The Rosenbergs are in the news again. First, because one of their co-conspirators has confessed to his guilt and, second, because the release of grand jury documents indicate that one of the witnesses against Ethel Rosenberg may have changed her story. Who were the Rosenbergs? They were a New York couple who, in 1953, were both executed for passing on America's nuclear secrets to the Soviets. They have long been a cause celeb for the left, who have consistently played down or denied their guilt.
This week saw Morton Sobell, who was also convicted, and who spent almost 18 years in prison, confess that he was actually guilty. A surprise? Perhaps to those few who cling to the idea that the whole thing was a right wing conspiracy. Sobell himself had made a career lecturing about how he was innocent and had been persecuted by the US government. He even wrote a book. The rest of the world accepted the fact of his guilt back in 1951.
The grand jury documents are raising, once again, the issue of Ethel Rosenberg's guilt. Her defending say she was just the little woman. Sure, she knew what her husband was doing, but she didn't participate. At the time her brother and his wife, the Greenglasses, said she'd typed up national secrets that they had given her husband to pass along. At the trial it was the testimony of the Greenglasses that convicted the Rosenbergs and sent the to their deaths. Now the grand jury testimony has Ruth Greenglass saying that she sent the documents to the Soviets in longhand. Who is telling the truth? Or, rather, when were they telling the truth?
To be honest, the more we find out about the case the more guilty everyone convicted seems. As much as people would like to blame the McCarthyist fearmongering for sending them to their death, we know, without a doubt, that everyone, with the possible exception of Ethel was guilty. And do we know, without a doubt that she wasn't guilty? No, not really. Now I know that a criminal trial it works the other way round, only if we know a person is guilty without a doubt should they be convicted, but this case is long over. The Rosenberg's were electrocuted on June 19, 1953. And everything the jury knew pointed to 'guilty'. If she was innocent, she died because her own brother and sister-in-law lied. But was she innocent? Are we to accept the little woman defense? I know it was the era of the suburban housewife, but I really don't think 'she only knew about it' is enough to exonerate her. It is hard to put ourselves back into the reality that was America in 1950. The US had not been a world power, nor did it feel a responsibility to police the world. Indeed, historically, it was committed to isolationism. It had put that all aside to fight in World War One, and then went right back to it afterwards. Why didn't it return to isolationism after World War Two? Because the hawks that wanted a Pax Americana had the fear of the Soviet menace to use and abuse in their drive to create what Eisnehower called the Military-Industrial Complex. If the Soviets did not have the bomb, how successful would this ploy have been? Their supporters like to downplay the contribution the Rosenberg spy ring made in the development of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, but Nikita Khrushchev memoirs refute that. He was told they "had provided very significant help in accelerating the production of our atomic bomb". No doubt the Soviets could some day have made their own bomb, but by that time would the US had been the great Cold Warrior it became? Would the millions and millions of lives lost in the conflicts of the Cold War been lost if it wasn't for people of the right and left, including the Rosenbergs and Greenglasses, who worked so hard to set the world on that path?