June 20, 2003
by Ronald Radosh
Fifty years ago, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for “conspiracy to commit espionage.”
Historians have reached a consensus about this case: that the death sentence was unwarranted and horrendous, particularly against Ethel Rosenberg. However, it has been established beyond the shadow of a doubt that both Rosenbergs were knowing participants or accessories to a major Soviet espionage ring.
Julius Rosenberg, with his wife’s firm support, put together a spy network that stole major American military secrets, such as the design for the first U.S. jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star, and the proximity fuse detonator, which the Soviets later used to shoot down Maj. Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane. Alexander Feklisov, Julius Rosenberg’s KGB control, called them “one of the best-producing groups of agents in the history of Soviet technological espionage.”
Despite all the evidence, the Rosenbergs’ most fervent supporters are once again trying to make this anniversary an occasion to reopen the case and to promote the idea of the couple’s essential innocence and moral heroism.
In New York City, they rallied to hear speeches from Harry Belafonte and Susan Sarandon and music from Pete Seeger, who evidently can always be counted on to appear on behalf of old lost causes. And their sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol, continue to portray them as genuine idealists who were only trying to help defeat the fascist enemy of the United States.
What is it about the mind-set of the remnants of the old and new Left that continually leads them to refuse to accept truth and instead to continue the perpetuation of old and discredited myths?
The answer is clear.
Since the Vietnam War and Watergate, it has become common among the Left to believe that the United States is singular among nations that oppress the poor of the Earth and that it regularly lies to its own people. The Left’s identification is with those who oppose the United States and, if some of those opponents cross the line from dissent to treason, that seems to be OK too.
Similarly, Saddam Hussein’s crimes against the Iraqi people are largely ignored by the Left, while many see George W. Bush as more of a criminal than the Iraqi tyrant.
Let us not be mistaken. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg did show courage and commitment—on behalf of Josef Stalin, one of the last century’s most brutal and vile dictators.
But their defenders continue to assert that if the Rosenbergs did anything, it was of minor importance, and besides, it was on behalf of a country that was then a military ally. Their defenders rely on the convoluted argument that the evidence establishing their guilt, such as the Venona decryptions of Soviet cables, were most likely “disinformation” from American intelligence agencies.
Let us be clear. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and the members of their spy network, were Soviet—not American—patriots who betrayed their own country for an illusion. They acted with courage and strength on behalf of a corrupt and evil cause.
Isn’t it time, fifty years later, for the Left to admit the truth?
This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 19, 2003.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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