Monday, June 19, 2006

In Memory: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

Today is Monday, 19 June 2006.

On this date in 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison in New York. They had been convicted of espionage in 1951, charged with passing atomic bomb secrets to the USSR.

Available evidence indicates that the government believed that Ethel Rosenberg played little or no role in the spying, but that she was charged and made death-penalty-eligible as leverage against her husband. There is firm evidence that the judge, Irving Kaufman, was predisposed to find them guilty. It is now known that, contrary to law and justice, the judge had secret communications with the prosecution and FBI, designed to advance the cause of conviction.

At sentencing, Kaufman drew a bizarre conclusion: “I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb … has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason.” It must be noted that the Rosenbergs were neither charged with nor convicted of causing the “Korean War” or any future nuclear holocaust.

Evidence since recovered from Soviet archives shows that the materials passed by Julius Rosenberg provided little assistance to the USSR. The most potentially-valuable materials were passed by physicist Klaus Fuchs (who received only 14 years in another proceeding) and others. Soviet records indicate that KGB chief Beria was quite suspicious of the veracity of these materials. (Thus following the lead of Stalin, who was famously, paranoidly suspicious when Richard Sorge, a Soviet spy in Japan, passed the warning that Hitler was preparing to attack the USSR.) In any case, it is self-evident that Soviet scientists would have succeeded in fabricating atomic and nuclear weapons without the assistance of espionage, although it would have taken a few more years.

The reasons the Rosenbergs were killed rather than imprisoned were several.

Half a decade after emerging as the most powerful empire in history at the end of World War Two, Americans were increasingly frustrated. Most had assumed the United States Empire/United and Subject States (USE/USSA) would easily dominate the post-World War II environment on a scale unrivaled in human history, the Manifest Destiny of the Red-White-and-Blue being an (undoubtedly) benevolent world hegemony. Many Americans preferred to believe the seemingly-inevitable triumph had been thwarted by conspiracies and an “axis of evil,” rather than by the objective correlation of global political realities.

The generation which fought the Second World War grew up in an America in which agriculture was not yet so industrialized and mechanized as it would soon become, and which still required a sizable work force, many on small family farms. (In 1920, 27% of the population was employed in agriculture. The number is less than 1/10th of that today.) Many farmers were inclined to view their struggles as the result of a greedy conspiracy of “the moneyed interests”, particularly Eastern bankers.

Most farmers were traditionally constrained to borrow money before spring planting and repaying the loans after the autumn harvest. This cycle required a spring flow of capital from Eastern banks to smaller banks in rural areas, and a reverse flow of capital and interest in autumn. This was not a conspiracy in the sense of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, but the ordinary mechanics of modern capitalism. The resulting mind-set meant that many Americans were pre-disposed to be deceived by bogus revelations of what the glue-sniffing Senator Joseph McCarthy called “a conspiracy so immense”.

The higher levels of America’s governing elites clearly recognized that the USSR stood very little chance of catching up with the USE/USSA in the struggle for global hegemony. In 1950, the combined economic productive power of the USSR plus the satellites of Eastern Europe was only 20% of that of the USE/USSA plus Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. This ratio was virtually unchanged when the Cold War concluded in 1991.

(Your author realized this ca. 1968 after crunching statistics from The World Almanac and Encyclopedia Britannica.)

The stirring battle cry, “We’re Number One by 5 to 1”, was obviously insufficient to impel the American public to squander more than $18 trillion on waging the Cold War. Fear, fear, and more fear were required to convince the American taxpayers of the mortal dangers of the phantom menace. The myth of the Rosenbergs was an integral element in manufacturing the Great Fear of the 1950s.

(For more on the $18 trillion figure, see the magisterial Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, edited by Stephen Schwartz: Brookings Institution Press; Washington, D.C., 1998.)

The Rosenbergs were Jewish. Anti-Semitism has deep and persistent roots in American culture. Unsurprising, given that the American ruling elites, like the vast majority of the pre-Civil War population, were of Christian North European origin. Their cultural prejudices flourished once significant Jewish immigration began during the Gilded Age of accelerated industrialization.

During the 1930s, it was not considered “crazy” or unbecoming to believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt was Jewish, and that his Dutch ancestors had concealed their faith by changing the family name from “Rosenfeld.” Until the late 1950s, it was also respectable in many circles to proclaim that “Communism is Jewish.” The public spectacle of ritually executing the leftist and Jewish Rosenbergs was too tempting a windfall for the Eisenhower regime to resist.

Whatever Ethel and Julius Rosenbergs did, they did sincerely believing, however mistakenly or foolishly, that the USSR, America’s wartime ally, was the international homeland of proletarian hope and resistance to Fascism. They deserved better than liquidation.


Blogger RtR said...

A really good post today H. Barrels of ink have been spilled left and right about the USE/USSA most effective show trial but what continues to elude me is how readily the national mob response can be triggered.

When I have watched the various "Oaters" depicting our National Myth I have always wanted a filmaker to make a movie depicting the subsequent lives of individual members of a lynch mob. I believe that we have accepted and welcomed these murderers back into the warp and weft of society so often that their denial, transference, rationalization and other dysfunctional coping strategies have become welded to our national political will. Whether we want to admit it or not, the naked reality is that "they, is us."

Arthur Koestler was ten years prescient with "Darkness at Noon." However, as with the Rovian refinements to the Goebbels agit-prop techniques, the "White Hats" to this day remain able to re-package the "Black Hats" evil with impunity because, after all, we're using those techniques to fight evil.

I am surely not alone in wondering how many of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution would be ratified if they were to be presented to the U.S. public today. I can opine with a high level of confidence that the 14th amendment would probably receive less than a simple majority of ratifying states.

8:06 AM  

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