played a major role in World War 2. “All the German afteraction reports show that the German artillery would not fire if a U.S. artillery spotter plane or fighter-bomber was observed.” They were the ultimate vanguard of Patton’s columns, scouting ahead to find the Panzers lying in wait for the advancing Shermans, sometimes swooping down to fire bazookas clamped to their wings with the trigger worked through the operation of wires. Spotter planes weren’t always successful. They failed to adequately warn Groupement Mobile 100 of the Viet Minh ambush in Mang Yang pass.

But they were useful all the same. Which is why their automated descendants are now flying for Israeli infantry over Gaza. Aviation Week describes the role of the new Grasshoppers:

“when the forces enter and cross the border, the UAV flies 500 meters in front of them, clearing the area. We guide them and give them advice regarding a safe point of entrance, what is risky and what is not.” The Givati Brigade, for instance, has had dedicated UAV support, with folks familiar with the system stationed in the unit’s operations room to directly respond to demands from the ground forces.

But eyes in the sky can be deceived through illusion. It was later learned that the Viet Minh had deceived Groupement Mobile 100’s spotters by selectively showing the pattern which they wanted the French to see. They faked the French into avoiding an ambush where there was none and persuaded them to reroute over an ambush in which all the attackers had long since concealed themselves.

The iconic countermeasure to the UAVs soaring over Gaza are the Hamas tunnels snaking beneath it. Israel owns the skies but Hamas literally owns the underground. The two coexist in an uneasy standoff, each perhaps the technological expressions of the societies they represent. But just as the snake cannot leap into the sky, neither can eagle delve into the tunnel. To achieve that requires — diplomacy. Well, maybe.

The Washington Post reports that “the United States today signed an agreement with Israel that pledges help in halting weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip, part of a flurry of diplomatic activity designed to halt a conflict that has left more than 1,000 dead.”

The U.S.-Israeli deal “should be thought of as one of the elements of trying to bring into being a durable cease-fire, a cease-fire that can actually hold,” Rice said. A key element, she said, “is to do something about the weapons smuggling and the potential for resupply of Hamas from other places, including from Iran.” …

Hamas has managed to smuggle the arms through hundreds of tunnels on the Gaza-Egyptian border. In its three-week campaign, Israel has repeatedly targeted the tunnels, and Livni said at the signing ceremony that the understanding was meant “to complement Egyptian actions and to end of the flow of weapons to Gaza.”

The agreement closes the circle. What could not be achieved by Egypt and the international community in the first place was supposed to be attained by ground action in Gaza by Israel in the second place. Now, what could not be achieved by ground action in Gaza, or perhaps more accurately could be permitted to be achieved, will now be obtained by the diplomatic efforts of the international community in the third place. International politics is sometimes the art of promising to do what you have already promised to do.

But that’s how things go. Vision is not a matter of eyes. It’s a matter of sight. Or, as blind Master Po once asked Kwai Chang Kaine, “do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?”

“No. Old man, how is it that you hear these things?”

“Young man, how is it that you do not?”