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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's Un-American Legacy By: Edward J. Renehan Jr.
The History News Network | Thursday, July 11, 2002


Robert Meeropol - a Springfield, Massachusetts attorney and the younger son of atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg - is the founder and administrator of an interesting and ironic institution. Launched in 1990, the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC) exists, according to its mission statement, "to provide for the educational and emotional needs of children whose parents have suffered because of their progressive activities and who therefore are no longer able to provide fully for their children."

The inference seems to be that Robert and his brother Michael themselves had parents who suffered because of "progressive activities," rather than because of their willful, treasonous disobedience of American laws against espionage. Indeed, as the web site for the RFC states: "The Fund bears the name of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. On June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs were executed because they refused to implicate others by falsely confessing to giving the 'secret' of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union."

Falsely confessing? All of the evidence that has come out in the 49 years since their executions tends to indict, rather than exonerate, the Rosenbergs. In 1995, the CIA released "the Venona Cables" - decoded Soviet communications that document, along with other espionage doings, the antics of Julius and Ethel. Khrushchev himself mentions the Rosenbergs in his memoirs, identifying them as spies for Russia. Recently released KGB files backup Khrushchev's assertion. In addition, former KGB agent Alexander Feklisov has admitted to more than 50 meetings with Julius beginning in 1943, around the time Julius left the Communist Party (standard procedure for all American Communists recruited as spies). Whether Ethel Rosenberg's involvement was active or passive, it is clear that at the very least she knew of, endorsed and abetted her husband's intrigues.

Named for convicted traitors, it is perhaps fitting that the RFC includes a convicted felon on its Advisory Board: Leonard Peltier, the well-known American Indian Movement (AIM) activist. Peltier, who murdered a pair of FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, is currently serving two consecutive life terms in federal prison. On its web site, the RFC refers to Peltier as a "political prisoner."

Another "political prisoner" identified with the RFC is one Linda Evans (no, not the Dynasty actress). Before receiving executive clemency from Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001, Evans had served 15 years of a 40-year federal sentence. At the time of her arrest in 1985, she had 740 pounds of dynamite in her possession and a list of would-be targets that included the US Capitol Building, the National War College, the Washington Navy Yard Computer Center, the Washington Navy Yard Officers Club, the headquarters of the FBI, and the offices of the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. A web site sympathetic to Evans describes her occupation in the 1980s as "working to develop clandestine resistance capable of conducting armed struggle as part of a multi-level overall revolutionary strategy."

The RFC also claims a close relationship with Tom Manning. This domestic terrorist was captured in 1985 and sentenced to 58 years by the federal courts after a series of bombings. Looking back fondly on those explosions, an unapologetic Manning today calls them exercises in "armed propaganda against apartheid and US imperialism." Manning also participated in the murder of a New Jersey state trooper, Philip Lamonaco, four days before Christmas in 1981.

Peltier, Evans and Manning - all of whom advertise themselves as artists as well as revolutionaries - have on occasion donated sketches, paintings and handmade quilts to various RFC fundraising events.

Lately, in talks delivered on campuses across the nation, Robert Meeropol has embraced yet another celebrity radical: cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom Meeropol singles out as the first "political prisoner" in the US to face execution since the Rosenbergs. "About once a generation," says Meeropol, "our government has to demonstrate the dangerous nature of those who work to transform our society by executing those who symbolize radical social movements."

Of course, as regards day-to-day RFC grantmaking, the children of real political prisoners around the world need not apply. Their parents - Cuban and Chinese dissidents imprisoned for aspiring to the type of freedom that Peltier, Evans, Manning and Meeropol find so abhorrent - are not "progressive" in the eyes of the RFC.

And that's appropriate. In fact, it's exactly how Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Stalinists both) would have wanted things to be.


Edward J. Renehan Jr. is the author of several books, most recently The Kennedys at War, 1937-1945 (Doubleday, 2002). His home on the web is http://renehan.blogspot.com


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