Fifty years ago last night, the government of the United States executed two of the most contemptible figures of the Cold War, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. And exactly fifty years later - that is, last night - the leftovers of the Cold War's losing side gathered, to wage the latest round of a decades-long struggle to exonerate their dead. A 'major cultural program' to commemorate the Rosenbergs was held in New York City's City Center. Michael and Robert Meeropol, the Rosenbergs' two sons, were the star attraction; an array of accompanying leftists played backup. Anti-war profiteer Susan Sarandon was there. So was Castroite race baiter Harry Belafonte. Long-time Communist Party stalwart Pete Seeger played a few songs. The younger generation wasn't left out - the honorees and speakers included Mazi Jamal, son of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal; and Suemyra Shah, a militant member of UC-Berkeley's Students for Justice in Palestine.
If the Rosenberg Fund for Children, the organizers of this macabre event, were successful in their aims, the proceedings' song and dance will distract the well-heeled attendees and any representatives from the press from that one, damning, most obvious fact - the Rosenbergs were guilty as sin.
No one can argue that prosecution of the Rosenbergs was flawless, or that the case was free of tragedy. Although both were found guilty of the capital crime to commit espionage, the prosecutors never intended to execute Ethel. Although guilty of the charges against her, her death sentence was primarily a pressure tactic against her husband. All expected Ethel and Julius to take the way out all traitors eventually could; they could spare themselves the death penalty by confessing their guilt and identifying their collaborators. Yet out of zeal for their Communist cause, they stubbornly refused to cooperate, choosing to go to the electric chair and orphan their two small sons.
The Rosenbergs' refusal to cooperate with the authorities, given the dire consequences for themselves and their children, convinced many naïve leftists that the Rosenbergs must have been innocent, despite the evidence presented at their trial. These people were also influenced by the Communist Party's vigorous defense of the Rosenbergs, conducted through a series of fronts.
However, the evidence emerging since the Rosenbergs' trial has been damning. The now-declassified Venona files, the decrypted telegrams of Soviet agents to their Moscow masters, mention Julius on multiple occasions. They also reveal that Ethel knew about her husband's espionage, and assisted him in his work. And starting in 1997, Julius' Soviet handler, retired KGB agent Aleksandr Feklisov, described his extensive interactions with Julius; first in a PBS documentary, later in a detailed memoir. The conspiracy charges against the Rosenbergs were just.
After the Venona files and Feklisov's account were released, only a few continued to maintain the Rosenbergs' innocence, but these few were influential. Robert Meeropol, the Rosenbergs' younger son, was undeterred; as far as he was concerned, the Venona documents, coming from the U.S government, were automatically suspect. (One wonders whether he doubts the authenticity of all three thousand telegrams, or only those dealing with his parents.) And in his latest self-serving memoir, "An Execution in the Family: One Son's Journey," Meeropol slandered Feklisov, an unrepentant Communist, as being only out for money. It seems family loyalty runs deep, even for parents who loved Communism more than their children.
With their guilt so firmly established, why were the Rosenbergs commemorated last night? Partially because Robert's behind it; he directs the Rosenberg Fund for Children which sponsored the event. But even without Robert, I suspect the commemorations would continue, since the battle over the Rosenbergs isn't just about truth, but also values. So far, we've been discussing truth, a truth so obvious even Robert has recently declared himself an 'agnostic' on whether his father worked for the KGB. But the primary purpose of the Rosenberg Fund for Children and its supporters isn't the revision of the historical record; the great myth of the innocent martyrs is far too rickety for that. Instead, the Meeropols and their allies aim to reevaluate the morality of the Rosenbergs' actions.
Defenders of the Rosenbergs have always conducted a Janus-like, two-faced defense, ever since the Rosenbergs were arrested. Out of one side of their mouth, they haltingly claim that Julius and Ethel were innocent of their crimes (in direct contradiction of the evidence). Out of the other, they say if the Rosenbergs spied for the Soviet Union, and if they refused to turn in their Communist masters, these were quite forgivable sins - honorable, even, in the face of an 'imperialistic' and capitalist America. They can't adequately deny the Rosenbergs' crimes, nor can they adequately defend them - so they do both at once, hoping to be half-successful twice.
That's why the Rosenberg Fund for Children "honors Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's legacy from the past," and "celebrates the courage of families who continue to resist today." They want Americans to see the Rosenbergs' actions as "Progressive," as an admirable stance against an oppressive America and a passionate affirmation of the just cause they believed in. But there's nothing to celebrate in Ethel and Julius' legacy. They and their fellow spies were part of a high-stakes conflict between America and a series of totalitarian dictatorships, murderers of a hundred million. The actions of the Rosenbergs and others gave the Soviet Union the atomic bomb years before American scientists anticipated. Once America was deterred by the threat of nuclear war -- the first Soviet A-bomb test was in August, 1949 -- the Soviets could be much more aggressive in their push for world Communism. It's no coincidence that their clients, the North Koreans, invaded South Korea the following year, igniting a land war that would lead to tens of thousands of American combat deaths.
The 'families who continue to resist today' didn't facilitate a war, but they're not quite worth a celebration, either. Mazi Jamal, speaking at last night's 50-year anniversary, is the son of a cop-killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was savvy enough to transform himself into a leftist icon while in prison. If his speeches at Communist propaganda rallies in Cuba are any indication, Mazi is following in his father's footsteps. And the other speaker, Suemyra Shah, has distinguished herself as a member of a radical student group well-known for disrupting classrooms and, through 'full decolonialization of Palestinian lands,' denying the state of Israel the right to exist. Have the defense of a cop killer and the support of ethnic cleansing suddenly become worth celebrating?
Both in their defense of the treasonous Rosenbergs and their support for killers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, the root of the Rosenberg Fund for Children's trouble lies in their belief in 'social justice,' a neo-Communist ideal of perfect economic equality, whose full implementation requires the vast redistribution of wealth, curtailment of freedoms, and destruction of the American way of life. Although the Rosenberg Fund for Children claims to support the children of those persecuted in the course of their struggle for this ideal, even the most radical of activists in America operate openly, as long as they don't break the law - 99.9% of the time, those who claim they've been persecuted for their politics have gone and committed some crimes or broken the conditions of their employment in the service of their political cause. Having done something wrong, they hide behind 'social justice' as a way to dodge the consequences of their actions. 'Social justice' transforms a common criminal or a bad employee into a 'freedom fighter.' 'Social justice' transforms the Rosenberg traitors into the most glorious martyrs of all. In practice, the Rosenberg Fund for Children stands for the right to commit crimes, either on behalf of America's enemies or for home-grown extremist movements, all while claiming the moral high ground. It's no wonder Meeropol and his neo-Communist allies view post-9/11 America as a new era of McCarthyism and equate the war on terrorism with a war on 'dissent.' To them, all forms of crimes are labeled 'dissent,' and hence are excusable, no matter what their consequences to our country. To them, America is beyond redeeming.
Although they died when he was six, the Rosenbergs' bad decisions have ruined their son Robert. He claims to have found peace as the executive director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which offers grants to provide for the educational and emotional needs of the children of 'persecuted activists,' many doing jail time. Some of these kids are like Mazi Jamal and Suemyra Shah, but many others are like the six-year-old Robert Meeropol, incapable of understanding the crimes of their parents or the issues that motivated them. If all the Rosenberg Fund did was provide grants to these kids, it'd be worth supporting, the moral equivalent of organizations that help the children of alcoholics or deadbeat dads or any other form of atrocious parenting. But Robert Meeropol is doing the kids he claims to help a disservice when he meets with them, teaching them that an unjust society and not their own negligent parents are to blame for their woes. I understand if Meeropol himself can't accept the truth about his parents - that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, however loving and affectionate they might have seemed, chose dying for Communism over being parents to a six-year-old boy. But to hoist similar illusions on other children is unconscionable.
In one of his interviews, Meeropol reported that many children of jailed 'activists' are angry at their parents. Of course they are - they're the victims of bad parenting. However, Meeropol helps them accept and apologize for their parents' illegal actions, installing the blinders of left-wing ideology and transforming them into another Mazi Jamal or Suemyra Shah. It seems that after half a century, Robert's finally found his niche, creating miniature versions of his own dysfunctional life. I'm sure he thinks he's helping, but that isn't help. Kids like those have enough weight to carry without anti-American chips on their shoulders.
Despite all his failings, I still can't feel much but pity for Robert Meeropol. Although his folks treated him to one miserable childhood, it's not surprising that he continues to defend his parents. Admitting the truth, that he was abandoned, would be far too painful. But his efforts to rehabilitate the Rosenbergs are both ahistorical and immoral, and his supporters, lacking his infamous parents, lack his excuse. Those who attempt to deny or justify the Rosenbergs' treason perpetuate a horrendous lie. Although it's been fifty years since the Rosenbergs' execution, we all would do well to remember - to remember the horrors of a century of Communism, to remember the draw their anti-Americanism still has on the neo-Communist Left, and to remember that criminal actions do have consequences, even those committed in the name of social justice.