This week marks the 50th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. This BBC article is a pretty good indication of how the left views the case, now that 50 years have passed and Julius Rosenberg’s guilt has been conclusively proved by Soviet documents and the Venona intercepts of Russian transmissions from the U.S.
The BBC doesn’t quite claim that Julius was innocent, but you have to read nearly to the end of the article to learn that “records and testimony from intelligence sources in both America and Russia, suggests that Julius had been involved in giving some sensitive information to Soviet contacts, in support of the war effort against Hitler.” In fact, there is no doubt whatever about Julius’ guilt.
This grudging admission of Rosenberg’s guilt appears to be, in the BBC’s view, a relatively minor point. The BBC implies that Rosenberg was just trying to do his part to help out the war effort, a theme that is echoed by the Rosenbergs’ son Robert. The BBC implicitly questions the significance of the nuclear secrets that Rosenberg gave to the Russians, referring to them as “secrets”–as though everyone knew how to make nuclear weapons in the 1940’s. And, of course, the “anti-Communist witch hunt” was the context of the prosecution.
The BBC notes that: “The Rosenbergs were certainly Communists, but the man whose evidence did most to convict them – Ethel’s own brother – later admitted that he had fabricated his story to save his own skin.” This is extraordinarily dishonest, since what Greenglass said, many years after the fact, was that he had no idea who had typed certain documents–typing that he attributed to Ethel in his trial testimony. His recantation had nothing whatever to do with Julius’ guilt, which is undeniable.
Predictably, the BBC draws a parallel between the Rosenbergs’ prosecution and the current war against terror, although the nature of the connection is unclear.
The interesting question about the Rosenbergs is that of Ethel’s guilt. For a balanced discussion of her role, see Ronald Radosh’s and Joyce Milton’s definitive book, The Rosenberg File. It is certainly true that the evidence presented against Ethel at trial was flimsy, and to that extent the trial can legitimately be criticized. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that Ethel was almost certainly guilty. She and Julius were both committed Communists; Julius’ life was organized around his espionage for Stalin. It seems highly unlikely that Ethel could have been unaware of his activities. Probably the strongest evidence that Ethel, like Julius, was guilty is the fact that it apparently never occurred to either of them to separate her defense from his.
For a differrent take on the 50th anniversary, see Radosh’s “Open Letter to the Rosenberg Son” in FrontPage Magazine.
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