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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Julius Caesar, Dionysius Exiguus and Pope Gregory XIII: The Creation of the Modern Calendar.

The Math Assignment 

When I was at University, I recall working with a friend to help him develop a computer programme for a math assessment. At the time, Fortran was the programming language in vogue but for this assignment, he was asked to use a Commodore PET computer with BASIC as the programming language.

His lecturer set him the task of constructing an algorithm that would predict which day in the week it would be for any date in any year (within a defined window of several thousand years) that he cared to query. It took me and my friend about a month to research the history of calendars, write the algorithm in BASIC and submit his assignment. For my friend, this was an assessment but for me, it was one of those fun projects that captured my imagination. 

In this post I will share what I learnt. And I will also declare how my friend fared in his Math assignment at the end of this post.

In Our Beginning ...

The history of calendars is linked very much to our thought about time. Researching the origins of time is to explore the very beginning of creation – something I tried to cover in a previous post (Big Bang Theory: The longest playing reality show in history). This post may be found at: 

Ever since human beings existed on this planet, we have measured time by observing the natural world: the changing of the seasons or the migration of heavenly bodies across the sky. We now know that more than 30,000 years ago, humans in what is now central Europe tracked the Moon and stars across the sky by carving notches into the tusks of the mammoth. In doing so, they were following the movement of celestial bodies, visible to the naked eye, probably trying to determine if there was any order in the activity that was being observed. 

The Moon has much to do with calendars. Indeed, the etymology of the word “month” originates from the word “Moon”. A “month” initially measured the duration it took for the Moon to complete a cycle around the Earth. So, the words 'Moon' and 'month' come from the same root.

The World's Oldest Calendars 

The Moon seems to be connected to calendars in many respects. In 2013, British archaeological experts announced that they discovered what they believe to be the world's oldest 'calendar'. This calendrical monument, created by hunter-gatherer societies and dating back to around 8,000 BC, was discovered at Warren Field, Crathes in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. After several years of study, researchers concluded that this structure may have functioned as a luni-solar device for keeping track of the seasons by observing the Sun and Moon, some 5,000 years before formal time-measuring devices were developed in the Near East.

Before the British discovery in Aberdeenshire, the first formal calendars were thought to have been created in Mesopotamia circa 5000 years ago (i.e. 3000 BC). In the Near East, the Sumerian (Babylonian) Calendar was the earliest known to be used. This was a lunisolar calendar (based on the combined effects of the Sun and the Moon), with years consisting of twelve lunar months, each beginning when a new crescent Moon was first sighted low on the western horizon at sunset. In this calendar system, an intercalary month (intercalation or embolism in timekeeping is the insertion of a leap day, week, or month into some calendar years to make the calendar follow the seasons or Moon phases) would be inserted as needed, by decree.

In later years, this Sumerian Calendar system was the basis of many other calendar systems that followed in the Near East (Egyptian, Assyrian, Elamite, Zoroastrian and Hebrew). It also gave rise to the Attic calendar – one of many Greek calendar systems. It is important to note that calendar systems had only local utility - to inform local citizens of domestic-related matters. Multiple forms of calendar systems were used contemporaneously, and even neighbouring regions did not follow a universal system of keeping track of time. Thus, the Attic calendar, like many other calendars, was an exclusively local phenomenon used to regulate the internal affairs of the Athenians, with little relevance to the outside world.

The Roman Calendar 

The Roman calendar, also referred to as the Roman Republican Calendar, was probably an evolution of one of the Greek lunar calendars. According to legend, King Romulus, the founder of Rome, instituted this calendar in about 738 BC. The Romans themselves described their first organised year as one that began in March and consisted of 10 months, six of 30 days, and four of 31 days, making 304 days. It thus ended in December, followed by what seems to have been an uncounted winter gap.  The 10 months were named Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. This system ran well short of the solar year, and it needed constant intercalation to keep religious festivals and other periodic activities within the time windows of their respective seasons.

Legend claims that around 713 BC, Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, reformed the Roman calendar significantly. The calendar became increasingly essential and had broader applications than just agriculture, so assigning the roughly 60 “monthless” days to two new months was necessary. Thus, January and February were added to the existing 10-month calendar. Initially, January was placed at the beginning of the year and February was given a position at the end. This situation prevailed until 452 BC, when February was placed between January and March. This would be just one of several reforms made to this calendar.

In 509 BC, a political revolution took place in ancient Rome and resulted in the expulsion of the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Thus, was established the Roman Republic with the citizens after that electing two consuls annually to rule the city. After installing the Roman Republic, the years began to be dated by consulships and control over intercalation was granted to the pontifices (the most critical positions in ancient Roman religion). Eventually, these pontifices abused their power by lengthening the years controlled by their political allies and shortening them when their rivals held office.

In 60 BC, a powerful political alliance emerged, comprising Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great). They formed the First Triumvirate. From 60 BC to 51 BC, Caesar rose to become one of the most powerful politicians in the Roman Republic through a string of military victories in the Gallic Wars. Through his conquests, he significantly extended Roman territory. Crassus died in 53 BC, and the First Triumvirate was now left only with Caesar and Pompeius.

The Roman Senate ordered Caesar to step down from his military command and return to Rome as the Gallic Wars had concluded. Caesar openly defied the Senate's authority and led an army towards Rome. Thus, began Caesar’s Civil War (where he faced Pompeius, who had aligned himself with the Roman Senate). Caesar won this war, leaving him in a position of near unchallenged power and influence.

Hail, Caesar: The Advent of the Julian Calendar

After assuming control of the government, Caesar began a programme of social and governmental reforms, including the creation of the Julian Calendar. Julius Caesar proposed the Julian calendar in 46 BC. It took effect on January 1, 45 BC, by edict. It was a reform of the Roman calendar and was designed by Greek mathematical and astronomical scholars. Caesar and his scholars, mainly the philosopher, Sosigenes of Alexandria, made one crucial modification: instead of relying on the stars and making inconsistent adjustments to the calendar, they would add a day to every fourth year. In keeping with the Roman tradition of adjusting with the length of the month of February, that day would fall in the second month of the year. Thus, the “Leap Year” was born.

Emperor Julius Caesar reformed the Roman Calendar. On 1 January 45 BC, the Julian Calendar took effect. Leap years were also introduced as part of this new calendar system.

Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of Senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus on 15th March 44 BC (the Ides of March). He was stabbed approximately twenty-three times but whilst the Emperor perished, the Julian Calendar, prevailed to became the predominant calendar in a growing Roman Empire. It remained the reference calendar for most of the Western World for more than 1,600 years, until 1582.

The Final Correction

In October 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a minor modification to the Julian Calendar. He reduced the average year from 365.25 days to 365.2425 days. In doing so, he created the Gregorian Calendar.

There were two reasons to establish the Gregorian calendar. Firstly, the Julian calendar assumed incorrectly that the average solar year is exactly 365.25 days long, an overestimate of a little under one day per century. The Gregorian Reform shortened the average (calendar) year by 0.0075 days to stop the drift of the calendar with reference to the equinoxes. In addition, in the years since the First Council of Nicaea, in AD 325, the excess leap days introduced by the Julian algorithm had caused the calendar to drift such that the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere was occurring well before its nominal March 21st date. This date was essential to the Christian churches because it was fundamental to the calculation of the Easter celebration. To reinstate the correlation, the Gregorian Reform advanced the date by 10 days: Thursday, October 4, 1582 was followed by Friday, October 15, 1582. Thus, the Gregorian Reform practically made all those living at the time ten days older, one day later!

Above: Stamp from Germany commemorating the 400th anniversary of the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar 

Below: First Day Cover from the Vatican, issued in 1982 commemorating the 400th anniversary of the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar 

Global adoption of this revised calendar, which became known as the Gregorian Calendar, gradually took place over the subsequent centuries, first in Catholic countries and subsequently in Protestant nations.

The AD Dating System

Whilst it is now accepted that by January 1, 45 BC, it had been established that there were 365.25 days in a year and a year comprised 12 months, the “Anno Domini” dating system was only devised in 525 AD by Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the Humble). Dionysius was a monk and a learned member of the Roman Curia (the administrative institution of the Holy See which is the under the purview of the Bishop of Rome, who is also the Pope).

During those historical times, the dates of Easter (the most important religious celebration of the Roman Catholic Church commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ) were set out in a format called the “Easter Tables”. These Easter Tables recorded the future dates of Easter based on the Diocletian numbering system. In 525, at the request of Pope John I, Dionysius prepared a table of 95 future dates of Easter (from 532-626) and a set of rules ("argumenta") explaining their calculation(“computus”). It seems that Dionysius used this opportunity to resolve two other issues that needed some attention.

The first of his issues concerned the “Diocletian era”, a method of numbering the years used by the Church of Alexandria from the 4th century AD. This method was named after the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, who reigned between 284 AD and 305 AD. In the Diocletian counting system, the beginning of the Emperor’s reign in 284 was used as the first year of that calendar. The early years of the power of Emperor Diocletian stabilised a Roman Empire that was on the brink of collapse. Still, he is more notoriously associated in the annals of history for the era of the Diocletianic Persecution (303 – 312). This was the Empire's most enormous, bloodiest and final official persecution of Christianity. Many Christians were martyred, causing this dark period for Christianity (also remembered as the “Era of the Martyrs”).

It disturbed Dionysius that a matter as prestigious as the naming of an eternal numbering system of the years had been named after an Emperor who had mercilessly persecuted the Christians for over a decade. This needed to be addressed and rectified as he did not wish to continue the memory of an Emperor who had been a tyrant.

There was also another issue. At the time, there was a wide-held belief that the end of the world would occur 500 years after the birth of Jesus Christ. It was believed that (based on the Anno Mundi calendar - a calendar era based on the biblical accounts of the creation of the world and its subsequent history), Jesus was born in the year 5500 (or 5500 years after the world was created) with the year 6000 of the Anno Mundi calendar marking the end of the world. Evidence exists of Dionysius’ desire to replace the Diocletian years with a calendar based on the incarnation of Christ to influence people from believing that the end of the world was imminent. 

Dionysius thus selected the year of birth of Jesus Christ as the first year  of his calendar system and when he added the new 95 Easter dates in the Tables as instructed by Pope John I in 525, he notated the newly inserted dates with the suffix, “Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi” (Years of our Lord Jesus Christ). Even though he  made this insertion an estimated  525 years after the birth of Christ, he only started his numbering of the years from 532 as the existing Easter Tables had already fixed the Easter date for the next six years (i.e. until 531). This "error" would, many centuries later be challenged by Pope Benedict XVI (as explained in later in this post). 
Prior to the AD system being devised by Dionysius, his table, calendar years were identified by naming the Roman Consuls who held office that year. Dionysius himself stated that the "present year" when he developed his system was "the consulship of Probus Junior", which was 525 years "since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ".

Gradually, the Dionysian tables and his notation became widely used. There is evidence that most of the British Church had accepted the Dionysian Tables by AD 664, whilst on the European continent, Anno Domini (or AD) was only introduced as part of the dating system in the late eighth century. The usage of AD gradually became more common in Catholic countries from the 11th to the 14th centuries, with Portugal becoming the last Western European country to adopt a system initiated by Dionysius. In AD 1700, Russia did the same with some Eastern Orthodox countries, only adopting this approach in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Indeed, in selecting the birth year of Jesus Christ as the first year of his system of numbering the years, Dionysius achieved one of his objectives.  He successfully put in place the primary building block that eventually resulted in the Diocletian system of numbering the years being confined to the footnotes of history.

BC, CE and BCE

Although “Anno Domini” was in reasonably widespread use by the 9th century, the term "Before Christ" (or its equivalent) did not become common until much later. "Anno ante Christi nativitatem" (in the year before the birth of Christ) is a phrase found in a AD 1474 work by a German monk. In AD 1627, the French Jesuit theologian Denis Pétau, in his work, “De Doctrina Temporum”, popularised the usage “ante Christum” (Latin for "Before Christ") to mark the years before AD. Thus, commenced another long-held convention.

Since 1856, the alternative abbreviations of CE and BCE (sometimes written C.E. and B.C.E.) are sometimes used in place of AD and BC. CE is the acronym for “Common Era” and BCE for “Before Common Era”. The use of these replacements was to secularise the calendar systems and not associate dates with religion.

The BC - AD Time Interface

In the AD year numbering system, AD 1 is immediately preceded by 1 BC, with nothing in between them (i.e. there was no year zero). The concept of zero being a digit had prevailed since Sumerian and later, Babylonian times. But the acceptance of zero, being a number in its own right, with a value of nothing that preceded the number 1; that concept seems to have been suggested by Hindu astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta, only in AD 628. A circle inscribed on a temple wall in Gwalior in India dates back to the ninth century. According to the University of Oxford, this is the oldest recorded example of zero as a numeral. The numeral can also be seen on an ancient Indian scroll called the “Bhakehali Manuscript”. Discovered in AD 1881, the scroll was assumed to have been a contemporary of the symbol found in the temple in Gwalior, but modern carbon dating reveals its origin in the third or fourth century. Thus, many scientists believe that zero was a discovery made in India as a number in its own right. Clearly, this numerical conceptualization of zero did not feature in the thinking of Dionysius and others who developed the early calendars.

Astronomical Year Numbering

Modern science recognises the concept of zero as a number. So, for computational reasons, astronomical year numbering and standards established by the International Standards Organisation (ISO 8601) designate the years so that AD 1 = year 1, 1 BC = year 0 and 2 BC = year −1, etc. It is also important to note that ISO 8601 uses the Gregorian Calendar system.

Birth Date of Jesus Christ

As our current dating system pivots on the birth year of Jesus Christ, it would be critical to understand how accurately we know that date to be. The reality is that the date of birth of Jesus of Nazareth is not stated in the Gospels or any secular text. Most scholars assume a date of birth between 6 BC and 4 BC. The historical evidence is too fragmented to allow definitive dating.

First Day Cover for Eire celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. This event of the birth of Jesus Christ was first used as the event to denote Year 1 of the the "Anno Domini" calendar dating system by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD.  

The year of the birth of Jesus Christ has however been estimated through two different approaches. Firstly, by analysing references to known historical events mentioned in the Nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Secondly, by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus (i.e. the period that begins with the baptism of Jesus Christ in the countryside of Roman Judea, near the River Jordan and which ends in Jerusalem following the Last Supper with his disciples).

In 2012, in his book, "Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives," Pope Benedict XVI asserted that the Christian calendar was based on a miscalculation because Jesus was born sometime between 7 BC and 2 BC. "The calculation of the beginning of our calendar - based on the birth of Jesus - was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years," Pope Benedict XVI writes, "The actual date of Jesus' birth was several years before."

Stamp honouring Pope Benedict XVI. In a publication in 2012, His Holiness challenged the belief that Jesus Christ was born in 1 AD. 

The First Day of the World

The Church has always had an interest in the creation of the world. In the summer of 1650, a Protestant bishop in the Catholic land of Ireland, James Ussher,  published a monumental work titled “The Annals of the Old Testament” (The Annals). Bishop Ussher is forever remembered for a date that appears in the first paragraph of the first page of The Annals. Ussher wrote: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth, which beginning of time, according to this chronology, occurred at the beginning of the night which preceded October 23rd in the year 710 of the Julian period.” In the right margin of the page, Ussher computes the date in “Christian” time as 4004 B.C.

Ussher began his calculation by adding the ages of the 21 generations of people of the Hebrew-derived Old Testament, starting with Adam and Eve. If the Bible is to be believed, they were an exceptionally long-lived group of humans. Genesis, for example, tells us that “Adam lived 930 years, and he died.” Adam’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Methuselah, claimed the longevity record, living a life of 969 years. It was believed that healthier living conditions contributed to the long life spans of the early generations of the Bible. Josephus, a Jewish theologian, writing in the first century, explained it this way: “Their food was fitter for the prolongation of life…and besides, God afforded them a longer lifespan on account of their virtue.”

Bishop James Ussher was considered an accomplished scholar. Indeed, such was his academic reputation that when he died, The Lord Protector of the British Isles, Oliver Cromwell, had his remains buried in the Chapel of St. Erasmus in Westminster Abbey.

Oliver Cromwell led the forces of the English Parliament against King Charles I during the English Civil War. He honoured Bishop James Ussher on his death, by having Ussher's remains buried in the  Chapel of St. Erasmus in Westminster Abbey. Sadly, Cromwell was not offered such state recognition. Cromwell died from natural causes in 1658 and was initially buried in  Westminster Abbey but after the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, Cromwell's body was exhumed, hung in chains and beheaded. 

The work of Bishop Ussher was considered a critical piece of scholarship at the time, and for several centuries afterwards, it was considered a credible reference for the beginning of time. In 1701, the Church of England adopted Ussher’s dates for use in its official Bible. For the next two centuries, Ussher’s dates so commonly appeared in Bibles that his dates “practically acquired the authority of the word of God.”

Some Final Timely Thoughts

The are many calendar systems in use. More common examples would be the Islamic, Hindu, Hebrew, Chinese, Persian, Mayan etc. Their origins primarily served religious and/or agricultural purposes. Some years ago, the Mayan Calendar shot to prominence as it suggested that the end of the world would occur on 21 December, 2012. Clearly, that did not take place.

A specimen stamp from Switzerland issued between 1961 and 1970. It celebrates the Mayan Calendar. In the foreground there is an image of David, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, created in marble between 1501 AD and 1504 AD by Michelangelo.

Over the years, the Gregorian Calendar became the accepted dating system mainly because it considered precise astronomical observations (the rotation of the Earth around the Sun and the orbit of the Moon around the Earth) and considered critical religious events (Easter, the Birth of Jesus Christ). Once this calendar system became accepted in Europe, the European colonisation of the East and the Americas made this Gregorian Calendar system the global standard.

It has taken more than a thousand years to develop the Gregorian Calendar system. To conclude this post, I will leave you with this mental model about astronomical and geological timescales. Let us think of the entire history of Earth, compressed into a single 365-day year. As the clock strikes midnight, on December 31, when we would typically be raising our glasses of champagne and singing the “Auld Lang Syne”, the Earth and the Solar System are formed. On this timescale, sometime around February, about two months after our New Year’s Eve celebration, rocks appear on the planet as the Earth’s surface starts to cool down.

Around November 20th that same year, the first plants appear, and their flowers begin to bloom. By about mid-December, dinosaurs are roaming the planet. Still, due to a giant asteroid striking the Earth about 60 million years ago, they would disappear by December 26th and allow other forms of species to thrive.

Unbelievably, there are only about 4.5 days to go until the end of our hypothetical year, and humankind has yet to make an appearance!

The oldest known hominid (i.e. human-like) fossils that have been discovered date back to about midday of 31st December but our species, “Homo Sapiens”, only appear about three minutes before midnight at the end of our hypothetical year. Today, we know that Homo Sapiens have inhabited the Earth for about 150,00 to 200,000 years.

The Gregorian Calendar only covers about 1,500 years of that time! 

How much we do not know!

Post Script: 

Returning to the problem set by the Math lecturer at University in 1979, which prompted some of my early research into calendar systems …..

To confirm that the algorithm that had been developed was correct, the Math lecturer asked my friend to query our computer programme and provide him with the day of Nelson Mandela’s birthday in the year 5000 BC (if President Mandela was living at that time). 

As a second part of the assignment, he then asked my friend to provide him with the day of Nelson Mandela’s birthday in the year 5000 AD (if President Mandela was to live that long).

This Math assignment taught me three new facts that autumn morning in 1979 at Bath University in England.

Firstly, I share the same birthday as Nelson Mandela (i.e. 18th July).

When querying the computer: 18 July 5000 BC ? The programme responded, stating that date was a Tuesday.

It was then time to input the second test date into our computer algorithm: 18 July AD 5000 ? In a flash the Commodore PET computer responded, stating that the date was a Friday.

The Math lecturer allowed himself a brief smile and then said to my friend, “Looks like you  have passed!”

Hope you enjoyed this post.

All stamps and First Day Covers shown in this post are from my personal collection.


Saturday, July 31, 2021

A Noble Journey from Vancouver to Mururoa, but Where is Greenpeace Heading Today?

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics

We are in August 2021, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are only now taking place. This is the second time the Olympics are being held in the capital city of the Land of the Rising Sun. In 1964, Tokyo was the host city of the Games of the XVIII Olympiad, and I have written about this event in a previous post published on 7th July 2020 titled, "Baron Pierre De Coubertin, Dr. Wernher von Braun, Sergei Korolev & The Space Olympics: Part 1".

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented the 2020 Games from taking place last year. Even now, to prevent community outbreaks of the dreaded disease, no spectators are permitted to watch the athletes participate in the 33 sports listed in the official program of these Olympics.

In August of 1945, two atomic bombs were deployed on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to effectively end World War II.

The atomic bombs deployed in Japan were the result of the "Manhattan Project". This was the code name for an American-led effort to develop a functional atomic weapon during World War II. In 1939, in response to American Intelligence reports that scientists working for Adolf Hitler were already developing nuclear-based weapons, President Franklin Roosevelt created several agencies to investigate the area of nuclear energy.

Discoveries in theoretical physics and chemistry from the early 1900s by science luminaries such as Einstein, Rutherford and the Curies had laid the foundation, but much more work was required to evolve scientific theory into a lethal weapon of mass destruction. Initially, the work of Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard at Columbia University was funded to take the science deeper. Whilst they focused on radioactive isotope separation and nuclear chain reactions, parallel research activities were undertaken by other prominent scientists in North America. To consolidate the state of the art of this new science discipline with seemingly immense military potential, President Roosevelt authorized the formation of the Manhattan Project on 28th December 1942 to weaponize nuclear energy.

The physics of Einstein and Oppenheimer provided fundamental theory in the development of atomic weapons.

A United States First Day Cover commemorating the work of Enrico Fermi that resulted in the Atomic Bombs that ended World War II

The creation and eventual use of the atomic bomb engaged some of the world's leading scientific minds working in collaboration with the United States military. In 1943, theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was already working on the concept of nuclear fission (along with Edward Teller and others), joined the team tasked to build a bomb and test it. He was named Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory located in northern New Mexico and would soon play a key role in delivering the military objectives that had been set.

President Roosevelt or FDR died on 12th April 1945. Harry Truman succeeded him as the 33rd President of the United States. By that time, the Germans were sustaining heavy losses in Europe and nearing surrender. The war in Europe appeared to be coming to an end and it was clear the deployment of a nuclear device would not be required in Europe.

The Double Surrender of Germany in 1945

Adolf Hitler died by suicide in a Berlin bunker on 30th April, 1945. His designated successor was Karl Dönitz, a Naval Admiral and fanatic Nazi. Dönitz deputized Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, to negotiate the surrender of all German forces with U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

On 7th May, Alfred Jodl signed an unconditional "Act of Military Surrender" and committed to a ceasefire that would commence at 11:01 p.m. Central European Time on 8th May 1945.

Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin did not accept this "Act of Military Surrender". He argued that since the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (U.S.S.R.) had sacrificed the most troops and civilians during the war, its most senior military commander should accept Germany's surrender. Stalin further proposed that the surrender site should be Berlin as this had been the capital of the German Third Reich. Most significantly, he did not accept Alfred Jodl as the signatory of the "Act of Military Surrender". Instead, Stalin insisted that Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the Supreme Commander of all German Armed Forces, personally sign the Surrender document. Thus, the Allies decided to restage the Surrender Ceremony.

On 8th May, Keitel headed to Karlshorst, a suburb of Berlin, to sign the document, witnessed by Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov. An Allied delegation was also in attendance. At the Surrender, Keitel argued a minor point, hoping to add a clause that allowed his troops a grace period of 12 hours to ensure they received their ceasefire orders. Zhukov did not grant Keitel his request but ultimately offered Keitel a verbal promise to honour the 12-hour grace period that was sought. Due to this delay, the (second) Surrender document was not executed until after the ceasefire was supposed to have begun. By this time, it was already 9th May 1945. Thus, those in the former Soviet Union countries commemorate 9th May as "Victory Day" to this day whilst for the rest of the world, V-E (Victory in Europe) Day is celebrated on 8th May every year (the day the ceasefire was officially scheduled to begin).

A series of stamps from the coral atoll of NIUE - a self governing (but free association with New Zealand) island in the Pacific, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of VE Day. 

The Decision to Deploy Atomic Weapons

The war in Europe was now at a close, but there remained continued hostilities with Japan in the Asia Pacific region. Here the consensus among American military strategists was that the Japanese would fight to the bitter end, forcing a full-scale invasion of the island nation. An invasion scenario of Japan predicted significant casualties on both sides. But a scientific breakthrough was imminent with the Manhattan Project about to yield some lethal deliverables.

On 16th July 1945, in a remote desert location near Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated. Codenamed the "Trinity Test", this bomb created an enormous mushroom cloud that rose some 40,000 feet high.

Scientists working under Robert Oppenheimer in Los Alamos developed two distinct types of bombs: a uranium-based design called "Little Boy" and a plutonium-based weapon called "Fat Man". Both designs were constructed at Los Alamos and became key components of American strategy to end World War II in its entirety.

On 26th July, 1945, a mere 10 days after the Trinity Test, a conference was held in the Allied-occupied city of Potsdam in Germany. This conference was attended by Stalin, Truman, Churchill and Attlee.

The protagonists of the Potsdam Conference of 1945 - Stalin, Churchill, Truman and Attlee.

As an aside, the simultaneous presence of both Churchill and Attlee at this meeting is particularly interesting. After V-E Day in Europe, Winston Churchill, the then Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain, dissolved the British Parliament and called for a general election. These elections were held on 5th July 1945 after Parliament had been sitting for 10 consecutive years. Counting began directly after the close of the polls in the United Kingdom, but time was required to transport the votes of those serving overseas. So, election results were only declared on 26th July. Amazingly Churchill lost the election. So, until (and on) the 26th July 1945, Britain was represented at the Potsdam conference by Sir Winston Churchill. After 26th July, Great Britain was represented at this crucial meeting by Clement Attlee, the incoming Prime Minister from the Labour Party.

Two significant outcomes were decided at Potsdam. In the first instance, the United States delivered an ultimatum to Japan to surrender under the terms outlined in the Potsdam Declaration (which, among other provisions, called for the Japanese to immediately agree to form a new, democratic and peaceful government) or face "prompt and utter destruction”. Secondly, plans to disarm and demilitarize Germany were outlined. In addition, it was agreed that Germany would be divided into four Allied occupation zones controlled by the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

As the Potsdam Declaration provided no role for the Emperor in Japan's future, the Ruler of the island nation was unwilling to accept its terms.

With no surrender agreement in place with the Japanese, on 6th August, 1945, the "Enola Gay", a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber (named after Enola Gay Tibbets, the mother of one of the pilots, Colonel Paul Tibbets), dropped the untested "Little Boy" bomb some 1,900 feet above Hiroshima. It caused unprecedented destruction and death over an area of five square miles. Three days later, on 9th August 1945, with still no surrender declared, the "Fat Man" bomb was deployed over Nagasaki, the site of a torpedo-building plant, destroying more than three square miles of the city.

It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people died on those fateful mornings of 6th August and 9th August, 1945. On 10th August, the Japanese Government informed President Harry Truman of their intention to surrender and formally executed the necessary instruments on 14th August, 1945.

Humankind could finally declare that a world war had come to an end.

A Nuclear World

Science enabled weapons to be designed that quickly and lethally brought an end to World War II. But the end of the war was only the trigger for a non-nuclear chain reaction of events. On 12th March, 1947, President Harry Truman pledged, through the implementation of the "Truman Doctrine", that the United States would help any nation resist the spread of Communism. This triggered the "Cold War", a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. The Cold War also sparked a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, with both nations competing for supremacy in the arena of nuclear warfare. Whilst some promoted the philosophy that the possession of nuclear supremacy was a deterrent to future global conflict, others were concerned about the potential of fallout from nuclear accidents and the adverse environmental effects of the testing associated with the development of atomic weapons.

The Founding of Green Peace

It was Good Friday, on the 27th of March 1964. Most people in Alaska were about to sit down for their dinner. At 5:36 pm local time, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in North America struck Alaska's Prince William Sound. The earthquake lasted four minutes, wobbled Seattle's Space Needle, approximately 1,200 miles away (which had only just opened in April 1962). Its effects were so severe and widespread that they registered in all North American states except Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware.

Seismic waves propagating from the epicentre of the earthquake caused the planet to "ring like a bell." A total of 131 people lost their lives, 15 in the four minutes that the earthquake struck and the rest in the aftermath, as devastating tsunamis, landslides, and sub-marine slumps caused massive damage to property and the natural landscape. Geological surveys taken immediately afterwards showed that parts of the Alaskan coast had sunk by up to 3 metres, whilst other areas rose by up to 13 metres. Most significantly, much of the coast shifted about 17 metres towards the ocean. In an instant, coastal forests plunged below sea level to be subsequently destroyed by salt water. Thousands of strong aftershocks continued for weeks after the earthquake, some measuring greater than magnitude 6.2 on the Richter Scale.

As a result of this earthquake, an earthquake-monitoring system was created to gather data and help seismologists predict future earthquakes. Scientist also learnt that earthquake-related tsunamis are not always localized and can occur thousands of miles from the epi-centre of a seismic event. This led to the establishment of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (originally called the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre) to alert people in affected areas of the potential occurrence of a dangerous tsunami. This system is used even till this day.

Given the catastrophic impact of this earthquake, there was public outcry when it was announced in the late 1960s that the United States planned a series of underground nuclear weapon tests in Alaska. In 1969, approximately 7,000 protestors blocked a major U.S.- Canada border crossing in British Columbia, carrying signs that read "Don't Make A Wave" (referring to the earlier tsunamis of 1964). These protests did not discourage the United States from testing and detonating a nuclear weapon. Whilst there was relief that no earthquake or tsunami followed the first test, opposition grew when the U.S. announced they would follow the initial test by detonating a second nuclear device five times more potent than the first one.

This second announcement caused immense consternation. Opposition to the proposed test mounted. One of the demonstrators was Jim Bohlen, a veteran who had served in the U.S. Navy during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bohlen was also an engineer who had worked on the U.S. Inter-continental Ballistic Missile program but emigrated to Canada after becoming disillusioned with the U.S. government's nuclear policy during the Cold War. Other demonstrators included Irving and Dorothy Stowe, both members of the Sierra Club (founded in 1892 by a group of Californians who wished to sponsor wilderness outings in "the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast"). They were frustrated that the Sierra Club was not doing more to prevent nuclear testing.

In October 1969, Bohlen and the Stowes' started meeting at a church basement in Vancouver, British Columbia. They called themselves "The Don't Make a Wave Committee". They officially established themselves in early 1970, and thus the seeds of "Greenpeace" were sown. The initial founders of the Don't Make a Wave Committee were Dorothy and Irving Stowe, Ben Metcalfe, Marie and Jim Bohlen, Paul Cote and Bob Hunter. 

It is reported that Irving Stowe influenced Bohlen in the practice of passive resistance where objectionable activity is protested by a mere physical presence. It was Jim Bohlen's wife, Marie, who came up with the idea to sail to Amchitka, the site of the American nuclear testing, to resist the tests passively. Her thinking was inspired by the anti-nuclear voyages of Albert Smith Bigelow in the 1950s, which were unsuccessful but had noble intentions. Bigelow, a distinguished U.S. Naval Officer, who had served for the United States during World War II, objected to nuclear weapons. In fact, he resigned from the US Naval Reserve a month before becoming eligible for his pension as a form of personal protest.

This stamp from the Federated States of Micronesia celebrates Linus Pauling. The American is the only person to have been awarded two undivided Nobel Prizes. In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and eight years later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to weapons of mass destruction. 

The plan evolved. In their effort to stop the testing of nuclear devices at Amchitka, "The Don't Make a Wave Committee" chartered a boat, the "Phyllis Cormack". They set sail for Amchitka Island and positioned the Phyllis Cormack in harm's way, challenging the United States military in a show of passive resistance. The mission would be called Green Peace 1. The story goes that the name "Greenpeace" for the Amchitka mission came about when one of the founding team members, Bill Darnell, had in his mind that the word "green" was fundamental to their goal, As he thought about this, someone flashed him a peace sign, and he said, "Let's make that a green peace!". Afterwards, when making a button pin for "Green Peace", they found insufficient space on the button pin for two words, and so Green Peace became "Greenpeace"!

In 1971, Dr. Patrick Moore joined the Don't Make a Wave Committee. It is reported that Moore was quickly accepted into the inner circle of the initial founding team on the basis of his ability to provide practical, scientific based insights into discussions.

In the autumn of 1971, the Phyllis Cormack sailed towards Amchitka but was confronted by the U.S. naval vessel, Confidence. The green activists were forced to return from progressing to the testing zone. The detonation of the nuclear bomb that the group had attempted to stop eventually went ahead but subsequent tests were cancelled. The nuclear tests gained widespread criticism. Five months after the group's maiden mission and show of passive defiance, the United States halted the entire Amchitka nuclear test program. The island was later declared a bird sanctuary.

In 1972, The Don't Make a Wave Committee changed its official name to the "Greenpeace Foundation". Greenpeace was growing and was synonymous with the idea of an anti-nuclear world.

Opération Satanique: A John Clancy Thriller or a Case of the Truth Being Stranger than Fiction

I first came to hear about Greenpeace in the mid-1980s. At the time, I was on a work assignment that had me based in Italy. I recall visiting a friend in Milan one Sunday morning in August 1985. As we sipped our Lavazza coffee outside a small cafe at the Piazza del Duomo - the main square of Milan - named after the Cathedral of Milan (the Duomo), I noticed a group of young people carrying placards with the words "Greenpeace" and "Rainbow Warrior". I had my camera with me, struck up a conversation and soon understood that the flagship vessel, the Rainbow Warrior, of the environmental activists' group, Greenpeace, had been sunk in Port Auckland in New Zealand. The vessel was on a mission to lead a flotilla of yachts in a marine protest against French nuclear testing at the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia.

A stamp from Bosnia and Herzegovina presenting the Greenpeace vessel "Rainbow Warrior" that was bombed by French agents in New Zealand.

During previous nuclear tests at Mururoa, protest ships had been boarded by French commandos after sailing into the shipping exclusion zone around the atoll. But this time, the Greenpeace vessel had been attacked. My limited Italian language skills allowed me to understand that bombs were used to sink the vessel and a person had been killed. As we continued discussing this intriguing topic I introduced myself, and I was surprised to learn that the victim killed in the bombing, one Fernando Pereira, carried the same surname as I do. Not only that, he was a photographer by profession and my new Italian friends found it almost suspiciously co-incidental that I not only carried a similar surname but I also had an expensive looking Pentax camera strung around my neck.

As our conversation got more profound, I realized that these activists, demonstrating in Piazza del Duomo, believed that the bombing operation, code-named Opération Satanique (Operation Satan), had been carried out by the French Foreign Intelligence Services. France had initially denied all responsibility for the incident, but the Kiwi authorities captured two French agents. I was shown some excerpts, apparently from the Italian newspapers that quoted several political figures, including then New Zealand Prime Minister, Davide Lange, referring to this bombing as an act of state-sponsored terrorism.

The incident severely strained diplomatic relations between France and New Zealand for a period. In fact, in France, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister, Charles Hernu.

Investigations by the New Zealand authorities revealed that two French agents, Captain Dominque Prieur and Commander Alain Mafart, were involved and they were captured on New Zealand territory. They were charged with crimes ranging from arson to murder. They pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were each sentenced to ten years in prison.

The other agents of the French team all escaped from New Zealand. Christine Cabon, whose role had ended before the bombing, had left for Israel immediately before the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. After she was identified as a co-conspirator in the operation, Auckland police requested that the Israeli authorities detain her. Cabon was tipped off and fled Israel before she could be arrested.

Three other agents, Chief Petty Officer Roland Verge ("Raymond Velche"), Petty Officer Jean-Michel Bartelo ("Jean-Michel Berthelo") and Petty Officer Gérard Andries ("Eric Audrenc"), who had transported the bombs to New Zealand on a yacht, escaped by that yacht. But they were arrested by Australian police in Norfolk Island. A technicality in Australian law did not allow them to be held in police custody until the results of forensic tests performed on the yacht were known. In the interim, they fled Australian waters in the dark of night and were picked up by the French submarine, "Rubis", in an escape befitting any of the spy thrillers written by John Clancy.

In the months and years that followed, France defiantly continued to conduct nuclear testing in the South Pacific while Greenpeace also pursued its marine protests in the area. Indeed, in October 1985, just months after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, France conducted even more underground testing of a nuclear weapon in the South Pacific just hours after its Navy commandos seized an anti-nuclear protest ship of the environmental group a few miles from the test site.

The October 1985 test, codenamed "Hero", was the first since the scandal over the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. The Hero test was widely publicized and carried out in the presence of French Prime Minister, Laurent Fabius, Defense Minister, Paul Quiles, a bipartisan parliamentary delegation and a dozen journalists who were flown to the South Pacific on an Air France Concorde aircraft for the occasion. Both the seizure of the vessel and the considerable publicity given to the test, in the presence of the French leadership underlined France's determination to ignore protests in the region over its nuclear test policies.

In a blaze of publicity, French Premier, Laurent Fabius, flew to French Polynesia in 1985 in an Air France Concorde to observe the "Hero" nuclear tests after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. This First Day Cover was issued to commemorate his visit.

The mass destruction potential of nuclear weapons was clear for all to see. In fact, treaties banning nuclear weapons testing (except for underground testing) had been executed since 1963. The issue with these treaties was that they were bi-lateral. It was not until the late 1990s, that a comprehensive ban, the "Comprehensive Nuclear – Test – Ban Treaty (CTBT)" was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th September, 1996. But this multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear tests for both civilian and military purposes in all environments has not entered into force as several nations have not ratified it.

Since humankind entered the nuclear era, it has been mainly activism by environmental groups such as Greenpeace that has kept a watchful check on the military complex pursuing the arms race. Many argue that it is the mere presence and immense destructive threat of nuclear weapons that have kept the world without a great war for the most extended period in recorded history.

Greenpeace in a Green World

Since the adoption of the CTBT by the United Nations, only three countries have conducted nuclear tests. These countries are India, Pakistan and North Korea. Tests have been few and far between.

Against that backdrop, Greenpeace has now no anti-nuclear cause to fight. Indeed, it appears to have changed course, redirecting its influence to bring to the public forefront the plight of polar bears and other animals living in the Arctic and other wilderness areas that are being impacted by climate change. Large media campaigns are also now being targeted against the use of fossil fuels to the extent that investment in ensuring the long-term availability of hydrocarbons as an energy source is being curtailed.

Stamps of Turkmenistan presenting the Greenpeace initiatives of today

But how are such campaigns shaping economic and political mindsets and where is this propaganda initiative taking the world?

Are the Energy Trilemma and Decarbonization Driving a Silent Move to Nuclearization?

The World Energy Council's definition of energy sustainability is based on three core dimensions: Energy Security, Energy Equity, and Environmental Sustainability of Energy Systems. Balancing these three goals constitutes a 'Trilemma', and balanced systems enable the prosperity and competitiveness of individual countries. Recognizing these goals then prompts the question: How are these objectives to be met whilst also aggressively pursuing the climate change agenda?

First world economic planners understand the issues. Access to a long term, uninterrupted sources of energy drive economic growth and preserve peace. On the other hand, politicians need to pander to the present-day trends and wishes of their voters. The modern voting public wants a green world … fast, much faster than innovation can deliver.

What then is the solution?

The facts are as follows. Whilst the world has been pursuing a renewable energy strategy, today, about 445 nuclear power reactors are operating in 32 countries (inclusive of Taiwan), with a combined capacity of about 400 GWe. In 2020 these plants delivered about 10% of the world's electricity.

Another 50 power reactors are being constructed in 19 countries, notably China, India, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, 100 power reactors with a total gross capacity of about 110,000 MWe are on order or planned. Over 300 more are at the proposal stage, some of these in nations designated "Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries". Most reactors are scheduled for deployment in Asia, with its fast-growing economies and rapidly rising electricity demand.

Increased nuclear capacity in some countries is the result of an uprating of existing plants. This is being demonstrated as a highly cost-effective way of bringing on new capacity. Numerous power reactors in the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Finland, and Sweden, as examples, have had their generating capacity increased.

There are no firm projections for retirements of plants over the next two decades. Still, the World Nuclear Association's 2019 edition of The Nuclear Fuel Report estimates 154 reactors shall be decommissioned by 2040 in its reference scenario. They also utilize conservative assumptions about new licence awards and permit renewals and estimate 289 plants coming online.

What's Next?

Today, Greenpeace is the world's most visible environmental organization, with entities in more than 55 countries and over 2.9 million members worldwide. Amchitka, it has turned out, was only the beginning of what would come to be a much bigger story. Ironically, it is likely that activism against the use of fossil fuels, led by organizations like Greenpeace and others, will only lead to the eventual proliferation of the use of nuclear energy. There are innovative solutions in areas such as CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage) that would allow fossil fuels to co-exist within a clean world in a low risk Energy Trilemma strategy. But present day hostile activism, disinformation and a lack of political long term vision do not promote these ideas. 

Returning to the energy strategy of the French nation; it has a long legacy in the discipline of nuclear physics. Pierre and Marie Curie were the discoverers of elements that demonstrated radioactive properties. Marie Curie's accomplishments include being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. More incredibly, to date, the Curie family has received the most Nobel prizes, with four prizes awarded to five individual laureates (note 1).

Pierre and Marie Curie - Nobel Laureates

I do not condone much of what the French nation did in the South Pacific in pursuit of its own long term goals. Between 1966 and 1996, France conducted 193 nuclear tests in French Polynesia (with several adverse health complications, long-term environmental and social impacts for those living in the area – see note # 2). In the face of passive resistance from Greenpeace, negative media exposure and widespread public criticism, the nation proceeded along a path less travelled. But through this process, France acquired the knowledge, technology and experience to now produce 75 percent of its electricity requirement from nuclear power plants (the highest percentage of any country on Earth). On the positive side, it claims a high level of recycling of spent nuclear fuel rods and has never utilized an atomic weapon in war.

First Day Cover commemorating the opening of the French Phenix Nuclear Power Station in 1974. This plant was decommissioned in 2009. 

In the absence of alternative technical solutions to fulfil the requirements of the Energy Trilemma, I believe that short term political expediency may see superficial wind and solar projects prevail but, the long-term direction of first world economies and the well-informed will be to silently follow the example of France and increasingly rely on nuclear power. 

If the currently popular mantra of eliminating the use of fossil fuels is pursued, then those without the courage of their convictions will have little choice but to eventually allow nuclear energy to dominate their long-term energy mix. 

But there is a choice. If  governments can demonstrate long term vision, deploy natural resources (including fossil fuels) available to the countries that they lead, while insisting on the incorporation of technical goals demanding zero emissions in the production of energy, then we can look forward to sustainable, equitable, secure and SAFE energy supply systems. The technologies exist, so why not? 

Anti-fossil fuel extremism must end. Thought balance must be restored or we likely face a nuclear-based energy future. Many times I wonder how the founders of Greenpeace, with their historical anti-nuclear raison d' étre  feel about such a future?

End of Post.

All stamps displayed in this post are from my personal collection.

Movie: Crimson Tide.

Quote by Denzel Washington, playing the role of Capitan Hunter:

“In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself.”

P.S. The French agents who were captured in New Zealand never completed their prison sentences.

Note 1: Marie Curie's husband shared the 1903 Physics prize with her. In 1911, Marie Curie won the Chemistry Prize and in 1935, their daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie was awarded the Chemistry together with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie. In addition, the husband of Marie Curie's second daughter, Henry Labouisse was a director of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 on that organization's behalf.

Note 2: On 25 July 2021, President Emmanuel Macron of France arrived in Tahiti on a visit to French Polynesia. The visit focused on climate change, China's growing assertiveness in the Pacific region, and the legacy of French nuclear tests. Residents in the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands, located midway between Mexico and Australia, were hoping for Macron to confirm compensation for radiation victims following decades of nuclear testing as France pursued atomic weapons. Over the decades, the tests have remained a source of deep resentment, seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that disregarded the lives of islanders.

Note 3: On 28th July 2021, a 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska's coast. It was the strongest recorded earthquake since 1964.

Note 4: Dr. Patrick Moore (, was a member of the Don't Make a Wave Committee in early 1971. In 1985, Moore and other directors of Greenpeace International were present to greet the Rainbow Warrior off the coast of New Zealand on its way to protest French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Shortly afterwards, the vessel was bombed and sunk by French Intelligence operatives.  In 1986, it is reported that Dr. Moore left Greenpeace International a result of differences in approach to the implementation of policy.