The Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Rago attended a conference on the “artistic influence” of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg convened in Manhattan last week. According to Rago, the featured attractions were E.L. Doctorow, author of The Book of Daniel, based on the Rosenberg case, and Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America and the screenplay for “Munich.” Also in attendance were the Rosenbergs’ children, Robert and Michael Meeropol.
Rago’s brief report on the event — “Rosenberg reruns” — opens a window onto the mentality of the left and its enduring hostility to the United States as well as its tortured relationship to the truth. Consider that the guilt of the Rosenbergs has been established beyond a reasonable doubt at least since the publication in 1983 of The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton. See also Radosh’s New York Sun column “Filling in the gaps in the Rosenberg file.”
It’s hard to believe that the Rosenberg case has a continuing impact on the left today, although the syndrome on display at the conference seems to represent the heart of the contemporary left — in Rago’s words, turning treason into dissent and then patriotism. Kushner and Doctorow speak:
Mr. Kushner argued the Rosenbergs were “murdered, basically.” Mr. Doctorow went further, explaining that he wanted to use their circumstances to tell “a story of the mind of the country.” It was a mind, apparently, filled with loathing and paranoia–again, never mind the truth of the charges against the Rosenbergs or other spies of the time. “The principles of the Cold War had reached absurdity,” he continued. “We knew that the Russians were no threat, but we wanted to persuade Americans to be afraid” and so impose “a Puritan, punitive civil religion.” Pronounced Mr. Kushner: “Our failure to come to terms with a brutal past, our failure to open up the coffins and let the ghosts out, has led to our current, horrendous situation.”
Rago notes that when it came time to ask questions, the moderator instructed any “Cold War warriors” not to ask any “disrespectful” questions.
JOHN adds: Doctorow’s statement that “the Russians were no threat” is revealing. There is only one perspective from which the Russians’ global ambitions were non-threatening: the perspective of the American Communist. When we were kids on the playground, and someone threatened to go home if he didn’t get his way, one of his playmates would inevitably respond, “Is that a threat or a promise?” For American Communists, what everyone else perceived as a threat–Soviet domination–was a promise. The Rosenbergs were Communists who did all they could to fulfill the promise of Communist domination. It is remarkable that people with such Neanderthal views as Doctorow and Kushner are still taken seriously as writers and quasi-political figures.