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Father’s Day Execution Anniversary

June 19th, the day my parents were executed, fell on Father’s Day this year. Perhaps that’s ironic because for the first time in many years, rather than holding an event to honor them both, this year, my focus is on building the campaign to exonerate my mother, Ethel.

Some supporters of efforts to reopen my parents’ case and the Rosenberg Fund for Children have expressed concern that by singling out Ethel, we’ve neglected the injustice done to my father. Exonerating my father is more complicated. Morton Sobell’s admission in 2008 that he and Julius provided military industrial information to the Soviet Union, coupled with other evidence, prevents us from claiming his innocence. Still, he was executed for stealing the secret of the atomic bomb, a crime he did not commit, and the trial testimony necessary to convict him was false.

The Exonerate Ethel Campaign emphasizes that “the Rosenbergs” were two separate people. After their arrests, however, they acted in concert. While Julius spied and Ethel did not, they both refused to falsely confess to acts they did not commit and implicate others.

Julius grew up during the great depression on Manhattan’s impoverished Lower East Side. He joined the Communist Party after witnessing its efforts to alleviate suffering in his neighborhood. He saw the rise of fascism in Europe and admired the young men who volunteered to fight Franco’s Nazi-supported army in Spain. When World War II erupted, he determined to help the Soviet Union defeat what he called “the Hitler beast.” Bad eyesight kept him out of the armed forces, so he organized several young scientists and engineers to share cutting edge military-industrial information with the USSR.

By 1950, when the government arrested him, Russia, our WW II ally, had become our enemy. In order to avoid confronting more powerful atomic scientists who had shared atomic information with their Russian counter-parts, Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents conspired to transform my passionately idealistic father, whose goal was to help the Soviet Union defend itself, into a master atomic spy. Next, they arrested Ethel, even though they knew she was not a spy, and involved the Judge in their conspiracy. With Judge Kaufman’s connivance, they used the death penalty to attempt to coerce my parents to confess to a crime they did not commit and to rat out the friends Julius had recruited.

Facing death, Julius and Ethel agreed that they would never bow to the government’s demands or betray their comrades. Even though both believed that helping to defeat Hitler was essential, they thought Ethel was insulated from Julius’ illegal activities. If he were imprisoned, they expected that she could stay home with their children.

They never considered that Julius might face execution, or that the government would develop a diabolical plan to arrest and hold Ethel hostage to the death penalty. I don’t know this, but I expect and believe what happened to Ethel was my father’s greatest regret.

My father’s day gift to Julius is working on the campaign to exonerate Ethel. It is what he would have wanted.  Read More 
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Edward Snowdon & Julius Rosenberg Discuss Patriotism

Following up on last weeks’ blog about the difference between my father’s actions and those of Edward Snowdon, I just read “a sneak peak” at an interview The Nation’s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and her husband, Stephen F. Cohen, conducted with Edward Snowdon in Moscow.

Here’s how Snowdon defined patriotism in that interview:

“[W]hat defines patriotism, for me, is the idea that one elevates - or they act to benefit - the country, right? That’s distinct from acting to benefit the government, and that distinction, that’s increasingly lost today. You’re not patriotic, just because you back whoever is in power today. You’re not patriotic because you back their policies. You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people in your country, in your community, in your family, those around you.”

This reminded me of what I wrote about my parents’ beliefs in, An Execution in the Family.

“I grew up believing that the most patriotic acts are those taken to improve the quality of life for all our nation’s inhabitants. Abel Meeropol concluded his patriotic song “The House I Live In,” “but especially the people, that’s America to me.” Ethel and Julius Rosenberg identified with poor and oppressed people in the United States and around the world rather than a government that they believed served the will of a privileged few. Ethel and Julius believed that defeating fascism would help Americans and the world…. Based on this understanding of patriotism, I believe that my parents acted patriotically.”

These remarkably similar perspectives, the essence of which is that both Julius Rosenberg and Edward Snowdon believed they were acting in the best interests of the people of their country. Both felt that they were also benefiting the world’s inhabitants.

This got me thinking that placing patriotism within a national context has become obsolete. The world faces destruction on two fronts: either nuclear Armageddon or global warming could render much of our planet marginally habitable. So far we’ve succeeded in preventing the former, but the latter seems almost inevitable unless the entire world cooperates in a massive shift in direction. In both cases all the planet’s people are in the same boat. While either global catastrophe will disproportionately impact the poor, no one will escape its impact.

Under such circumstances it becomes increasingly difficult to benefit the people of one country without acting in cooperation with and aiding people everywhere. Conversely, nations that jockey for their own advantage will end up hurting the people of all countries, including their own.

Paradoxically, the idea of patriotism will have lost its core meaning of being loyal to a particular nation state, if in order to be patriotic you must help people all over the world. Another way of looking at it is that no single nation can be secure, unless people all over the world are.

Perhaps that means that the concept of patriotism has outlived its usefulness. Read More 
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