International Criminal Courtrooms

Reading descriptions of the unusual courtroom Dan Kiley designed for the international war crimes trials at Nuremberg prodded me to do some further research into how the Nuremberg courtroom compared to those created for other international trials.

The closest counterpart to Nuremberg were the Tokyo war crimes trials, held in the former Japanese Army headquarters at Ichigaya. Similar to at Nuremberg, the primary axis of the room ran between the judges on their raised dais and the defendants in the dock. The space between the two were filled with prosecution and defense lawyers, with extensive press seating and public gallery to the right of the judges – perpendicular to the main axis – and seating for dignitaries and a motion picture booth to the left.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), first of the new generation of international tribunals created in the 1990s, adopted a more conventional layout for its first courtroom. In Alphabet City no. 7 architect Laura Kurgan dicusses the arrangement of Courtroom One, the first of three that were retrofitted into the Aegon Insurance Building in The Hague. Unlike the courtrooms at Nuremberg and Tokyo, ICTY Courtroom One positions the prosecution, defense, witness, and public in a semicircular arc facing the judges. The prosecution and defense are closest, with desks angled towards the judges, while the public sits behind a pane of bulletproof glass. More importantly, four cameras controlled from a separate booth not only film the proceedings but broadcast the proceedings on a thirty-minute delay (to protect witness confidentiality) over the internet. (You can see the feed here.) The televised proceedings represent a continuity of sorts with the post-war war crimes trials: the Nuremberg trials pioneered techincal and procedural tools for simultaneous interpretation.

The courtroom of the ICTY; the visitor’s gallery is to the left, out of frame.

Since the ICTY opened its doors, that court has been followed by others: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT; which replaces both the ICTY and ICTR), and the International Criminal Court (ICC), plus hybrid UN-national courts. While the ICTR, like the ICTY, had to make do with a pre-existing building in Arusha, Tanzania, the MICT will have a brand-new compound in Arusha and the ICC has already moved into its own purpose-built facility in The Hague.

The Chief Prosecutor and ICTR judges after a swearing in ceremony for the judges.

None of these institutions seem particularly inclined to publicize the physical arrangements of their courtrooms, so writing about them remains a work in progress for me. The ICC’s photos and B-reel of its new courtroom does show a room that’s a little more austere than the ICTR or ICTY premises, with less warm wood and more cool white. A philosophical distinction, or just a change of decorators?

Tides of War, Part One

The best-known story about environmental science and D-Day has to be that of the last-minute forecast that let the invasion go ahead. That prediction, though, was only one of many contributions by Allied environmental scientists to the success of the invasion. Another was the secretive preparation of mundane but vital preparations for the assault: calculating the tides for D-Day.

The theoretical basis for tide prediction was the work of Newton, Daniel Bernoulli, and Pierre Simon Laplace, the third of whom was the first to outline the equations that describe the rise and fall of the tides. Laplace’s equations were too complex to use in practice, but in the mid-nineteenth century the British scientist William Thomson (later ennobled as Lord Kelvin) demonstrated that, given enough tidal measurements, one could use harmonic analysis to divide the tide-generating forces for a particular shoreline into a series of waves of known frequencies and amplitudes (the tidal constituents). That same process, carried out in reverse, would let one predict the tides along that shore. Unfortunately, making those calculations was was time-consuming the point of impracticality. However, Thomson also demonstrated that it was possible to construct an analog machine that would do the necessary work automatically.

Thomson’s machine drew a curve representing the height of the tide with a pen that was attached to the end of a long wire. The wire ran over top of a series of pulleys, which were raised and lowered by gears which reflected the the frequency and amplitude of the tidal constituents. As each pulley rose or fell, it affected the length of the wire’s path and thus the position of the pen. Altogether, they reflected the combined effect of the tidal constituents being simulated.

Thomson's design sketch for the third tide-predicting machine, 1879. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Thomson’s design sketch for the third tide-predicting machine, 1879. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The first machine, built in 1872, had gears for only ten constituents, but later machines could represent many more. Machines of his design, many of them built in Great Britain, were also used in other countries to create the necessary tide tables for their ports. In the United States, a different mechanical approach developed by William Ferrel was used to build similar machines. Altogether, though, tide-predicting were specialized, expensive, and rare. According to a modern inventory, only thirty-three were ever built – twenty-five of them in London, Glasgow, or Liverpool.

During the Second World War, the Admiralty Hydrographic Office relied on two tide-predicting machines operated by Arthur Thomas Doodson at the Liverpool Tidal Institute to do all their tidal calculations. One was Thomson’s original machine, refitted to handle twenty-six constituents. The other was a machine designed by Edward Roberts in 1906 and equipped for forty constituents.

Both Doodson and the Tidal Institute had their own unique histories of military collaboration. Doodson, despite being a conscientious objector, had worked on anti-aircraft ballistics for the Ministry of Munitions during the First World War. The Institute, established in 1919 with corporate and philanthropic support, had an important connection with the Admiralty’s own Hydrographic Department. Though the Hydrographic Department did not provide any direct funding until 1923, after that it made the Institute the Admiralty’s exclusive supplier of tide calculations. At the same time, the Hydrographic Department began appointing a representative to the Institute’s governing board.

Though they were the basis for only some of the Institute’s Admiralty work during the war, the tide-predicting machines in Liverpool were busy creating tide tables for Allied ports. According to historian Anna Carlsson-Hyslop’s research, the number of tidal predictions being performed doubled from 77 for 1938, the last pre-war year, to 154 for 1945. (Carlsson-Hyslop’s research is focused on areas of the Institute’s work other than the creation of tide tables, but much of it sheds light on its relationship with the Royal Navy and state patronage.)

In 1943 the Admiralty Hydrographic Office requested calculations to create tide tables for the invasion beaches to be used on D-Day in Normandy. Since the landing zone remained top secret, Commander William Ian Farquharson was responsible for establishing the constituents and providing them (anonymized under the codename “Point Z”) to Doodson in Liverpool. Unfortunately, there were no existing calculations for the area of the beaches. Nor, because tidal constituents were sensitive to local conditions, could he just extrapolate from the data for the ports to the east and west at Le Havre and Cherbourg. Instead, Farquharson combined fragmentary data from some local measurement points near the beaches, clandestine on-the-spot measurements made by Allied beach reconnaissance teams, and guesswork to come up with eleven tidal constituents. Oceanographer Bruce Parker suspects that he began with the Le Havre constituents and then adjusted them to approximate the data he had. The calculations, despite the roughness of the information on which they were based, proved sufficiently accurate for the invasion planner.

In the Pacific, tide tables for amphibious operations were generated by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey’s Tide Predicting Machine No. 2. In both theaters, as well as the Mediterranean, oceanographers supplemented the tide tables for beaches with wind, wave, and surf forecasts. The story of wave forecasting is, if anything, even more cloak and dagger than that of the D-Day tide forecasts, since one of the scientists involved was actively suspected (incorrectly) of being a Nazi sympathizer.

Dr. E. Lester Jones, Chief, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, with the Tide Predicting Machine he built. Harris & Ewing, photographer, 1915. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

A US tide predicting machine, probably No.2. The caption from the Library of Congress attributes the machine’s construction to E. Lester Jones, Chief of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. Harris & Ewing, photographer, 1915. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Beyond their civilian and military wartime work, tide-predicting machines had an oblique impact on Second World War cryptanalysis. Those developments would eventually put the machines out of work after the war, but not before the machines would have their final strategic significance.

Forward to Part Two, including Source Notes (soon)


Indigenizing a Biography

9780887558245_300_450_90One of Canada’s modern Indigenous war heroes, the First World War sniper Francis Pegahmagabow has already been the subject of several biographies and the inspiration for  a novel, Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden. Now a new book by one of Pegahmagabow’s descendants offers a new perspective on the man’s life and world.

Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Frances Pegahmagabow by Brian D. McInnes collects a series of stories told to McInnes by two of Pegahmagabow’s children, as well as by Anishinaabe (or, as McInnes prefers in the book, Nishnaabe) elders in the Georgian Bay area where Pegahmagabow lived after the war. Some of the stories are traditional legends. Others are about Pegahmagabow or the community in which he lived. Though only a few deal with his war experiences per se, the stories in Sounding Thunder add to our knowledge of Pegahmagabow’s life and times.

As importantly, though, they also challenge the traditional perspective on how to discuss that life. Instead of writing a biography which integrates the stories into the narrative, McInnes chooses to present each of the stories on its own and in its entirety. Only after presenting the story does he provide a chapter that contextualizes it and connects it with Pegahmagabow’s history. The stories are also printed in Ojibwe, with an interlinear English translation and discussion that makes it clear that the English can only approximate the nuances of the original text (which originated themselves in oral tellings).

That decision was, at least for me, instructive and illuminating. It highlighted the Indigenous origins of the knowledge about Pegahmagabow, its preservation by his children Duncan and Marie, and the way that its presentation as biographical evidence is an explicit choice (and not the only one) in presentation. McInnes’s writing and his translations of the stories tell the non-Ojibwe-speaking reader quite a lot a lot about Pegahmagabow and his home in the community of Wasauksing. So, in a different way, does McInnes’s decision that Anishnaabe storytelling should be the focus and not the substructure of his book.


The Last Steps

Active History has a pre-Remembrance Day blog post by Claire L. Halstead on The Last Steps, a recently unveiled First World War memorial on the Halifax waterfront.

The memorial takes the shape of an arch and stands on the city’s harbour front; a gangplank purposefully leads the observer’s eye up the pier, through the arch, and right out to sea. Footprints (cast from an authentic soldier’s boot) burnt into the wooden pier conjure up impressions of souls from long ago. In this, Nancy Keating, the Nova Scotia artist who designed the memorial, succeeds in imparting on the observer the haunting emotion the memorial is intended to convey. The memorial stands as a testament to the last steps soldiers took in Halifax before departing for the Great War.

One of Halstead’s comments about the memorial is that there’s a tension over its location. Despite its title and its positioning, The Last Steps is actually about a kilometer away from where Canadian soldiers who departed through Halifax actually embarked. Instead of being at Pier 2, the memorial is at Pier 21 close to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and on a far more traveled part of the waterfront.

Two questions which Halstead poses are a) “is it acceptable to sacrifice an essence of historical accuracy to ensure public engagement?” and b) whether the spatial distortion in The Last Steps‘s location could be “reconciled by expanding the scope of the memorial to include and emphasise Halifax’s contribution to the war in addition to the men who departed from it.”

I wonder whether the fact Halstead even poses the question is connected to the fact that The Last Steps is a mimetic memorial whose footprints, gangplank, and arch are built to look like an artifact of the era rather than a modern allusion. We know that the map is never the territory and that even “on this spot” markers make concessions to traffic and construction. The National War Memorial in Ottawa stands on a spot hallowed by nothing in particular from the war it commemorates, apart from proximity to Parliament. Not every question about a memorial’s location has to do with its style, as another post on Active History demonstrates, but in this case I feel like the memorial’s look has to be a factor.

Kiley at Nuremberg

“What I was trying to do was have a unified and orderly and dignified [courtroom] – that’s what the courtroom should be, and it should reflect the scales of justice too.”

— Dan Kiley on the courtroom at Nuremberg

Creating the physical spaces for the war crimes trials at Nuremberg was one of the last tasks performed by the OSS’s Presentation Branch before the service was dissolved and the branch transferred to the State Department. The designer was Dan Kiley, an architect who had been recruited by his friend Eero Saarinen from the Army Corps of Engineers and had replaced Saarinen as chief of design for the branch.

Kiley was something of an odd choice to do the work. Though a trained architect, he had never designed a courtroom and would never design another again. After the war, he became famous as a landscape architect, often doing work for his friend Saarinen. As Kiley himself told it, the job was something of a fluke. The Presentation Branch was already responsible for similar work at the United Nations conference in San Francisco. In compensation for not getting to go to San Francisco, branch chief Hugh Barton offered Kiley the chance to go to Nuremberg instead.

On the other hand, despite the apparent mismatch – why was the Office of Strategic Services designing a courthouse? – the project was a return to the Presentation Branch’s roots. Since its inception, the branch’s mission was to make the presentation of complex information clear, logical, and even captivating. How else would you describe the responsibilities of the international military tribunal at Nuremberg?

In fact, the branch had been created by the OSS’s founder, Bill Donovan, to build a grand automated briefing room for President Roosevelt. Though that project had foundered, it had begat an organization with a broad range of design skills. Kiley himself showed the breath of his talents on the Nuremberg project. He planned the renovations of the entire court building, not just the courtroom but also offices, restaurants, medical clinics, and a shop (the Army PX). His attention to detail included designing furniture for the building to be made from old plywood and putting a gray velvet panel on the chief prosecutor’s lectern so that  his papers wouldn’t fall off.

His arrangement for the courtroom, Joseph Disponzio has explained,  reflected a willingness to break traditional norms to achieve the necessary impact. Instead of positioning the audience of observers and journalists behind the adjudicating parties, with the judges facing both, Kiley positioned the audience perpendicular to the axis of judge–parties, giving them a far better view of the proceedings. A film screen facing the audience allowed for the projection of some of OSS’ other work on the trials, the documentary films.

The Nuremberg courtroom as soon from the press gallery. Note the alignment of the dock and judges’ dais, with lawyers in the foreground and film screen to the back.

Kiley’s work stood in rare company alongside the Ichigaya courtroom, where the International Military Tribunal for the Far East convened, until the 1990s saw the creation of new international criminal courts, bringing their own requirements and sensibilities to the presentation of international justice.

Source Note: In the mid-1990s, Kiley gave an oral history interview to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. A shortened version was published in the book Witnesses to Nuremberg, edited by Bruce M. Stave and Michele Palmer with Leslie Frank. The description of Kiley’s work at Nuremberg is mostly drawn from that printed text.

Designing War Rooms

Earlier this year, Matt Novak at Paleofuture acquired some of architect Eero Saarinen’s Second World War Office of Stategic Services (OSS) personnel papers through the US Freedom of Information Act. The papers, which Novak has helpfully posted online here, seem mostly connected with his draft deferment, but they do include a summary of his work at the time.

I think Novak’s post puts a little too much intrigue into the mention of “pilot models of new weapons and devices.” Saarinen was working in the OSS’s Presentation Division, so the emphasis in that phrase should probably be on models, not on weapons or devices. For example, when it singles out one project of Saarinen’s for special praise the file picks a “three dimensional organization chart” for presenting “problems of procedure and work-flow through various parts of an organization.”

There’s no contradiction, though, between the fact that Saarinen worked in a division so far from the sharp end of the OSS’s secret war and the fact that his Selective Service papers describe him as “irreplaceable.” Within the OSS’s initial mandate, presenting information and facilitating analysis had practically as much profile as espionage and propaganda. In fact, one aspect of the work that Saarinen oversaw – “design, construction, and equipping situation rooms” — was the brainchild of the OSS’s founder, William “Wild Bill” Donovan, himself.

The idea that a presentation division could be something other than an administrative adjunct was pretty much unprecedented when Donovan sketched out his proposal for the organization that would become the OSS in 1941. President Roosevelt created the title of Coordinator of Information for Donovan in July 1941, before the US had entered the Second World War. As the name suggests, his office was supposed to collect, analyse, and circulate in intelligence, but Donovan happily pushed to extend his mandate. Sketching our early organizational charts for Roosevelt’s approval, Donovan proposed including a visual presentation division as either a major unit of the Research and Analysis Branch or a branch of its own that would generate propaganda movies and oversee the design of a grand war room for the President. (This is described in CIA historian Thomas F. Troy’s monograph Donovan and the CIA: A History Of The Establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency [available here], from which I’ve drawn most of the details.)

The grand war room was, despite what you might expect, not a minor part of Donovan’s planned agency. Instead it was presented as one of the COI’s major contributions to the war effort. Operating from the core principle that “most government officials, including the President,” were “suffering from mental fatigue from shuffling a large number of papers.’” (qtd. in Troy), Donovan proposed an entire building (or “War Theatre Building”) that would include a main presentation room, economic room, ultra-secret “inner sanctorium,” and twelve theater rooms. Construction was to be overseen by the impresario who had co-directed and produced King Kong, Merian C. Cooper.

Despite the insane grandiosity of the plan, it had the backing of the president, who approved $2 million of the $3.8 million Donovan requested for it in COI’s first budget. That was more than was budgeted for short wave international broadcasting, research and analysis, or movie production. Only intelligence activities got more, at $2.5 million, while medium wave international broadcasting also received $2 million.

That $2 million budget is ample proof that the President was at least initially enthusiastic about Donovan’s vision. So was Captain Francis C. Denebrink, who evaluated COI’s facilities for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). In his report, he considered the war room one of the few projects worth taking over (though its $2 million budget may have been a factor). On the other hand, Walter Bedell Smith, JCS secretary and future CIA director, considered it a “big toy” that would be more or less useless.

When the COI was subordinated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1942 (after the name-change to OSS), the presentation division switched gears and began buildng a war room for the Chiefs in their building at 19th and Constitution. Its not clear, at least from Troy’s narrative, whether this was intended as a stepping-stone to a grander facility or a scaling-down of Donovan’s grandiose plans, but in the end the idea of a presidental war theatre was abandoned.

Leading designers such as Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Henry Dreyfuss had already been hired as consultants for the presidential room by the OSS. Design historian Barry Katz has described the innovative equipment that they and their colleagues (including the young Saarinen) proposed to include (see my blog post on this for links). There would be “epidiascopes” for projecting opaque images onto a screen, “stereomotographs” (or automated slide projectors), and a “Variable-Speed Statistical Visualizer” that would use electric lights to represent relative quantities. Even the smaller-scale setup for the Joint Chiefs featured one room with a full-wall world map with spotlights, projectors, and magnetic symbols, and a second with a proscenium arch and film, slide, and reflecting projectors. Presentation really was a big deal within the OSS.

Expertise in creating war or situation rooms extended beyond those for the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff. One of the memos in the personnel file mentions that Saarinen “designed and supervised the construction of the OSS PW Room” (PW probably means “political warfare” in this context). One of Saarinen’s colleagues, Paul Childs (the future husband of Julia Childs), designed war rooms for the joint Anglo-American South East Asia Command (SEAC) in Sri Lanka and for US general Albert Wedermeyer in China.

In his memoir, future CIA deputy director Russell Jack Smith recalls being interviewed for a job at OSS in the “OSS presentation room.” This “spectacularly beautiful room … was the scene for top-level OSS briefings, and behind the richly handsome draperies along the walls were floor-to-ceiling sliding panels bearing highly classified maps.” His interviewer, Ray Cline, was the chief of the Current Intelligence Staff (part of R&A) and responsible for maintaining the maps and information.

Cline’s own memoirs flesh out the description a little more. He describes the room, which he says was designed by Saarinen, as

a beautifully decorated, air-conditioned briefing room complete with three layers of sliding map panels, a huge, fluted natural wood colmn as room divider, and a modest briefing theater … Because we stored secret State cables, SI reports, and magnificent rubber and plastic topographic models, and because Donovan and [John] Magruder wanted to impress visitors with our early morning oral briefings for senior OSS officials, we had a uniformed guard at the door to admit people by name only.

The OSS room, at 2430 E Street, sounds more elegant but less technologically impressive than the room built for the Joint Chiefs on Constitution Avenue, but both reflected that Donovan’s keen interest in visual presentation as an important practice.

Nor were the war room projects the only examples of Donovan’s personal fascination with presentation style. He was the driving force behind a set of giant 50” diameter globes that were given to President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. The map on the sphere’s surface was prepared by OSS’s Map Division, which belonged not to the Visual Presentation branch but to Research and Analysis, and printed and mounted by the Weber Costello Company in Illinois. The globes themselves were fabricated from cherrywood and mounted on a set of rubber balls designed by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss on behalf of Visual Presentation. (One of the cartographers shared his recollections in an article in Imago Mundi, many years later.)

How significant was the work that Saarinen did during the war. With hindsight, “irreplaceable” seems a little much. But a big war demanded big plans and big spaces to make and interpret them, and Saarinen was part of that process. So were colleagues like Donal McLaughlin, who helped design the spaces and symbols for the conference that established the United Nations, and Dan Kiley, who did the same for the war crimes trials at Nuremberg.

How Not to Network a Nation

petersI’ve been looking to read How Not to Network a Nation by Benjamin Peters since MIT Press announced it last November, but a mixture of delays, library closings over summer, and general busyness meant that I didn’t lay hands on a copy until a few weeks ago. I’m really glad that I remembered, since it’s a wonderful book that sheds a lot of light on the development of computer networking and the internet.

Peters examines a series of failed attempts to create large-scale civilian computer networks in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, which he explains in the context of the Soviet economy and the development of cybernetics as a discipline. (Those wanting a overview of the argument can listen to his lovely interview with the New Books Network). By analyzing these Soviet proposals, Peters not only describes Soviet efforts at network-building but also sheds some light on the parallel processes going on in the United States.

Comparing the success of the Internet to the failure of the Soviet network proposals helps highlight the distinctive features of the network that ultimately developed out of the US ARPANET experiment. It also casts what Peters calls the “post-war American military-industrial-academic complex” in the unusual role of altruistic and disinterested benefactor. In contrast to the Soviet Union, where the military and its suppliers jealously guarded their power and priorities, the US government ended up funding a lot of research that – though loosely justified on the basis of military need – was more or less unrelated to specific military requirements and ended up being spread far and wide through civilian connections before it ever proved to have military significance.

How Not to Network a Nation is probably most rewarding for those with some knowledge of the Soviet economic and political system, including its perennial bureaucratic battles and black markets deals for influence and resources. (Anyone wanting to know more, for example, about the debates over how to mathematically optimize the planned economy, with or without computers, should read Francis Spufford’s well-footnoted novel Red Plenty.) Its biggest omission is any discussion of the technical features of the Soviet projects. Arguably, one of the reasons that the internet became the Internet is that it was built from architecture (particularly TCP/IP) flexible enough to span multiple thinly-connected networks with varying capabilities and purposes. That flexibility made it possible for networking to thrive even without the kind of deliberate and wide-ranging support that a large-scale, well-planned project would have required. Peters’s book, illuminating as it is, never addresses those aspects of network development.