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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Today, the usual suspects, including Susan Sarandon, Harry Belafonte and Banjo Bolshevik Pete Seeger, turn out to mourn Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on the 50th anniversary of their execution as atomic spies, while the Globe profiles the couple's sons.
The Rosenbergs remain martyrs to the unreconstructed Left, but declassified Soviet documents show them to have been guilty as charged.
Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institution surveyed the files for The Weekly Standard in December 1998.
What a tragedy the end of the Cold War has been for the kids and grandkids of the spies. How do they talk to their children about Grandpa and Grandma? If there were today a glorious Soviet socialist paradise, treason at least might be rationalized: Father tried to help create a better world. But history has rendered its verdict on Stalin’s American agents: They served a monster, their so-called socialism was a fraud, and the USSR? Gone forever. Until a few years ago, the Rosenberg sons toured the land proclaiming to friendly audiences their parents’ innocence. Then the National Security Agency declassified what have become known as the “Venona” transcripts, secret messages between Soviet KGB officers reporting on their American informants in the 1930s and 1940s, intercepted and decoded by American cryptanalysts.
These decoded messages confirmed what had already been proven in American courtrooms, namely, the treachery of Hiss and the Rosenbergs. But worse was yet to come for the true believers. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Soviet KGB archives suddenly became accessible to sophisticated students of the communist movement in America. These archives confirmed and amplified what Venona had shown. Through his American spies, Stalin in effect had installed a giant bugging device that let him listen in to the White House, the Treasury and State Departments, the Manhattan Project, the office of Vice President Henry Wallace, and the Office of Strategic Services, our wartime intelligence agency. And, yes, Harry Dexter White [a high-ranking Treasury official under FDR and Truman] was one of those spies…
It will not be surprising, though, if his daughters keep protesting his innocence. As Saul Bellow once said, “a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”
Historian Ronald Radosh, born of the Left and raised on the Rosenberg cause, came to see the couple as indeed guilty of atomic espionage, and made the case – later buttressed by the Venona Files – in The Rosenberg File.
In the end the truth remains that your parents were traitors who betrayed their country and their sons for an illusion. They acted with courage, but for a cause that was corrupt. By recognizing this you would restore their humanity, and perhaps heal the wound you obviously still feel. Instead, you have chosen to continue the charade, pretending that their cause was noble and that they were heroes of an American “resistance.” Resistance to what?