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Rosenbergs: Still Guilty After All These Years By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 23, 2008


For close to sixty years, Morton Sobell dined out on his reputation as one of the innocent “progressives,” wrongly convicted, along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, of spying for the Soviet Union. After his 1969 release from Alcatraz prison, Sobell was feted by communist regimes in Cuba and canonized by fellow leftists as yet another victim of a wicked American justice system. All that changed last week.

Sobell, now 91, has finally admitted the truth. He really had been a Soviet spy – and so had Julius Rosenberg. As the New York Times – no right-wing tribune – put it in a recent report, the pair was part of “a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information, and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.” Sobell still maintains that the information he passed along to America’s enemies wasn’t especially significant, but he has at last abandoned the pretence, which he maintained for nearly half a century, that he was never a Soviet agent.

Sobell’s confession is not coincidental. It came just days before the National Archives released long-secret grand jury testimony in the world famous Rosenberg espionage case. Nevertheless, it has definitively shattered one of the enduring myths of the progressive Left. For generations of leftists, the innocence of the Rosenbergs was an article of faith. It bolstered their self-image as noble, if misunderstood idealists, forever doomed to persecution by a corrupt American system. Columbia University professor Eric Foner’s claim that the Rosenberg’s were singled out as part of “a determined effort to root out dissent” was a typical expression of the Left’s revisionism. Sobell’s admission has exposed it as self-serving nonsense. The Rosenbergs’ were in fact guilty as charged.

This much is apparent even to the Rosenbergs’ staunchest supporters: their children. Until Sobell’s confession, the Rosenbergs’ sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol, had championed their parents’ innocence. Even when declassified documents proved that Americans really had been spying for the Soviet Union, the Meeropols refused to acknowledge that their parents had been among them. As recently as two years ago, the Rosenbergs’ granddaughter, Rachel Meeropol, insisted that they “weren't guilty of what they were convicted of.” But even for the Meeropols, this defense is now indefensible. Michael Meeropol told the New York Times after Sobell’s confession, “I don't have any reason to doubt Morty.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the Rosenbergs' guilt, however, the Left will, in its standard tradition, continue to sacrifice truth on the altar of ideals. Larry Schweikart, author of 48 Liberal Lies About American History, notes that popular college history textbooks continue to give the convicted spies the benefit of the doubt and that the latest revelations are unlikely to change what students will learn about the Rosenbergs. “Some [textbooks] will use the cover-up phrases, ‘questions remain,’ or ‘some still argue’ to imply that the case isn't solved,” Schweikart predicts. “Most will state that the Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage, but what they did ‘wasn't that important.’”

Schweikart calls the representation of the Rosenbergs in these influential textbooks a

clear example of blatant bias. The textbooks state that they were innocent, and the ones that admit the Rosenbergs were guilty go on to excuse what they did by saying, "It wasn’t that bad. What they provided wasn’t important." I guess this means if a traitor gives away the army’s position, then the army moves and isn’t wiped out, everything is fine.

In any case, it’s inaccurate to dismiss the intelligence that the Rosenbergs’ passed along as insignificant. Schweikart notes that none other than Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev has acknowledged that the information provided by the Rosenbergs was “crucial to building the Soviet a-bomb.”

If historical textbooks are an unreliable guide to the Rosenberg case, the reporting of the establishment media is no better. Instead of underscoring the Rosenbergs’ guilt, media outlets have sought to raise additional doubts, especially about the allegedly unfair trial of Ethel Rosenberg. The Associated Press was quick to point out that the “grand jury testimony from [Ethel’s sister-in-law] Ruth Greenglass confirms that the trial testimony about Ethel Rosenberg typing secrets is a fabrication.” The same story was also careful to quote Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive as saying, “The Rosenberg case illustrates the excesses that can occur when we’re afraid. In the 1950s, we were afraid of communism; today, we’re afraid of terrorism. We don’t want to make the same mistakes we made 50 years ago.” In truth the Rosenberg case illustrates no such thing. Whatever the flaws of Ethel’s trial – and serious historians like Ron Radosh have argued that “judicial transgressions” did take place in her case – the evidence of the Rosenbergs’ guilt is beyond any reasonable dispute.

The fact of the Rosenbergs’ guilt is of more than academic interest. During the Cold War, communist fellow travelers sought to undermine national security by exaggerating America’s abuses, often citing the Rosenbergs as an example. The trend continues today, as anti-war activists seek to portray terrorist captives as blameless victims caught in America’s clutches. It is no coincidence that Rachel Meeropol is a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Guantanamo detainees. As Larry Schweikart observes, “The modern-day Rosenbergs are the defendants in the Guantanamo Bay court cases that will be coming up.” If so, Americans should rest assured that their country is on the right course.


Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.


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