Monday, March 29, 2010

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Convicted Fifty-Nine Years Ago Today: 3/29/51

(Julius and Ethel Rosenberg)

J. Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI from the time it was created until his death in the early 1970s. He was a disgusting, vile, despicable little man, allegedly a closet homosexual and cross-dresser who used the power of his office to gather dossiers on all major leaders inside this country, with specific focus on their sex lives. (The rumors about him being gay and a cross-dresser are only interesting insofar as they suggest a motive for his attacks on others -- he wanted to keep everyone from discovering his secret life which, at that time, would have led to him being fired and exiled).

During World War II, Hoover had already prepared a list of over 10,000 Americans that he thought should be rounded up and imprisoned at the first outbreak of instability within our country. When Truman took over, Hoover made a pitch to expand his already overbroad tyrannical authority, but Truman shut him down.

Supposedly it was not until 1956 that Hoover began the program later known as Cointelpro. I suspect it was begun long before that, and its first victims were likely Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed by the government in June of 1953.

The U.S. had a program during World War II to try to develop an atomic bomb. Germany also had such a program, as did Japan and the Soviet Union. Everyone working in the programs to develop those weapons were subject to strict controls to maintain complete secrecy, but later evidence shows those efforts were not entirely successful. Whether the Soviet Union developed the bomb on its own, or whether it was helped by information obtained from other countries, in August of 1949 the Soviet Union had its own atomic bomb, and Hoover saw the opportunity to increase his power once again.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested and blamed for the Soviet Union getting the bomb. The trial lasted 3 weeks, presided over by a fanatical judge Kaufman who proclaimed that the Rosenbergs were responsible for all the deaths in the Korean war, and future wars to come. He never explained exactly what he was thinking, but he was a fanatic much like the teabaggers today and not inclined to rational thought or speech.

The available evidence showed the following: (1) many different countries had programs in place during World War II to try to develop an atomic bomb; (2) it was entirely possible the Soviet Union developed the bomb through its own scientists' work, or through information obtained from other countries, or from information obtained from people who worked on the development of the bomb inside the U.S.; (3) neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg worked on development of the bomb; (4) Ethel's brother, a mechanic, had some involvement in the project while he was in the military, and claims he took some information and gave it to his sister, and the Rosenbergs passed this on to the Soviet Union; (5) the brother only got a sentence of 15 years; (6) a lot of other people were implicated as possibly spying for the Soviet Union, but were not executed; (7) the case against Ethel Rosenberg was completely fabricated, as the best claim they had was that she typed something; (8) the claim against Julius was very thin.

We also know that after the Rosenberg affair, J. Edger Hoover used Cointelpro to frame people, to send them to prison, and/or to have them murdered. This is undisputed. The only real question is whether Cointelpro or its predecessor was already in effect and was used to frame and murder the Rosenbergs.

The Rosenbergs were murdered, executed in an electric chair in Sing Sing in June of 1953. Julius died immediately after being electrocuted. When the executioners went to take Ethel from the chair, they found she was not dead, so they strapped her back in and electrocuted her again. Twice. By the time they were done, one observer reported that smoke was coming out of the top of her head.

The murder of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was considered a shocking crime of barbarity by much of the world, and some suggested that anti-semitism played a large role. We know that Hoover was an extreme bigot, and particularly targeted black Americans for decades. The U.S. government has tried for decades to clear its name by suddenly pronouncing new evidence had been uncovered. They "located" important documents from the Soviet Union that prove their charges. Some defector claims that yes, he knew the Rosenbergs. One of their friends, in his 90s by then and of questionable mental abilities, "confessed" that yes it was all true. But some people continue to believe the charges were trumped up by that fanatical little murdering weasel J. Edgar Hoover. Taffeta, silk stockings and all.

Just look at our recent history. The bush-cheney regime wanted to invade Iraq and steal its oil. So they paid some fat corrupt Iraqi-in-exile millions of dollars to publicly announce that yes, Saddam Hussein had WMD and a substantial chemical and nuclear weapons program. Then they paid some other clown to claim that Iraqis met with the 9/11 hijackers and al Queda to plot the attack on the World Trade Center. Then they paid some other clown to forge documents claiming that Iraq was in Niger getting nuclear material for missiles they would use to destroy the U.S. All lies. All purchased by millions of dollars paid by those who wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq and steal its oil. And establish permanent U.S. bases in the region.

It's impossible to believe the government when it is embroiled in these fanatic types of claims. In the case of the Rosenbergs, the legitimate question raised by the world was this: even assuming the government believes the thin and questionable evidence presented at trial, why murder this young couple, still in their 30s, parents of two small children? Did the world, post World War II, really need to see yet another nation burning Jewish people? It was a legitimate question then, but the fanatics had taken control of our government, and they wanted to murder these two people as a warning to the citizens: McCarthyism was here, and everybody better be afraid.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were the only two civilians ever executed, in the history of the U.S., for "conspiracy to commit espionage."

Pablo Picasso called the death sentence a crime against humanity. The Pope asked President Eisenhower to pardon the Rosenbergs, but he refused.

Below are excerpts from a piece by Jean-Paul Sartre. He claims that the McCarthyism and fanaticism that had taken hold of America would destroy it. He comments about the fanatics marching in American streets demanding the Rosenbergs be murdered, especially noting a little girl carrying a sign that said "Fry them and send their bodies to the USSR." Doesn't this sound exactly like the Teabaggers and the fanatics (Sartre called them fascists) in our streets today?

Sartre raised a question that is still legitimate today. Did the adoption of McCarthyism create a fascist rationale for our government which is still in effect today? Did McCarthyism, the post-World War II anti-communist ideology started by Joseph McCarthy in the Senate, and adopted by the U.S. government, provide the justification for a denial of human rights to our own citizens, eradication of our constitution and democracy, and the rationale for almost 60 years of unending wars since that time.

When the war ended, the U.S. could have chosen to commit itself to providing a good life for its people, and helping other nations in the world. Instead, we immediately jumped into a war in Korea (where we still have troops) followed by many invasions and intrusions through the 1950s, Vietnam, assaults on much of South and Central America, and now the war against the Middle East and Africa. I keep coming back to the line at the end of Easy Rider: "We blew it."

"Mad Beasts," from Selected Prose: The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre.

THE ROSENBERGS ARE DEAD and life goes on. That's the way you wanted it, wasn't it? ... You are counting on the passing time to make us day by day a little more forgetful, a little guiltier toward them and you just a little less cruel....

It's a legal lynching which covers a whole people with blood and definitively and unmistakably exposes the bankruptcy of the Atlantic Pact and your inability to assume the leadership of the West. [Y]ou thought that when you assassinated the Rosenbergs you were settling a private account. A hundred thousand voices kept saying, "They are innocent." ....

(The Rosenberg's children, Robert and Michael)

Innocents who are put to death are the whole world's business. ... From every side people cried out: "Be careful! In judging them you judge yourselves; you are deciding if you're men or beasts." Do you understand now why we begged you to hold a new trial? ...

You who claim to be the masters of the world, you had the chance to prove that you were masters of yourselves. But if you gave way to your criminal insanity, that same insanity was capable tomorrow of throwing us pell-mell into a war of extermination. No one in Europe had any illusions about it: depending on whether you gave the Rosenbergs life or death, you were getting ready for world peace or world war.

... [Y]esterday the whole of Europe, with its masses, priests, foreign ministers, and heads of state, demanded in a single voice that your president make the most human, the most simple, of gestures.

We weren't asking for your dollars, or your weapons, or your soldiers. No; we were just asking for two lives, two innocent lives.

Have you at least understood what this extraordinary truce meant? Class conflicts, old animosities, everything was set aside; the Rosenbergs had brought about European unity. Just one word from you and you too would have reaped the benefit of this unity: the whole of Europe would have thanked you. And you answered, "Who gives a fuck for Europe." ....

Do you think we're going to die for McCarthy? Bleed ourselves white so that he can have a European army? Do you think we want to defend McCarthy's culture? McCarthy's freedom? McCarthy's justice? That we'll make Europe a battleground to let this bloodstained idiot burn all the books? Have all the innocents executed and imprison the judges who protest? ...

You say that McCarthy won't last forever and that people are working secretly to get rid of him. So what? Your McCarthy has a million heads. Cut one off and a hundred new ones will grow.

Listen, I have on my desk a picture taken last Thursday in Washington: well-fed, well-dressed men and elegant women are marching to demand the Rosenbergs' necks; and in the front row a pretty young girl is carrying a sign which reads:

Fry them and send their bodies to the USSR!

You've seen these people parading through your streets while a man and a woman were living out their final hours in a prison, while two desperate children were asking in vain that their parents be given back to them. You've seen them laugh, cry out, and wave their signs and banners, and there was not a single one among you who came up and smashed their faces. There really is something rotten in America.

And don't protest that it is just a question of a few aroused people, irresponsible elements: they're the ones who run your country, since the government gave in to please them. Do you remember Nuremberg and your theory of collective responsibility? Well, today you are the ones it ought to be applied to. You are collectively responsible for the Rosenbergs' death—some of you because you provoked this murder, others for allowing it to be carried out. You have tolerated the United States' being the cradle of a new fascism, and it won't do any good for you to answer that just one murder cannot be compared to Hitler's hecatombs: fascism is not defined by the number of its victims but by its way of killing them.

Other famous people supported the demand for a new trial or freedom for the Rosenbergs including Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Dashiell Hammett, Jean Cocteau, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Fritz Lang, Bertolt Brecht, and the Pope.


  1. At the end of WWII, the U.S. had an enormous military force.
    In the mid forties, most of the manpower was discharged and sent back to civilian life.
    These citizens, wirth G.I.Bill college educations, and a lingering hope that the post war world would see the continuation of the reforms of the New Deal, posed a threat to the corporations.
    Corporate power had once again become the prime player in Washington politics, and they saw that a continuous warfare state would neutralise the pressure of reform minded people and at the same time keep the bucks where they should be- in the hands of the elites.
    A specious threat was built up, claiming that the Soviets were going to expand into Western Europe, that the Communists were everywhere on the march, etc.
    In fact, the Soviets were so weakened by the war that they were not capable of an offensive to the West. Post war documents show that at no time was Soviet policy more than defensive in nature.
    The left was neutralised in Western europe after the war, with U.S. policy aiding in the destruction of left/labor movements in most of the former allied nations.
    The political murder of the Rosenbergs was a clear warning to any questioning the Cold War policies of the new corporate warfare state- the law is what the authorities say it is, so watch your step!
    This warning has been renewed every few years with the murder of a President, reformers, reporters, civil rights activists and more than I can list here.
    The Terror is in charge here and shall be for the foreseeable future.
    Don Smith

  2. Interesting perspective, Don. I have been reading about the Weimar Republican in Germany. Maybe I'll write about it eventually. At the end of WWI, the citizens were fed up with war and suffering, and there was a mini civil war inside Germany led by people demanding left-style solutions: more for the workers, an end to the aristocracy (the Kaiser). The liberal party took up the banner and took over, marginalized the left and its demands, and created a weak liberal government that was soon overthrown by the right, the Nazis. The left had been marginalized by the liberals, so there was no left remaining to stand up to the Nazis. Very interesting.

    I think the teabaggers are just like the Nazis. My question is whether the Democrats are just like the liberal party in Germany: usurping left demands, but only providing mediocre and inadequate remedies, lacking any real solutions, leaving themselves vulnerable to attacks from the fascists.

  3. The revolution in Germany was the real thing. The Spartukus uprising in Berlin, general strikes, a communist government was put in place in Bavaria.
    The right enlisted the soldiers still loyal to the state-"Freikorps" and supported them outside the legal bounds of Germany's allowed military.
    These revolutions were crushed in a series of bloody, terrible battles, and a legacy of extra-legal action was in place which the Nazis would later use to crush the left which still remained under the Weimar Republic.
    There was a revolution in Hungary, also, which might have succeeded if foreign aid from the West had not supported the corrupt Admiral Horthy.
    France sent substantial numbers of troops to Poland to smash the Reds which were threatening to overturn the new Polish government,(yet another dictatorship, by the way).
    General Pershing was in favor of going to war with Russia to destroy the communist revolution there, however, American popular opinion was still strong enough against a continuation of the war to prevent this.
    Don Smith

  4. I've just started reading about the Weimar Republic, and that period. It's so interesting how the liberals managed to undermine the left while doing nothing to really help the people, but that left the nazis with a pretty clear road to take over. The parallels are obvious with our Democrats doing nothing to help the people, and the teabagger/Nazis becoming more threatening every day.