January 27, 2006
MISTER, WE COULD USE A MAN LIKE IRVING KAUFMAN AGAIN (via Gene Brown)
Rosenberg Reruns: They were guilty, but the left can't give up their cause (JOSEPH RAGO, January 27, 2006 , Opinion Journal)
You would think, by now, with a half-century of scholarship behind us and a great deal of damning evidence on display, we would not have to be arguing about the guilt or innocence of various iconic figures of the late 1940s and 1950s: Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White or, perhaps most notoriously, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. But the martyr status of such figures seems irresistible, even today, to a certain kind of sentimental leftist. They still remain symbols of some malevolent American quality--never mind the truth of what they actually did.
Such was the lesson of a forum last week in Manhattan convened to discuss the "artistic influence" of the Rosenbergs. The invitation to the event, sponsored by the Fordham Law School, referred to the Rosenbergs as "the accused." It was a tellingly exculpatory phrase. For the record, both Julius and Ethel were convicted as communist spies and executed for espionage in 1953.
The stars of the evening were the novelist E.L. Doctorow and the playwright Tony Kushner. Mr. Doctorow is the author of "The Book of Daniel" (1971), a novel that centers on a couple loosely patterned after the Rosenbergs; Mr. Kushner wrote the play "Angels in America" (1993), which imagines the specter of Ethel Rosenberg returning to haunt various protagonists. Both works are highly sympathetic to the Rosenbergs' dilemma, if that is the right word. [...]
While the trial of the Rosenbergs was flawed by technical improprieties, their crimes are not uncertain or unresolved. Julius Rosenberg, with Ethel as his accomplice, was the head of a sophisticated spy network that deeply penetrated the American atomic program and relayed top secrets to Stalin's Kremlin. In his memoirs Nikita Khrushchev noted that the Rosenbergs "vastly aided production of our A-bomb." Joyce Milton and Ronald Radosh wrote a damning account of their activities in "The Rosenberg File" (1983). And the Rosenbergs' guilt was corroborated by the 1995 declassification of the Venona documents, thousands of decrypted KGB cables intercepted by the National Security Agency in the 1940s.
The notion that anyone would today deny their fundamental complicity in Soviet subversion is extraordinary, almost comically so. But comedy was not quite the mentality at the Rosenberg event. "Ambiguity is the key word, I think," said Mr. Doctorow, regarding our understanding of the past, though in this instance ambiguous is precisely what it is not.
Mr. Kushner argued the Rosenbergs were "murdered, basically." Mr. Doctorow went further, explaining that he wanted to use their circumstances to tell "a story of the mind of the country." It was a mind, apparently, filled with loathing and paranoia--again, never mind the truth of the charges against the Rosenbergs or other spies of the time. "The principles of the Cold War had reached absurdity," he continued. "We knew that the Russians were no threat, but we wanted to persuade Americans to be afraid" and so impose "a Puritan, punitive civil religion." Pronounced Mr. Kushner: "Our failure to come to terms with a brutal past, our failure to open up the coffins and let the ghosts out, has led to our current, horrendous situation."
A couple of points arise:
(1) The modern Left exists to amuse the rest of us--it is comic relief. If you've never read Robert Warshow's essay on the Rosenbergs' prison letters it's worth buying from the Commentary Archives or just purchasing his book, The Immediate Experience--it's a brutal hoot.
(2) It was at least somewhat possible to understand how intellectuals, artists and such were so beguiled by Communism as to become apologists for Stalinism and traitors like the Rosenbergs. But to still be under the spell is profoundly strange and the way so many on the Left are just repeating their anti-Americanism of the Cold War now that we're fighting Islamicists is in no wise forgivable. Indeed, it is evil.Posted by Orrin Judd at January 27, 2006 3:59 PM