Arrival of a Portuguese ship, one of a pair (Nanban screens), Six panel folding screen, 1620–1640.

After they appeared in Japan in 1542, the Portuguese quickly established themselves as an important part of the archipelago’s commercial networks. They did so almost by chance, moving into a fortuitous vacuum created by the collapse of official commercial links between China and Japan after the breakdown of the tally trade (kangō) system, which had previously permitted limited ties, in 1547. This gap was filled by Portuguese merchants, who were able to provide a reliable conduit for Chinese goods through their newly established base in Macao. After experimenting with a number of domainal partners, they eventually settled on Nagasaki as their primary terminus in Japan and the town quickly emerged as a thriving commercial entrepôt. Although other goods flowed along it, the Macao-Nagasaki route, the mainstay of Portuguese trade in East Asia, hinged on a straightforward silk for silver exchange. The carracks that arrived in Nagasaki imported Chinese silk and silk goods that were subsequently traded for a cargo of Japanese silver bullion. The quantities involved were impressive. A single carrack captured in 1603 yielded over eighty thousand kilograms of silk, while one traveler estimated that the Portuguese bring out of Japan “every yeere above six hundred thousand Crusadoes: and all this Silver of Japan.”

Although they played a key economic role, the Portuguese were, by the early seventeenth century, a controversial presence within Japan, and their relationship with the Tokugawa Bakufu increasingly strained. The tension stemmed in large part from their close connection with the Jesuits, who had engaged in an aggressive proselytizing campaign that had culminated in their expulsion from the archipelago in 1614. As its hostility toward Christianity mounted, the Bakufu became more and more suspicious of Portuguese merchants, who were accused, often with no real basis, of aiding the Christian community in Japan and of secretly ferrying in priests to continue missionary work. As much as it might have preferred simply to expel the Portuguese along with the Jesuits, the regime could not afford cut the Macao-Nagasaki route without finding a reliable alternative to access Chinese trade. As a result, it was forced to tolerate the Portuguese presence, but there was little trust on either side. Instead both parties found themselves locked together in an uneasy embrace made bearable only by their shared desire to preserve the steady flow of Chinese goods into Japan.

The strained relationship between the Bakufu and the Portuguese provided the backdrop against which the company attempted to carry its global war into Japanese waters. When the Dutch arrived in Japan in 1609, Portuguese shipping that sailed between Nagasaki and Macao was already firmly in their sights. As previously discussed, the company’s factory in Japan was only established as the result of a failed privateering expedition, and, for much of its early history, maritime predation was given at least equal and often far higher priority than trade. Considering the potential prize, this was not surprising. The sheer value of the cargo carried aboard the Macao-Nagasaki carrack, a single slow-moving vessel that plied a fixed route along a predictable time line, made it an irresistible target for company administrators and one that would continue to obsess them for decades. The first actual incident of VOC maritime violence in the waters near Japan did not, however, involve the great ship from Macao. Rather it centered on a small Portuguese vessel, the Santo Antonio, of no great value or importance. Its capture provided the first test of VOC efforts to bring its campaign against the Portuguese into Japanese waters, and it sparked a bitter legal dispute in which both sides converged on the shogun’s court determined to argue their case.

In August 1615, six years after the opening of the Japan factory, a VOC yacht, the Jaccatra, seized the Santo Antonio as it made its way from Macao to Japan. The incident took place against the backdrop of a renewed escalation in the company’s war with the Portuguese brought about by the collapse of a temporary truce that had come into effect in 1609 but had quickly broken down after both sides accused the other of violating its provisions. When it was seized, the Santo Antonio was near the island of Meshima, part of a small chain of five islands called the Danjo guntō that are located just over a hundred miles off the west coast of Kyushu. Uninhabited and lacking any economic value, Meshima possessed two attributes that made it disproportionately significant to its size. The island functioned, in the first place, as a key navigational signpost marking the correct approach to the archipelago. With its distinctive shape, described by one observer as “high and ragged,” it was easily recognizable, with the result that it featured prominently in contemporary sailing directions, both European and Japanese. Meshima was, for example, well known to the Dutch and appeared in Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s Itinerario, a famous 1596 manual that was an indispensable aid to the company’s mariners in Asia.

Alongside this role as gateway, Meshima had a second, less well-defined function. For European mariners, the island marked the outermost boundary of Japan proper. Approaching the archipelago after days out of sight of land, it was eagerly sought out by sailors as a concrete marker that they had reached the archipelago; sailing past Meshima meant moving out of the open ocean and into Japanese waters. From Edo, however, the view was far less clear. While the island was a familiar landmark to Europeans, who had all at one time or another approached Japan by sea, it lay on the furthest peripheries of the Tokugawa realm. Because of this, Japanese official records from this period are—in contrast to the confident declarations that appear in European sources—far less clear about Meshima’s status. Indeed, it was only after the Santo Antonio case that we see the first affirmation from the center about the island’s place as part of Japan.

After it was captured, the Santo Antonio was brought into Kochi harbor, a secondary port located a few miles away from the Japan factory, on 18 August.82 The arrival of the company’s prize prompted a flurry of activity both in Hirado, where the factory’s governing council convened to discuss its capture, but also in Nagasaki, where Portuguese merchants and their allies sprang into action. Tellingly, their response was not a military one, to assemble warships or launch reprisal attacks on VOC shipping, but rather legal, and it took the form of a protest demanding Tokugawa action. The logic of the argument was simple: the Dutch had no right to capture a Portuguese vessel in what were clearly Japanese waters and hence the Bakufu must intervene not only to punish the company but also to force it to provide restitution.

In making this argument, the Portuguese and their Japanese supporters could draw on crucial precedents related to the nature of the regime’s juridical prerogatives. During the sengoku era (1467–1568), the absence of any policing from the center and the easy availability of weapons combined with a “habit of violent recourse—sanctioned by traditions of private justice and self redress of grievances”—to create endless space for conflict. The result was a period of endemic conflict that pitted families, villages, and warlords against each other in a series of seemingly endless confrontations. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power, he worked to establish a more general state monopoly over the use of force. This process, which was subsequently continued and expanded upon by the Tokugawa Bakufu, involved the elimination of the physical means to wage war—through edicts such as the famous sword hunt order of 1588—as well as the legal basis for private redress. As they worked to first curtail and then to suppress private violence, the unifiers placed a high premium on their own role as legal arbiters over any violent clashes that took place within the archipelago. The point is well made by Elizabeth Berry who notes that the “unification regimes were politically aggressive … in only one arena: peace keeping.”

This process of pacification and the concomitant insistence on legal arbitration for any clashes was not limited to the land. As Peter Shapinsky has so clearly shown, it extended to the seas around Japan, where Hideyoshi gradually stripped away the rights of formerly autonomous “sea lords,” maritime daimyo based especially in the Seto Inland Sea, to engage in non-state violence. In his words, once “Hideyoshi had largely succeeded in unifying the country, he began enforcing his position as the sole sanctioning body for violence.” He did so by asserting his own sovereignty over the seas around Japan via an insistence on the central regime’s role as the arbiter of all violent clashes in Japanese waters. Given this overarching concern with peacekeeping, and assuming one accepted the Portuguese argument that the Santo Antonio had been captured in Japanese waters, there was thus a strong case to be made that the incident necessitated, like any other act of nonsanctioned violence, adjudication from the center.

But if there was an obvious parallel in Japanese history, the capture of the Santo Antonio also represented something quite different. The episode marked the first intrusion of the company’s global war, an essentially European conflict imported from a distant continent, into Japanese waters. Because of this, VOC representatives were fully prepared to defend the legality of the seizure, arguing that the incident should be seen as a properly sanctioned and lawfully pursued act of war—violence yes, but not violence that fell within the Japanese regime’s legal remit. In these ways the Santo Antonio incident looked markedly dissimilar from past episodes of maritime violence involving pirate groups or individual warlords, and there was no certainty how the Bakufu would respond.

At stake was much more than just the vessel itself. The Santo Antonio was not, by any criteria, a rich prize, especially when compared to the Macao-Nagasaki carrack, and it carried an entirely unremarkable cargo consisting primarily of ebony wood and pewter. Rather both sides were concerned with the question of precedent. If the Bakufu ignored the episode, opting not to assert its role as arbiter, or signed off on it, then the stage would be set for future attacks against the Macao-Nagasaki trade route, which was acutely vulnerable to VOC maritime predation. If, on the other hand, the regime ruled in favor of the Portuguese, the result could be disastrous for the company, which might be forced to halt its privateering operations in Japanese waters while paying out for Portuguese losses.

The company’s case was led by the incumbent opperhoofd, Jacques Specx, the same VOC official that subsequently orchestrated a shift in the organization’s diplomatic strategy toward Japan. As soon as he received word of the incident, Specx moved to prepare “letters of advice in the Japanese language” to defend the company’s position. One of these went to the governor in Nagasaki, the relevant local official, while a second document was dispatched to Honda Masazumi, who was described as the “president of the [shogun’s] council.” As the Bakufu had some knowledge of the 1609 truce with the Portuguese, which had been described in an earlier letter sent to Japan, Specx’s first step was to explain the resumption of hostilities by informing Honda that the Spanish and the Portuguese had not kept their promises, “but had falsely broken their word and tried to do all possible damage to us.” As a result, the Dutch in Japan had received explicit instructions from “our prince [Maurits] … to wage war and to do as much damage as possible.” If any the company’s ships encountered Iberian vessels at sea, they could not, therefore, allow them to pass but were duty bound to attack.

After the letters were sent on 18 August, the factory returned to normal business, but by the time its governing council met again on 10 September it was clear that something more needed to be done to combat Portuguese pressure. The solution was to dispatch a delegation to Kyoto, where the Bakufu was temporarily based, to “argue our matters against the Portuguese” directly before the shogun. As opperhoofd, Specx was tasked with leading the delegation, but the council also called in Jan Joosten, one of the original Liefde mariners who had been in Japan since 1600. To secure a favorable decision, Specx was authorized to spend whatever it took, but, even though it was prepared to open its cashbox, the council struggled to find appropriate gifts that might lure Bakufu officials over to its side. As the warehouse in Hirado yielded little of any value, it was necessary—as it had been in 1609 when the first VOC embassy arrived in Japan—to dispatch an agent to purchase some “beautiful” goods from Portuguese merchants in Nagasaki. There was of course an obvious irony, that it was necessary to secretly purchase goods from the Portuguese in order to defend their rights against the same group, and the council instructed their agents to do so in the most discreet way possible through multiple intermediaries to ensure that no word of the transaction leaked out. To make doubly sure of obtaining the right decision, the council resolved to present a cannon from one of its ships to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had displayed a sustained interest in European military technology. Once these items were added to the gifts intended for other Bakufu officials, the final total came to 2,734 guilders, a large sum for a factory that had yet to turn a profit.



Merchant Ship of the Dutch East India Company, 1782. Nagasaki School, published by Toshimaya Hand coloured woodblock print.

On 24 September Specx and his delegation reached Fushimi, an important stronghold near Kyoto, where they discovered Portuguese agents already at work lobbying the Bakufu for a favorable decision. Their presence marked a stark contrast with the Santa Catarina incident, the foundational moment for VOC privateering in Asia, which was resolved within the walls of an Amsterdam admiralty court before Dutch judges. In this instance, representatives from both sides, each armed with their own arguments and allies, converged on a neutral space to make their case before a set of independent adjudicators. As expected, Portuguese representatives argued that the attack had taken place in the “king’s [shogun’s] waters,” that is firmly within the “territory of Japan.” Richard Cocks, the head of the English factory in Japan, who watched the dispute unfold, wrote that the Portuguese “complaine to the Emperour [shogun] because the Hollanders take them w’thin his dominions.”

Such claims hinged on an understanding that the assault on the Santo Antonio must be seen as piracy. Portuguese representatives across Asia had a great deal of experience in making this kind of argument as it was the standard proposition put to local rulers in an attempt to denounce the Dutch and in so doing deny them any foothold in the region. In China the Dutch were described as “Universal Robbers” and the “Arch-Pyrates of all Seas, whom all other Principalities did shun, as the most pernicious Danger in their Dominions.” In Japan Portuguese agents had made similar allegations on a number of occasions prior to the Santo Antonio incident. When the Liefde arrived in Japan in 1600, for example, its crew were loudly denounced as “thieves and robbers of all nations and were we suffered to live it should be against the profit of his Highness and of his country: for no nation should come hither without robbing them.” As part of this, Portuguese representatives argued that any appearance of honest commerce was nothing more than a thin veneer designed to conceal the true nature of the company’s activities. Thus, according to one Portuguese letter, even when Dutch merchants “bring cargo to your country [and claim they have acquired these through trade] this is a complete lie” as all these goods were simply plunder acquired through force.

Their role as pirates, stateless marauders marooned permanently outside the law, pushed the Dutch outside international orders. A later petition submitted to the Bakufu explained the “pirate ships of Holland are infesting the high seas…. Since they are nothing but pirates, no other country allows their ships to anchor in their ports.” If one accepted the attack on the Santo Antonio as piracy, then there could be only one conclusion. Piracy had been outlawed in the seas around Japan for decades, and there was a long-standing ban on pirate groups using the archipelago as a base. In 1588 Ieyasu’s predecessor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, had famously banned pirates from operating in the “the seas of the various provinces [of Japan],” while enforcing strict penalties on any group that sheltered or supported maritime marauders. Given these facts, the company was, it seemed, doubly condemned, both for the initial attack, which had taken place in the waters around the “various provinces,” but also because the Jaccatra had brought its prize to Japan, thereby turning the archipelago back into a pirate lair.

In response, Specx put forward his own arguments designed to uphold the company’s rights to the captured ship. Pushing aside any discussion as to whether Meshima was or was not part of Japan, he insisted that the attack on the Santo Antonio was legal regardless of where it had actually taken place. His argument rested on one central assertion, that VOC privateering was a legitimate act of war in the service of a properly constituted state. The Dutch in Asia had, he explained, received orders from their prince, a figure still understood in this period as the “king of Holland,” to “wage war in any way and to do all possible damage [to the Spanish and the Portuguese] on water as well as on land.” Rather than pirate chiefs, the captains of vessels like the Jaccatra were thus soldiers who “have been expressly charged that wherever we may encounter one of their ships not to allow it by any means to pass without fighting but to attempt to capture it even if we die in the process.” In this way there was no room for personal choice and certainly none for individual enrichment; the Dutch were simply at war, and any encounter with a Spanish or Portuguese vessel—even if it was with an unarmed trading ship—must be seen in its proper context as part of this wider conflict.

The presentation was a pale version of Grotius’s submission, lacking the overlapping arguments that made his case so effective. In part this was because one of the key points used by Grotius to justify the offensive strategy, that the VOC was a natural ally for Asian sovereigns in a shared struggle against Iberian tyranny, had failed to make any real headway at the shogun’s court. It was not for want of trying, with Dutch agents in Japan frequently repeating the charge made in Maurits’s December 1610 letter to Tokugawa Ieyasu that Spanish ambitions to universal monarchy were a direct threat to the Bakufu. To buttress the case, they conjured up a vast master plan for domination involving the Portuguese, the king of Spain, and the Jesuits, all of whom were working together to destabilize the Japanese realm. If Spanish tyranny could be made to seem a genuine threat, it turned the Dutch into natural allies because they had faced and overcome precisely the same danger. But although the argument was put persistently to them, Bakufu officials showed no interest in joining the fight against the Spanish, who were still seen in this early period as potential trading partners. Because of this, Specx abandoned any notion of the company as the natural champions of Asian sovereigns and any sense that the attack on the Santo Antonio could be read as part of a shared struggle.

Instead, he worked to divorce the conflict from the shogun, who must, he insisted, not intervene even as the company’s war was brought to his shores: “We reverently seek from His Imperial Majesty [the shogun] that if we encounter the Portuguese or the Castilians somewhere around his majesty’s land [to allow us] to wage war and do all possible damage or to capture their ships.” Although phrased in typically obsequious terms, the proposition represented a bold declaration of the company’s right to wage its global war unimpeded by legal structures in Asia. Encounters such as the one off the coast of Meshima were simply a “matter between enemies at war with each other (vianden oorloge mett malcanderen)” and must be treated as such. Put more bluntly, the shogun should stay out of a conflict that did not concern him by permitting any assault on shipping coming to Japan as a legitimate act of war. In this way the company’s global conflict should, he insisted, take precedence over local legal structures.

The Dutch delegation did not have to wait long for an answer. Far more preoccupied with domestic matters including the winding down of its successful campaign against Hideyoshi’s heir, the regime moved quickly, and on 26 September Bakufu officials informed the Dutch that they had awarded them the “junk, people and everything connected.” The decision was significant for a number of reasons. It affirmed, first of all, that Meshima and the waters around it were part of Japan. When the question as to the island’s status was first raised by VOC agents after the capture of the Santo Antonio, there was a clear hope among the factory’s staff that the Bakufu would simply declare that its authority did not extend out into the ocean to encompass this isolated chain of uninhabited islands. This is what happened, for example, in later instances of VOC privateering that had taken place on more distant sea routes, which Tokugawa officials pronounced as lying beyond their jurisdiction. In 1615, however, the Bakufu did the opposite, moving to confirm that the waters around Meshima were part of Japan and hence fell under the shogun’s authority. The result was to fix the island’s role as the outermost boundary of Japan proper and to confirm to European mariners that it must be treated as part of the shogun’s realm. There Meshima would remain for the rest of the Tokugawa period, appearing in map compilations like the Nihon bunkeizu as the outer marker of Japanese territory.

Second, the decision confirmed the Bakufu’s role as legal adjudicator. Instead of washing their hands of a European conflict involving no Tokugawa subjects, Bakufu officials accepted the petitions presented by both sides, considered their arguments, and came to a decision. In taking this action, the regime effectively marked out its right to act as an arbiter for a maritime dispute between two foreign groups that had taken place hundreds of miles away from its headquarters in central Japan. The result was a confirmation that any act of nonsanctioned violence—regardless of motivation or participant—required adjudication from the center. As was the case with Hideyoshi, this was in effect an affirmation of the central regime’s maritime sovereignty over the waters around the archipelago, although it extended only to a limited set of rights related to the arbitration of violent disputes.

But, if the decision affirmed a basic willingness to adjudicate any maritime dispute that had taken place in Japanese waters, it was paired with a strikingly limited definition as to the extent of Tokugawa legal protection and hence as to which plaintiffs could expect to find redress for their claims. Before issuing its verdict, the Bakufu dispatched an envoy to speak directly with the captured Portuguese mariners at the heart of the dispute. The subsequent interrogation consisted of a single question that illuminated the extent of the regime’s concern: did their vessel carry the shogun’s “seal,” that is, a shuinjō? When the captives confessed that they possessed no such pass, the interview was terminated and their request for protection dismissed. Once it became known that a shuinjō was not involved, the Bakufu showed no interest in draping its protection over the Santo Antonio regardless of the fact that it had been captured in the seas around Japan. The message was clear: the regime’s concern extended only as far as the shuinsen, and it had no intention of either enforcing punishment or mandating compensation if the incident did not involve one of these vessels.

If there was no ambiguity in this regard, the Bakufu’s view on the essential legality of Dutch privateering was less obvious. While Tokugawa officials did not denounce the incident as piracy, something they would do when faced by later instances of VOC maritime aggression, they offered no affirmation of Specx’s argument that the actions of the Jaccatra’s captain should be seen as a legitimate act of war. What is clear, however, is that the decision to award the Santo Antonio to the company did not derive from an especially positive attitude toward Dutch privateering activities but rather from an overriding concern with shuinjō vessels to the exclusion of any other shipping making its way to Japan.

For the Portuguese, the ruling represented a clear setback, but it did at least offer a slender reed of hope. Although the decision had gone against the Santo Antonio’s owners, the Bakufu had confirmed its role as legal arbiter over all acts of violence within Japanese waters, even those stemming from an intra-European conflict. In the aftermath of the Santo Antonio incident, it was clear that the shogun’s court could be pressed into action as an international legal node, a space for petition, investigation, and arbitration of maritime disputes. While this offered scant consolation in the short term, it was possible that the Bakufu might be persuaded over time to expand the boundaries of its protection to include ships that did not carry a shuinjō.

The company, for its part, took a very different lesson. Pushing to one side the possibility that future decisions might go against them, Specx and his superiors read the successful resolution of the Santo Antonio case as a clear endorsement of VOC privateering operations and a wide-ranging dispensation for further action. This was the position taken by the soon to be governor-general, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who became increasingly convinced that the company could launch extended privateering campaigns against Portuguese ships sailing to Japan, even if it resulted in the extension of the conflict into the shogun’s harbors. Coen’s letters after 1615 reveal a persistent belief that the Bakufu was either clearly sympathetic or essentially indifferent to VOC privateering and that it did not necessarily hold coastal waters or even its own harbors as a special preserve. The result was a reckless pursuit of prizes that would ultimately prompt a Tokugawa backlash.


Lebanon Redux

Events in July and August 2006 reminded observers that the Arab – Israeli conflict is not restricted to confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians. On 12 July 2006, Lebanese-based Shia Hezbollah militants killed three Israeli soldiers patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence in the north of Israel and captured two others. The Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, a 46-year-old cleric, stated that the reason for the attack was that Israel had broken a previous deal to release Hezbollah prisoners, and he recklessly and disingenuously claimed that, since diplomacy had failed, violence was the only remaining option. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert described the seizure of the soldiers as an ‘act of war’ by the sovereign country of Lebanon. Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora denied any knowledge of the raid and stated that he did not condone it.

Israel responded with massive airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon including Beirut’s International Airport (which Israel alleged Hezbollah used to import weapons and supplies), an air and naval blockade, and a ground invasion of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah then launched more rockets into northern Israel and engaged the IDF in guerrilla warfare from hardened positions.

This unexpected outbreak of war engendered worldwide concerns over infrastructure damage to Lebanon and the risks of escalation of the crisis. Hezbollah and Israel both received mixed support and criticism. President Bush declared the conflict to be part of the War on Terrorism. On 20 July 2006 Congress voted overwhelmingly to support Israel’s right to defend itself and authorized Israel’s request for expedited shipment of precision-guided bombs, but did not announce the decision publicly. Among neighbouring Middle Eastern nations, Iran, Syria and Yemen voiced strong support for Hezbollah, while the Arab League, Egypt and Jordan issued statements criticizing the organization’s actions, and declared support for the Lebanese government.

The war against Lebanon continued until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire went into effect in the morning on 14 August. It formally ended on 8 September, when Israel lifted its naval blockade of Lebanon. Many Lebanese accused Washington of stalling the Security Council ceasefire resolution until it became clear that Hezbollah would not be easily defeated. US representative to the UN, John Bolton, confirmed that the US and UK, with support from several Arab leaders, had in fact delayed the process. The Lebanese and Israeli governments accepted the UN resolution, which called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, and for the deployment of Lebanese soldiers and an enlarged United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon. The Lebanese army began deploying in southern Lebanon on 17 August; by 1 October most Israeli troops had withdrawn across the border. The Lebanese government, Syria and Hezbollah later agreed that the military group would not be disarmed.

Iran and Syria proclaimed a victory for Hezbollah while the Israeli and United States administrations declared that the group had lost the conflict. On 22 September, some eight hundred thousand Hezbollah supporters gathered in Beirut for a ‘victory rally’. Nasrallah then said that Hezbollah should celebrate the ‘divine and strategic victory’. The majority of Israelis believed that no one won. Olmert admitted to the Knesset that there were mistakes in the war. In response to media and public disquiet over Israel’s handling of what was now called the Second Lebanese War, and the conduct of the armed forces, military and political enquiries were set up in mid-August. By 25 August, 63 per cent of Israelis polled wanted Olmert to resign due to his handling of the war. The total cost of the war to Israel was estimated at around US$3.3 billion. In the wake of the war two Israeli senior military commanders resigned, and on 17 January 2007 the head of Israel’s armed forces, Lt Gen. Dan Halutz, quit after internal investigations pointed to his responsibility for Israel’s conduct during the invasion.

Some estimated that Hezbollah had 13,000 missiles at the beginning of the conflict, supplied by Syria, Iran, Russia and China. During the campaign Israel’s air force flew more than 12,000 combat missions, its navy fired 2,500 shells, and its army fired over 100,000 shells. Large parts of the Lebanese civilian infrastructure were destroyed, including 400 miles (640 km) of roads, 73 bridges and 31 other targets, such as Beirut’s international airport, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, electrical facilities, 25 fuel stations, 900 commercial structures, up to 350 schools and two hospitals, and 15,000 homes. Some 130,000 more homes were damaged. The hostilities killed more than a thousand people, mostly Lebanese civilians, and displaced approximately one million Lebanese and around 300,000 Israelis. After the ceasefire, some parts of Southern Lebanon remained uninhabitable due to unexploded cluster bomblets.

Following its attack on Lebanon, Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza on 25 July 2006, although air and artillery attacks continued. During July 150 Palestinians (the majority civilians) were killed, including 26 children. Palestinians (mostly Sunni Muslims) rallied in support of the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip targets continued in August. In the following month Prime Minister Olmert authorized the construction of 600 houses in the West Bank. Tension rose between Hamas and Fatah. Because Hamas refused to recognize Israel, the PA was unable to pay its employees; Israel and the international community had demanded that Hamas recognize Israel as a prerequisite to passing on tax revenues and providing international funding. PA employees went on strike in early September.

On 11 September senior Hamas and Fatah leaders announced they had reached a tentative agreement to form a national-unity government. Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September, President Abbas stated that the new unity government would recognize Israel. The following day, however, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh stated that his party would agree to less than full recognition. Tension over the PA’S strike action broke into fighting between Hamas forces and Fatah protestors in the Gaza Strip on 1 October, bringing an end to talks on a unity government. At least eight people were killed and more than fifty wounded in the civil unrest. The UN World Food Programme announced that 70 per cent of the Gaza population could not meet their family’s food needs.

In the first week of November 2006 Israel launched a major assault around Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, killing at least 30 Palestinians. Thirteen members of one family were killed because of a ‘technical failure’, according to Israel, and an investigation was ordered into the incident. In mid-November Arab states promised economic aid to the PA. Abbas negotiated a ceasefire at the end of November and Israeli troops withdrew. On 29 December an Israeli human rights group reported that Israeli occupation forces had killed 660 Palestinians in 2006 – three times higher than the number killed in 2005.

Between December 2006 and February 2007, rival factions Fatah and Hamas continued fierce street gun-fighting in Gaza, agreeing and breaking temporary truces in what closely resembled a civil war. Israel and the US made no secret of which side they were on, and the Americans armed Fatah’s security forces and financed their training and equipment. On 23 December President George W. Bush signed a law blocking US aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government and banning contact with the ruling party. The Israeli government handed over US$100 million in frozen tax funds to the PA on 19 January 2007 as part of Israel’s bid to boost President Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas.

In late February 2007 Israeli forces entered Nablus and imposed a curfew in the centre of the city in what the army said was an open-ended operation aimed at searching for weapons caches and arresting Palestinian resistance fighters responsible for carrying out attacks against Israeli targets. More than 50,000 Palestinian residents remained confined to their homes as the Israeli army pressed on with one of its biggest military campaigns in the West Bank.

In early March, Prime Minister Olmert admitted before the Winograd Commission, the government inquiry investigating the 30-day war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, that the strategy adopted in Israel’s military offensive was drawn up months in advance of the capture of two Israeli soldiers. Olmert’s testimony contradicted claims that the military campaign on 12 July 2006 was launched by Israel in response to Hezbollah’s action. One newspaper opinion poll suggested that the prime minister was trusted by only 2 per cent of the Israeli public. At the end of April the commission released an interim report highly critical of Olmert; however, he resisted pressure to resign.

In mid-March 2007, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh unveiled a new national-unity cabinet after months of negotiations between his ruling Hamas party and the Fatah movement of President Abbas. Under the terms of the deal, Hamas was allocated twelve cabinet posts and Fatah six, with the rest going to either independents or small parties. On 8 February Fatah and Hamas had signed a historic unity deal, ‘The Declaration of Mecca’, at a ceremony hosted by Saudi King Abdullah to end their bitter power struggle. The Hamas cabinet resigned on 15 February to allow the formation of the new national-unity government. Nevertheless tension remained high between the two factions, and a number of civilians were killed and injured in gunfights in May as Fatah sought to take over security for the Gaza Strip.

Jerusalem’s city council took advantage of the factional fighting among Palestinians to announce in May that it intended to build 20,000 new apartments around Jerusalem to link with existing settlements in the West Bank. On 21 May the first Israeli in six months to die owing to a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip was killed in Sderot. Israel assisted Fatah with a number of air strikes on Hamas targets and by arresting 33 Hamas politicians and detaining Hamas legislators across the West Bank on 24 May.

In mid-June 2007, after fierce and bitter fighting against Fatah soldiers in which more than 55 people were killed, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. President Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led national-unity government and declared a state of emergency. After summarily suspending clauses in the basic law that called for legislative approval for the new government, he swore in a new emergency government. The president also outlawed the militias of Hamas. Israel and the US quickly endorsed Abbas’s actions; Israel released frozen taxes, and the US and EU ended their economic embargos of the PA. There were now, in effect, two Palestinian territories, each with its own government. Almost all border crossings into the Gaza Strip were closed. On 27 June Israel launched attacks in the Gaza Strip killing twelve people. In an effort to play a role in breaking the cycle of violence, the EU announced it had appointed Tony Blair, the recently resigned British prime minister, as its representative to work for peace in the Arab – Israeli conflict.

In mid-August the US and Israel signed a US$30 billion military aid package. The aid deal signed in a ceremony in Jerusalem represented a 25 per cent rise in US military aid to Israel, from a current US$2.4 billion each year to US$3 billion a year over ten years. Abbas continued his meetings with Olmert throughout the autumn, and Israel released more than 300 Palestinian West Bank prisoners. In late October 2007 Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip, announcing it would restrict the flow of food, medical and fuel supplies into the area. The Middle East peace conference first suggested by President Bush in July was held at Annapolis, Maryland, on 27 November, attended by the leaders of Israel, the PA, the us, the EU, the UN, Syria, the Arab League and the G8 countries. A ‘joint-understanding’ was reached whereby Olmert and Abbas agreed to negotiate a peace agreement by the end of 2008. In a joint statement read by President Bush at the end of the conference, both leaders expressed their support for a two-state solution. Both agreed that: ‘The final peace settlement will establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people just as Israel is the homeland for Jewish people.’ However, extremists on both sides voiced their dissent.

Seeking to maintain – or, more accurately, create – some momentum in the ‘peace process’, in early January 2008 George Bush arrived in Israel at the start of a nine-day tour of the Middle East. The US president said there was a ‘new opportunity’ for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, whose would-be state he also visited. He went on to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Despite international calls for a freeze on settlement activity, in mid-April 2008 the Israeli housing ministry invited tenders for the construction of 100 new homes at the settlements of Ariel and El Kana in the northern-occupied West Bank. The Israeli group ‘Peace Now’ reported that between November 2007 and April 2008 tenders had been issued for 750 homes in the East Jerusalem settlements. Meanwhile, destruction of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, especially those in the vicinity of the West Bank barrier, continued. Despite all the negotiations, promises and bloodshed, little seemed to have changed.

High Noon of the Serbian Empire



The thirteenth century was a period of steady expansion and consolidation for Serbia and the Nemanjas. The tribal zupans became lords and nobles, while peasants were increasingly reduced to serfdom on the feudal estates. Apart from agriculture the mainstay of the medieval economy was mining. During the reign of Stefan Uros I (1243-76) several new lead, copper and silver mines were opened. Saxon Germans were brought from Transylvania as miners and commercial links with Italy were strengthened. Throughout the middle ages Ragusa (Dubrovnik) played a key role in the economy of the region as its main commercial and entrepôt port city.

Abroad, in 1261, the Byzantine Empire was restored in Constantinople. Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus won back some of the old imperial lands, but his state was to remain weak.

The Serbian kings continued to seek immortality in their monastical bequests. Uros I was the founder of Sopocani, and Milutin (1282-1321) of Gracanica, which is close to modern Pristina. Under Milutin, the gold mines of Novo Brdo started work, and lead is still mined there. Milutin’s fourth wife was Simonida, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor. She had originally come to him as a child bride despatched from Constantinople at the age of six. In Gracanica’s church her frescoed portrait shows her perfect oval face topped by a magnificent crown. Her body is wrapped in sumptuous bejewelled robes. Under Milutin, Byzantine tradition, court customs and institutions came ever more to be emulated and Simonida’s mother, the Empress Irene, in Constantinople would shower her son-in-law and daughter with precious gifts. Milutin’s claim to the throne, which he in fact wrested from his brother Dragutin, who had in turn seized it from his father Uros I in war, is emphasized by means of another frescoed Nemanjic family tree. It shows him at the top with angels bringing him the crown and other symbols of his power and majesty. Milutin was clearly no longer content with being just the king of a peripheral Balkan backwater, even if St Sava had buttressed the Serbian kings’ claim by invoking divine right. He had begun to hunger for something more. Desanka Milosevic, who has written about Gracanica, notes that Milutin’s portrait atop the family tree contained in it an important political message for those who could decode such symbolism:

With this act, with this painting, the king had all the prerogatives of power of the Byzantine Emperor, except for the title. The crown, the garments, the lros and the sceptre were all identical to the Byzantine Emperor’s. Before Milutin, something like this would have been absolutely unthinkable, for only the Byzantine Emperor was Christ’s regent on earth and only he ruled by God’s grace.

Today Gracanica, like the other Serbian monasteries of Kosovo, stands like a small Serbian island in an Albanian sea. By the time of Serbian Nemanjic rule in Kosovo and Metohija, to give the region its full Serbian name, the majority of its population was most probably Serbian. As the British historian Noel Malcolm has written, ‘all the evidence suggests that they [Albanians] were only a minority in medieval Kosovo.’ Albanian historians dispute this claiming they were in the majority while Serbian historians claim that, if there were any Albanians in Kosovo at all, only insignificant numbers were present. Whatever the true proportions, difficult to assess anyway because of assimilation and the more fluid nature of identities then, things began to change after the Ottoman conquest and especially after the great Serbian migrations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During this period the movement of Albanians, mostly Muslim converts, into Kosovo began to change the region’s ethnic make-up, leading inexorably to a situation by which Serbs were eventually to become a small minority.

There is something pathetic then in the small clusters of people who gather for mass in Gracanica’s vaulted gloom of an icy-cold winter’s evening. Before the war in Kosovo they were a poignant reminder of past glories. Now, in what has become a Serbian enclave whose physical security at the dawn of the twenty-first century was only assured by Swedish troops, they had become a living remnant of Serbian history.

When the English writer Rebecca West visited Gracanica in 1937, twenty-five years after the Serbs had recaptured Kosovo from the Turks and in an era when the Serbs still bathed in the reflected glory of their First World War heroism, she saw the church in an entirely different light:

From the immense height of the cupolas light descends on three naves, divided by three gigantesquely sturdy columns, and arrives there multicoloured, dyed by the frescoes which cover every inch of the wall. There is here a sense of colossal strength, of animal vigour, of lust so lusty that it can sup off high pleasures as well as low, and likes crimson on its eye as well as wine on its tongue and a godhead as well as a mistress.

Although the Nemanjic monasteries were all of course Orthodox there was still not the total alienation between the two branches of Christendom that in this region was to develop later. The Nemanjas married Catholic princesses and, during the several conflicts between brothers or between sons and fathers that plagued the Nemanjas, one side often allied with a Catholic party such as Hungary and would pledge to bring Serbia into the Roman fold.

Born in 1307 Dusan was to be the greatest of the Nemanjic monarchs. He seized power from his father Stefan Decanski and had him locked up in the fortified town of Zvecan. In 1331 Dusan was crowned king of Serbia and two months later Stefan Decanski was strangled.

Dusan had his father buried in Visoki Decani High Decani, the monastery Stefan Decanski himself had begun to build and which his son was to continue. It is one of the most striking of all the Serbian monastery churches. While indubitably Byzantine and Orthodox inside, its outer walls are lined with strips of polished marble recalling the western, Dalmatian and Italianate styles of the time. Indeed its main architect was a Catholic, Fra Vita from the coastal town of Kotor. Stefan Decanski is celebrated as a saint, and his sarcophagus is opened on important feast days. Although Dusan was to be the greatest Serbian leader to date, he was not canonised because of his presumed part in the murder of his father.

With Byzantium at the time plunged into civil war, Dusan now seized the opportunity to expand the old Serbian state based around Raska and Kosovo. Soon he had taken all of Macedonia save Salonika and also much of Albania. After that Epirus and Thessaly, deep in modern Greece, were to fall to him. In 1343 Dusan supported John Cantacuzenus as a claimant to the throne of Byzantium. Cantacuzenus’ daughter had already been married to Orhan, the leader of the increasingly menacing Ottoman Turks. After his alliance with the Serbs broke down, Cantacuzenus called on the Turks to help fight the Serbs. It was a turning point not just for the Balkans but for the whole of Europe too, for in this way the Turks made their first major incursions on to the continent. Cantacuzenus had appealed to the Turks because Dusan’s ambition now embraced the throne in Constantinople itself. Such divisions within the Christian ranks were of course characteristic of the times and could only profit the Turks. Within just over one hundred years they had not only overwhelmed what remained of the Serbian state but had taken Constantinople as well.

In the meantime Dusan had himself crowned the ‘Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks’. The coronation took place in Skopje, in Macedonia, on Easter Sunday in 1346. Later he added the Albanians and Bulgars to his title. Only a patriarch could crown an emperor, but as Dusan * was in conflict with Constantinople the patriarch there clearly could not approve such a move. Dusan therefore had to create his own patriarch. He convoked a council of Serbian and Bulgarian churchmen and had them promote the most senior Serbian archbishop, Joanikije, to the status of patriarch. This led to a schism with the church in Constantinople. Dusan did not fulfil his ambition to take the city as he died suddenly in 1355.

Dusan has come down through history with two suffixes to his name. One is ‘the mighty’ in recognition of his short-lived empire. The other is ‘the lawgiver’ because of the new legal code he introduced in 1349 and which was expanded in 1354. The code, like Sava’s Nomocanon, was based on Byzantine models but adapted and expanded. Its first part deals with church matters and the ‘Latin heresy’. However, a large section is devoted to the medieval fight against crime, including bribery, theft and the forging of coins. Other portions deal with issues ranging from taxation to border lords, who are to be punished if they fail to prevent enemy incursions. Punishments were severe but no more so than elsewhere in Europe. Juries were selected from the defendant’s peers, but there was no question of equality before the law. Slaves, serfs, nobles and others were punished according to a sliding scale, with the lowest classes bearing the heavier punishments. Article 51 is a good example:

If any lord take a noblewoman by force, let both his hands be cut off and his nose be split. But if a commoner take a noblewoman by force, let him be hanged; if he take his own equal, let both his hands be cut off and his nose split.

Retreat from Empire

By 1355 Serbia was an empire which stretched from the Danube to the Peloponnese. It had a strong ambitious leader, an established dynasty and a national church, and it was by far the most powerful state in the Balkans. After Dusan’s death everything began to unravel. He was succeeded by his son Stefan Uros V, who had neither the authority of his father nor his military abilities. He is often dubbed Uros the Weak. John Cantacuzenus wrote at the time that Uros’ first challenger for power was his uncle Simeon, who sought:

to rule over all the lands of Serbia, thinking that his claims were stronger, and many of the Serbian landed aristocracy supported him. And Uros, the king’s son, gathered an army to protect his fatherland from his uncle. But his mother, Jelena, did not join either him or her brother in law, Simeon. Instead she took many cities for herself. . . . The most powerful members of the aristocracy drove out the humbler and the weaker members, seized any of the surrounding towns they could grab; some then joined the king and some Simeon, his uncle, not as vassals and subjects to their master, but rather as allies and friends offering support. . . . And thus broken and divided into a thousand parts, they started quarrelling.

While the general picture painted by Cantacuzenus is accurate, his time scale is blurred. He does not say for example that the first attacks on the empire came, not from within the Serbian camp, but from outside. With support from the Venetians a local ruler managed to wrest areas now in modern Albania from Serbian control. Those parts of Greece which had been part of the empire soon fell away too, with Simeon declaring himself emperor there. In the north Serbia was attacked by the Hungarians. In Zeta the Balsic family, whom both Serbs and Albanians claim as their own but were most probably intermarried, managed to take power, which they held until 1421.

By 1361 two brothers, Vukasin and Jovan Ugljesa, known to literature as the Mrnjavcevics, had emerged as leading actors on the political stage. These great feudal landowners from Macedonia were later to be condemned for usurping power from Uros. In fact, according to Rade Mihaljcic, a leading expert on the period, they at first worked with him, unlike his treacherous uncle Simeon. However, the Mrnjavcevics did have ambitions and, to the fury of the nobility of Raska, Vukasin was declared king under the nominal sovereignty of Emperor Uros. As Uros had no children this placed the Nemanjic succession in jeopardy. After 1365 Uros faded from the political scene, remaining emperor in name only. Slated for succession then was the son of Vukasin. He is known to history and in the legends that were to be woven around him as young King Marko or Kraljevic Marko.


Battle on the Maritsa

In the end there was to be no final power struggle. As Dusan’s empire crumbled away, it soon became clear that the balance of power in the Balkans was shifting. The main threat to the Serbs was no longer the Bulgarians or the Byzantines but the military might of the Ottoman Turks, who were rapidly advancing from out of Asia Minor. In 1371 Vukasin and Jovan Ugljesa died at the Battle on the Maritsa river, where the Serbs met the Turks in battle. Soon afterwards Uros died and with him ended the rule of the Nemanjic dynasty. The Battle on the Maritsa was a crushing victory for the Turks, and as a consequence Bulgaria, Macedonia and parts of southern Serbia fell under their sway. In strategic terms its consequences were far greater than those of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, but because of the myths and legends that have grown up around the latter the first has tended to be forgotten.

As there was obviously no native Turkish or Muslim population upon which to base the Ottomans’ Balkan rule at this time, the first stage of conquest was generally to leave a defeated territory under the control of its native rulers. Some did not even wait to be conquered, bowing before the overwhelming force of the Turks and submitting to the sultan’s authority. The price of power though was that these rulers became vassals. This meant that not only did they have to pay tribute to the sultan but they had to fight alongside him when called upon to do so. Kraljevic Marko became the first Serbian leader to fight with his men in the army of Sultan Murad I (136089). His career as a Turkish vassal did not preclude him from becoming one of the central figures of Serbian folklore, in which his character often defies his master, the sultan. One legend about him has him saying on the eve of battle: ‘I . . . pray God to help the Christians, even if I am the first to be killed in this war.’

After the Battle on the Maritsa, what remained of Serbian land was divided between several feudal lords. The Balsic family had already taken control of Zeta. The feudal lord Vuk Brankovic held parts of Raska, Kosovo and northern Macedonia, while one Lazar Hrebeljanovic rose to prominence in the region covering today’s central Serbia and parts of Kosovo including the citadel and mines of Novo Brdo. Lazar also greatly expanded his territory on the border of Bosnia when, in alliance with the Bosnian leader Ban Tvrtko Kotromanic, he fell upon the zupan Nikola Altomanovic, partitioning his lands between them in the autumn of 1373.

As the hero of the Battle of Kosovo and the figure that above all others bestrides Serbian history from the downfall of the Serbian state to modern times, it is striking that so little is known of Prince or Knez Lazar until 1371. Later eulogies and chronicles sought to magnify his origins, but apart from the fact that he was born around 1329 near Novo Brdo little is known for sure. He appears to have served at Dusan’s court in a noble capacity, and he clearly distinguished himself, acquiring the title of knez and marrying Milica, who came from a junior branch of the Nemanjic family.

With his successful conquest of Nikola Altomanovic’s lands Lazar was now emerging as the most powerful of the lords ruling the territory of the former Serbian kingdom. He made alliances through marriage, Vuk Brankovic was his son-in-law, and he came to be supported by the church ‘as the most suitable person for uniting the traditional lands of the Nemanjics and for restoring their state’. Lazar welcomed many churchmen to his territory who had fled the lands now under Turkish rule. Clearly seeing the coming danger, they encouraged him to seek a reconciliation between the Serbian church and the patriarchate in Constantinople. Relations had been broken after Stefan Dusan’s coronation in 1346. Lazar mended the breach, and formal renunciation of Dusan’s excommunication was read over his tomb in Prizren in Kosovo. Lazar was generous in giving to the church. Among the most important of his foundations was the delicate Ravanica monastery church which stands in the Morava valley in central Serbia.

As his power grew, Lazar started to describe himself as the ‘ruler of all Serbs’, though this was an ambition rather than a reality. At the same time Ban Tvrtko had had himself crowned ‘King of the Serbs and of Bosnia’ at the monastery of Mileseva in 1377. Despite this apparent clash of aims the two remained on good terms. Possibly Lazar deferred to Tvrtko here because the latter had Nemanjic blood in his veins while Lazar did not. At the time it was widely believed that Vukasin had died at the Battle on the Maritsa because he had taken the title ‘king’ without springing either directly or indirectly from the Nemanjic ‘holy root’.

The Turkish advance through south-eastern Europe was greatly aided by the divisions among the Christian leaders. By the time of the fateful Battle of Kosovo, Lazar may have been the biggest lord on the Balkan block but that was not enough, despite the support he was to receive from Vuk Brankovic and King Tvrtko. Lazar’s Serbia had been strengthened by the arrival of refugees from the lands which had already fallen under the Turks, but still this did not mean his principality had power enough to resist for any length of time. Moreover, the system of Christian vassal princes ensured that Serbs, among others, made up a part of the force which faced Lazar’s army at Kosovo Polje, the Field of Blackbirds, on 28 June 1389.




Albert Einstein signed the letter. Years later he would regret it, calling it the one mistake he had made in his life. But in August 1939, Adolf Hitler’s armies already occupied Czechoslovakia and Austria and his fascist thugs were arresting Jews and political opponents throughout the Third Reich. Signing the letter seemed vital. His friends and fellow physicists, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, had drafted the note he would now send to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The scientists had seen their excitement over the recent breakthrough discoveries of the deepest secrets of the atom turn to fear as they realized what unleashing atomic energies could mean. Now the danger could not be denied. The Nazis might be working on a super-weapon; they had to be stopped.

In his famous letter, Einstein warned Roosevelt that in the immediate future, based on new work by Szilard and the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, “it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radiumlike elements would be generated.” This “new phenomenon,” he said, could lead to the construction of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type.” Just one of these bombs, “carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.” The Nazis might already be working on such a bomb. “Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from Czechoslovakian mines, which she has taken over,” Einstein reported. He urged Roosevelt to speed up American experimental work by providing government funds and coordinating the work of physicists investigating chain reactions.

Roosevelt responded, but tentatively. He formed an Advisory Committee on Uranium to oversee preliminary research on nuclear fission. By the spring of 1940, the committee had allocated only $6,000 to purchase graphite bricks, a critical component of experiments Fermi and Szilard were running at Columbia University. In 1941, however, engineer Vannevar Bush, the president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the president’s informal science advisor, convinced Roosevelt to move faster. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also weighed in, sending the president new, critical studies by scientists in England.

The most important was a memorandum from two German refugee scientists living in England, Otto Frisch and Rudolph Peierls. From their early experiments and calculations, they detailed how vast the potential destructive power of atomic energy could be—and such power’s military implications. Their memo to the British government estimated that the energy liberated from just 5 kilograms of uranium would yield an explosion equal to several thousand tons of dynamite.

This energy is liberated in a small volume, in which it will, for an instant, produce a temperature comparable to that in the interior of the sun. The blast from such an explosion would destroy life in a wide area. The size of this area is difficult to estimate, but it will probably cover the center of a big city.

In addition, some part of the energy set free by the bomb goes to produce radioactive substances, and these will emit very powerful and dangerous radiations. The effects of these radiations is greatest immediately after the explosion, but it decays only gradually and even for days after the explosion any person entering the affected area will be killed.

Some of this radioactivity will be carried along with the wind and will spread the contamination; several miles downwind this may kill people.

The scientists concluded:

If one works on the assumption that Germany is, or will be, in the possession of this weapon, it must be realized that no shelters are available that would be effective and that could be used on a large scale. The most effective reply would be a counter-threat with a similar bomb. Therefore it seems to us important to start production as soon and as rapidly as possible.

They did not, at the time, consider actually using the bomb, as “the bomb could probably not be used without killing large numbers of civilians, and this may make it unsuitable as a weapon for use by this country.” Rather, they thought it necessary to have a bomb to deter German use. This was exactly the reasoning of Einstein, Szilard, and others.

Soon after the Frisch-Peierls memo circulated at the highest levels of the British government, a special committee on uranium, confusingly named the MAUD committee for a British nurse who had worked with the family of Danish physicist Niels Bohr, began assessing the two scientists’ conclusions. The MAUD report on “Use of Uranium for a Bomb” would have an immediate impact on the thinking of both Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the summer and fall of 1941. It concluded that a “uranium bomb” could be available in time to help the war effort: “the material for the first bomb could be ready by the end of 1943.” Upon meeting with Vannevar Bush and learning of the MAUD committee’s dramatic conclusions on October 9, 1941, Roosevelt authorized the first atomic bomb project.

Bush, then head of the newly formed National Defense Research Committee, asked Harvard President James Conant to direct a special panel of the National Academy of Sciences to review all atomic energy studies and experiments. Though Bush’s committee recommended the “urgent development” of the bomb, the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor gave other conventional military concerns greater precedence. It was not until a year later that work began in earnest.

The Manhattan Project, formally the “Manhattan Engineering District,” was created in August 1942 within the Army Corps of Engineers. The laboratory research now became a military pursuit, in part to mask its massive budget. Brigadier General Leslie Groves assumed leadership of the project in September 1942 and immediately accelerated work on all fronts. Historian Robert Norris says of Groves, “Of all the participants in the Manhattan Project, he and he alone was indispensable.”

Groves was the perfect man to direct the massive effort needed to create the raw materials of the bomb, having just finished supervising the construction of the largest office building in the world, the new Pentagon. He needed to find a partner who could mobilize the scientific talent already engaged in extensive nuclear research at laboratories in California, Illinois, and New York. At the University of California at Berkeley, Groves met physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer for the first time and heard his plea for a laboratory purely devoted to work on the bomb itself. Groves thought Oppenheimer “a genius, a real genius,” and soon convinced him to head the scientific effort. Together they chose a remote southwestern mesa as the perfect site for the greatest concentration of applied nuclear brainpower the world had ever seen.


When the young scientists recruited for the Manhattan Project moved into the stark buildings of Los Alamos, New Mexico, surrounded by barbed wire, they understood that they would be working on a top-secret project that could win the war. Most knew that they were there to build the world’s first atomic bomb, but didn’t know much more beyond that. To bring everyone up to speed, physicist Robert Serber gave five lectures in early April 1943 on the scientific and engineering challenges ahead. His lecture notes, mimeographed and given to all subsequent arrivals, became knows as The Los Alamos Primer. Today, it still serves as a valuable guide to the essentials of an atomic bomb.

Serber got right to the point: “The object of the Project is to produce a practical military weapon in the form of a bomb in which the energy is released by a fast neutron chain reaction in one or more of the materials known to show nuclear fission.”

The discovery of fission was new, but the idea of the atom goes back to the early Greek thinkers. In about 400 BCE, Democritus reasoned that if you continuously divided matter, you would eventually get down to the smallest, undividable particle, which he called an atom, meaning “uncuttable.” By the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists realized the atom had an internal structure. In 1908 Ernest Rutherford discovered that atoms had a central core, or nucleus, composed of positively-charged protons, surrounded by the negatively charged electrons detected by J. J. Thompson eleven years earlier. In 1932 James Chadwick discovered that there were particles equal in weight to the proton in the nucleus, but without an electrical charge. He dubbed them neutrons. This led to the atomic model that we are familiar with today, of an atom as a miniature planetary system, with a nucleus of hard, round balls of protons and neutrons with smaller electron balls orbiting around.

Familiar, but not quite right. Danish physicist Niels Bohr, among his many other contributions, found that a large nucleus behaved more like a water droplet. His insight led to a breakthrough discovery in 1939. German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, working with physicist Lise Meitner, had been bombarding uranium, the heaviest element found in nature, with neutrons and observing the new elements that seemed to form. Uranium has an atomic number of 92, meaning it has 92 protons in its nucleus. The scientists thought that the neutrons were being absorbed by the uranium atoms, producing new, man-made elements, but chemical analysis indicated that this was not the case. When Meitner and physicist Otto Frisch applied Bohr’s water droplet model to these experimental results, they realized that under certain conditions the nucleus would stretch and could split in two, like a living cell. Frisch named the process after its biological equivalent: fission.

Three events happen during fission. The least important, it turns out, is that the uranium atom splits into two smaller atoms (usually krypton and barium). Scientists had finally realized the dream of ancient alchemists—the ability to transform one element into another. But it is the other two events that made the discovery really interesting. The two newly created atoms weigh almost exactly what the uranium atom weighed. That “almost” is important. Some of the weight loss is attributable to neutrons flying out of the atom. These are now available for splitting other, nearby uranium nuclei. For every one neutron that splits a uranium nucleus, two more, on average, are generated. Splitting one nucleus can, under the right conditions, lead to the splitting of two additional nuclei, then four, then eight, on up. This is the chain reaction that can start from a single neutron.

The third event is the real payoff. Each fission converts a small amount of the mass of the atom into energy. The first scientists to discover fission applied Einstein’s famous formula, E = mc2, and quickly realized that even this small amount of matter m multiplied by the speed of light squared c2 equals a very large amount of energy E.

Energy at atomic levels is measured in electron volts. Normal chemical reactions involve the forming or breaking of bonds between the electrons of individual atoms, each releasing energies of a few electron volts. Explosives, such as dynamite, release this energy very quickly, but each atom yields only a small amount of energy. Splitting a single uranium nucleus, however, results in an energy release of almost 200 million electron volts. Splitting all 2,580,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (2.58 trillion trillion) uranium atoms in just one kilogram of uranium would yield an explosive force equal to ten thousand tons of dynamite. This was the frightening calculation behind the Frisch-Peierls memo and Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt. One small bomb could equal the destructive force of even the largest bomber raid.





Understanding these calculations was the easy part. There wasn’t any great “secret” to atomic energy (and there isn’t now). Physicists at the time in the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Japan all quickly grasped the significance of nuclear fission. The hard part, and this is still true today, is producing the materials that can sustain this chain reaction. Some concluded that the material could not be made, or at least not made in time to affect the course of the war. Others disagreed—among them the influential authors of the MAUD committee report. The crucial difference in the United States was not superior scientific expertise but the industrial capability to make the right materials. Groves used this capability to build by the end of the war the manufacturing equivalent of the American automobile industry—an entirely new industry focused on creating just one product.

To understand the challenge the United States faced then, and which other nations who want nuclear weapons face today, we have to delve a little deeper into atomic structures. Ordinary uranium cannot be used to make a bomb. Uranium, like many other elements, exists in several alternative forms, called isotopes. Each isotope has the same number of protons (and so maintains the same electric charge) but varies in the number of neutrons (and thus, in weight). Most of the atoms in natural uranium are the isotope U-238, meaning that they each have 92 protons and 146 neutrons for a total atomic weight of 238. When an atom of U-238 absorbs a neutron, it can undergo fission, but this happens only about one-quarter of the time. Thus, it cannot sustain the fast chain reaction needed to release enormous amounts of energy. But one of every 140 atoms in natural uranium (about 0.7 percent) is of another uranium isotope, U-235. Each U-235 nucleus has 92 protons but only 143 neutrons. This isotope will fission almost every time a neutron hits it. The challenge for scientists is to separate enough of this one part of fissile uranium from the 139 parts of non-fissile uranium to produce an amount that can sustain a chain reaction. This quantity is called a critical mass. The process of separating U-235 is called enrichment.

Almost all of the $2 billion spent on the Manhattan Project (about $23 billion in 2006 dollars) went toward building the vast industrial facilities needed to enrich uranium. The Army Corps of Engineers built huge buildings at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to pursue two different enrichment methods. The first was gaseous diffusion. This process converts the uranium into gas, then uses the slightly different rates at which one isotope diffuses across a porous barrier to separate out the U-235. The diffusion is so slight that it requires thousands of repetitions—and hundreds of diffusion tanks. Each leg of the U-shaped diffusion plant at Oak Ridge was a half-mile long.

The other system was electromagnetic separation. Again, the uranium is converted into a gas. It is then moved through a magnetic field in a curved, vacuum tank. The heavier isotope tends to fly to the outside of the curve, allowing the lighter U-235 to be siphoned off from the inside curve. Again, this process must be repeated thousands of times to produce even small quantities of uranium rich in U-235. Most of the uranium for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was produced in this way.

Both of these processes are forms of uranium enrichment and are still in use today. By far the most common and most economical method of enriching uranium, however, is to use large gas centrifuges. This method (considered but rejected in the Manhattan Project) pipes uranium gas into large vacuum tanks; rotors then spin it at supersonic speeds. The heavier isotope tends to fly to the outside wall of the tank, allowing the lighter U-235 to be siphoned off from the inside. As with all other methods, thousands of cycles are needed to enrich the uranium. Uranium enriched to 3–5 percent U-235 is used to make fuel rods for modern nuclear power reactors. The same facilities can also enrich uranium to the 70–90 percent levels of U-235 needed for weapons.

There is a second element that can sustain a fast chain reaction: plutonium. This element is not found in nature and was still brand-new at the time of the Manhattan Project. In 1940, scientists at Berkeley discovered that after absorbing an additional neutron, some of the U-238 atoms transformed into a new element with 93 protons and an atomic weight of 239. (The transformation process is called beta-decay, where a neutron in the nucleus changes to a proton and emits an electron.) Uranium was named after the planet Uranus. Since this new element was “beyond” uranium, they named it neptunium after the next planet in the solar system, Neptune. Neptunium is not a stable element. Some of it decays rapidly into a new element with 94 protons. Berkeley scientists Glenn Seaborg and Emilio Segré succeeded in separating this element in 1941, calling it plutonium, after the next planet in line, Pluto.

Plutonium-239 is fissile. In fact, it takes less plutonium to sustain a chain reaction than uranium. The Manhattan Project thus undertook two paths to the bomb, both of which are still the only methods pursued today. Complementing the uranium enrichment plants at Oak Ridge, the Project built a small reactor at the site and used it to produce the first few grams of plutonium in 1944. The world’s first three large-scale nuclear reactors were constructed that year in just five months in Hanford, Washington. There, rods of uranium were bombarded with slow neutrons, changing some of the uranium into plutonium. This process occurs in every nuclear reactor, but some reactors, such as the ones at Hanford, can be designed to maximize this conversion process.

The reactor rods must then be chemically processed to separate the newly produced plutonium from the remaining uranium and other highly radioactive elements generated in the fission process. This reprocessing typically involves a series of baths in nitric acid and other solvents and must be done behind lead shielding with heavy machinery. The first of the Hanford reactors went operational in September 1944 and produced the first irradiated slugs (reactor rods that had been bombarded with neutrons) on Christmas Day of that year. After cooling and reprocessing, the first Hanford plutonium arrived in Los Alamos on February 2, 1945. The lab had gotten its first 200 grams of U-235 from Oak Ridge a year earlier and it now seemed that enough fissile material could be manufactured for at least one bomb by August 1945.

The Manhattan Project engineers and scientists had conquered the hardest part of the process—producing the material. But that does not mean that making the rest of the bomb is easy.


The two basic designs for atomic bombs developed at Los Alamos are still used today, though with refinements that increase their explosive yield and shrink their size.

In his introduction lectures, Robert Serber explained the basic problem that all bomb designers have to solve. Once the chain reaction begins, it takes about 80 generations of neutrons to fission a whole kilogram of material. This takes place in about 0.8 microseconds, or less than one millionth of one second. “While this is going on,” Serber said, “the energy release is making the material very hot, developing great pressure and hence tending to cause an explosion.”

This is a bit of an understatement. The quickly generated heat rises to about 10 billion degrees Celsius. At this temperature the uranium is no longer a metal but has been converted into a gas under tremendous pressure. The gas expands at great velocity, pushing the atoms further apart, increasing the time necessary for neutron collisions, and allowing more neutrons to escape without hitting any atoms. The material would thus blow apart before the weapon could achieve full explosive yield. When this happens in a poorly designed weapon it is called a “fizzle.” There is still an explosion, just smaller than designed and predicted.

Led by Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific teams developed two methods for achieving the desired mass and explosive yield. The first is the gun assembly technique, which rapidly brings together two subcritical masses to form the critical mass necessary to sustain a full chain reaction. The second is the implosion technique, which rapidly compresses a single subcritical mass into the critical density.

The gun design is the least complex. It basically involves placing a subcritical amount of U-235 at or around one end of a gun barrel and shooting a plug of U-235 into the assembly. To avoid a fizzle, the plug has to travel at a speed faster than that of the nuclear chain reaction, which works out to about 1,000 feet per second. The material is also surrounded by a “tamper” of uranium that helps reflect escaping neutrons back into the bomb core, thus reducing the amount of material needed to achieve a critical mass.

The nuclear weapon that the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, was a gun-type weapon. Called “Little Boy,” the gun barrel inside weighed about 1,000 pounds and was six feet long. The science was so well understood, even at that time, that it was used without being explosively tested beforehand. Today, this is almost certainly the design that a terrorist group would try to duplicate if they could acquire enough highly enriched uranium. The Hiroshima bomb used 64 kilograms of U-235.15 Today, a similar bomb could be constructed with approximately 25 kilograms, in an assembled sphere about the size of a small melon.

Gun-design weapons can use only uranium as a fissile material. The chain reaction in plutonium proceeds more rapidly than the plug can be accelerated, thus causing the device to explode prematurely. But plutonium can be used in another design that uniformly compresses the material to achieve critical mass (as can uranium). This is a more complex design but allows for a smaller device, such as those used in today’s modern missile warheads. The implosion design was used in the first nuclear explosion, the Trinity test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, and in the “Fat Man” nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945.

The implosion method of assembly involves a sphere of bomb material surrounded by a tamper layer and then a layer of carefully shaped plastic explosive charges. With exquisite microsecond timing, the explosives detonate, forming a uniform shock wave that compresses the material down to critical mass. A neutron emitter at the center of the device (usually a thin wafer of polonium that is squeezed together with a sheet of beryllium) starts the chain reaction. The Trinity test used about 6 kilograms of plutonium, but modern implosion devices use approximately 5 kilograms of plutonium or less—a sphere about the size of a plum.

By Spring 1945 the Los Alamos scientists were franticly rushing to assemble what they called the “gadget” for the world’s first atomic test. Although they had spent years in calculation, the staggering 20-kiloton magnitude of the Trinity explosion surpassed expectations. Secretary of War Henry Stimson received word of the successful test while accompanying President Truman at the Potsdam Conference. At the close of the conference, Truman made a deliberately veiled comment to Stalin, alluding to a new U.S. weapon. The Soviet premier responded with an equally cryptic nod and “Thank you.”

Back in the U.S. the wheels were in motion, and the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” was on a ship headed to Tinian, an island off the coast of Japan. In the months leading up to Trinity, top government officials had selected targets and formed a policy of use. The eight-member Interim Committee, responsible for A-bomb policy and chaired by Stimson, concluded that “we could not give the Japanese any warning; that we could not concentrate on a civilian area; but that we should seek to make a profound psychological impression on as many of the inhabitants as possible . . . [and] that the most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses.” On August 6, 1945, Little Boy exploded with a force of 15 kilotons over the first city on the target list, Hiroshima.


To this day, the decision to drop the bomb on Japan remains controversial and historians continue to dispute the bomb’s role in ending the Pacific war. The traditional view argues that Truman faced a hellish choice: use the bomb or subject U.S. soldiers to a costly land invasion. Officials at the time did not believe that Japan was on the verge of unconditional surrender, and the planned land invasion of the home islands would have resulted in extremely high casualties on both sides. The months preceding the atomic bombings had witnessed some of the most horrific battles of the war in the Pacific, with thousands of U.S. troops dying in island assaults. Historians Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar write:

Had the invasions occurred, they would have been the most savage battles of the war. Thousands of young U.S. military men and perhaps millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians would have died. Terror weapons could have scarred the land and made the end of the war an Armageddon even worse than the devastation caused by two atomic bombs.

Immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was significant moral backlash, expressed most poignantly in the writings of John Hersey, whose gripping story of six Hiroshima residents on the day of the bombing shocked readers of the New Yorker in 1946. But the debate was not over whether the bombing was truly necessary to end the war. It was not until the mid-1960s that an alternate interpretation sparked a historiographical dispute. In 1965, Gar Alperovitz argued in his book Atomic Diplomacy that the bomb was dropped primarily for political rather than military reasons. In the summer of 1945, he says, Japan was on the verge of surrender. Truman and his senior advisors knew this but used the atomic bomb to intimidate the Soviet Union and thus gain advantage in the postwar situation. Some proponents of this perspective have disagreed with Alperovitz on the primacy of the Soviet factor in A-bomb decision making, but have supported his conclusion that the bomb was seen by policy makers as a weapon with diplomatic leverage.

A middle-ground historical interpretation, convincingly argued by Barton Bernstein, suggests that ending the Pacific war was indeed Truman’s primary reason for dropping the bomb, but that policy makers saw the potential to impress the Soviets, and to end the war before Moscow could join an allied invasion, as a “bonus.” This view is buttressed by compelling evidence that most senior officials did not see a big difference between killing civilians with fire bombs and killing them with atomic bombs. The war had brutalized everyone. The strategy of intentionally attacking civilian targets, considered beyond the pale at the beginning of the war, had become commonplace in both the European and Asian theaters. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in this context, were the continuation of decisions reached years earlier. It was only after the bombings that the public and the political leaders began to comprehend the great danger the Manhattan Project had unleashed and began to draw a distinction between conventional weapons and nuclear weapons.

Focke-Wulf Fw 200 – Long-Range Sea Reconnaissance

Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C Condor

Fw 200, “SG+KS” of I.Gruppe/KG 40.

The Fw 200 Condor frequently operated in close cooperation with roving packs of U-boats. These machines had been refitted with a long ventral gondola beneath the fuselage, where bombs were housed. Having identified an enemy convoy, Condors would attack and cripple merchant vessels, leaving the submarines to finish them off. Within a year Fw 200s accounted for several thousand tons of Allied shipping and were justly feared as the “scourge of the Atlantic.” Eventually, the development of long-range fighters like the Bristol Beaufighter and ship-launched disposable Hawker Hurricanes spelled the end of its maritime roles. The Fw 200s next pioneered antishipping missiles, but success proved elusive, and by 1944 most had been reconverted back into transports.

Each side employed float planes in the Battle of the Atlantic. The RAF’s “Sunderland” could reach Iceland and the Bay of Biscay from U.K. bases. It was countered by a Luftwaffe fleet of reconnaissance squadrons equipped with Bv138s and Bv222s, Do-18s, and He-115s. These spotted for an original force of 18 squadrons of He-111 medium bombers, trained before the war to bomb ships and lay mines. Longer-range German aircraft came on stream as the battle developed, notably the Fw200 or Kondor. Continuing interservice arguments between the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, which Hitler characteristically declined to resolve, were especially marked by petulant obstruction of cooperation by Göring. That permitted the Kriegsmarine too few of the right planes to properly scout for the U-boat fleet. Other interservice arguments concerned whether to develop an aircraft-delivered torpedo or specialized antiship bomb. The Luftwaffe ignored all Kriegsmarine design advice on the way to developing an ineffective ship bomb on its own. In the meantime, improving air cover and fighter interception of Kondors by fighters launched from escort carriers pushed back the German air threat to Allied shipping.

Kampfgeschwader 40 (40th Bomber Wing) on the Atlantic Coast of France demonstrated particular proficiency in attacks on shipping. The latter unit employed, among other types, the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, a long-range reconnaissance bomber famously called the “scourge of the Atlantic” by Winston Churchill for its deadly efficiency between 1940 and 1942.

Condor Aircraft based on a feasibility study ordered in 1936 by Lufthansa for a plane capable of crossing the Atlantic; first flew on 27 July 1937. Designed to carry 26 passengers and four crew-members, this cantilevered low-wing four-engine plane first proved its capacity on a series of long-distance flights for publicity. The longest was a 48-hour flight from Berlin to Tokyo. (The plane crash-landed in Manila Bay on the return leg due to pilot error.) The aircraft was used mostly on European medium-range routes. Sixteen civilian Condors were completed by September 1939, and several more were under construction.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was having trouble defining its long-range aircraft needs. The Junkers Ju 89 and Dornier Do 19 aircraft were canceled, and the Heinkel He 177 project was delayed. By October 1939, 12 civilian Condors (six of which were initially scheduled for delivery to Japan) had been taken over by the Luftwaffe for training in long-range sea reconnaissance. Focke-Wulf received an order for the development of a military version, the Fw 200C series, of which 243 were produced until the closing of production in 1943. The C-4, which was built in the largest numbers, sported additional machine guns and a bomb/torpedo bay. Its primary mission in the Luftwaffe became long-range reconnaissance and the spotting of Allied convoys in the Atlantic. Positions were then relayed to submarines and an attack coordinated.



Beriev Be-8, ‘Mode’ or ‘Mole’




The Be-8 was a small parasol-wing aircraft of all-metal construction. Few were built.

The Beriev Be-8 (USAF/DoD reporting name “Type 33”, NATO reporting name “Mole”), was built by the Soviet Beriev OKB in 1947. It was a passenger/liaison amphibian aircraft with a layout similar to the Be-4 but substantially larger and heavier. It was a single engine parasol with the wing installed on a thin pylon and a pair of short struts. Compared to the Be-4, the Be-8 was equipped with retractable landing gear, and pilot and passenger cabins had heating utilizing engine heat. The Be-8 was intended as a civil aircraft and carried no armament. First flight was on December 3, demonstrating good performance. Two experimental aircraft were built, and one was demonstrated during 1951 Soviet Aviation Day at Tushino.

One of Be-8 was equipped with hydrofoils, developed at TsAGI. These “Underwater Wings” were installed on landing gear struts and pushed aircraft above the water well before it could be done by the wing lift force. As a result, takeoff was much easier and imposed less punishment on the hull from the waves. Despite very effective during takeoff hydrofoils had negative impact on flight speed. Construction of retractable hydrofoils was not ready, and the concept did not find practical applications.

General characteristics

Capacity: 6 passengers

Payload: 400 kg (880 lb) of cargo

Length: 13.0 m (42 ft 7 in)

Wingspan: 19.0 m (62 ft 3 in)

Empty weight: 2,815 kg (6,206 lb)

Loaded weight: 3,624 kg (7,990 lb)

Powerplant: 1 × Shvetsov ASh-21 radial engine, 520 kW (700 hp)


Maximum speed: 266 km/h at 1,800 m (144 kn, 165 mph) at 1,800 m (5,900 ft)

Landing speed: 100 km/h (54 kn, 62 mph)

Range: 810 km (440 nmi, 500 mi)

Ferry range: 1,200 km (650 nmi, 750 mi)

Mission endurance: 4.6 hr

Ferry endurance: 6.0 hr)

Service ceiling: 5,550 m (18,209 ft)