Back in the day, anyone who was anyone loved the Rosenbergs. That would be Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, of course, the two American Communist Party members who gave the Soviets the secrets of the atom bomb, thereby changing the course of modern history, and whose execution on June 19, 1953 – the first time in American history that civilians were executed for treason during peacetime – raise the ire of pretty much every high-profile useful stooge in America.
Arthur Miller, who is generally considered one of the three or four great American playwrights of the twentieth century, wrote his 1953 play The Crucible in reaction to the Rosenbergs’ execution. The play, now a staple of secondary-school English classes, was about the Puritan witch trials in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, which Miller considered an apt historical parallel to the government’s treatment of the Rosenbergs – a view that has persisted on the American left, despite the fact that while there were no real witches in colonial New England, the Rosenbergs were, yes, Soviet spies. As we’ve noted previously at this site, moreover, Miller’s view of this matter was not humanitarian but purely political: while the Rosenbergs’ execution outraged him, he firmly believed that the poet Ezra Pound, who had supported Mussolini during World War II but had never passed atom secrets to the enemy, should be shot as a traitor.
Decades later, Tony Kushner, who is widely viewed as the great American dramatist of his generation, depicted Ethel Rosenberg as a veritable cultural hero and martyr in his acclaimed 1991 play Angels in America. Then there’s E.L. Doctorow, one of the most respected American novelists of his day, whose 1971 novel The Book of Daniel centers on a character, based on the Rosenbergs’ two sons, whose parents were executed for treason. It’s a brilliantly conceived novel, in that Doctorow, instead of addressing the guilt of the parents, focused on the suffering of their innocent child, thereby inviting the reader to sympathize with both the boy and his late parents and to feel anger not toward the Soviets, who in real life employed those parents as spies, but toward the U.S. government, which quite rightly executed them for treason.
Even as the contemporaries of the Rosenbergs have died off – and even after the opening of Soviet archives confirmed their guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt – people on the left have continued to express sympathy for Julius and Ethel. In October 2015, on what would have been Ethel’s 100th birthday, the New York City Council issued a proclamation identifying her as a victim of “anti-Communist hysteria.” In October 2016, 60 Minutes broadcast a sympathetic segment on the Rosenberg sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol.
Fast forward to January 2017, when the then President of the United States, Barack Obama, who was about to leave office, received a letter asking him to pardon Ethel Rosenberg posthumously. It is not unusual for presidents to receive such requests in the last days and weeks of their terms of office. In this case, however, the letter was of special interest, because it came from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
In the letter, which the Gateway Pundit website posted recently, she says that her request originated with Robert Meeropole, who happened to be one of her constituents. Needless to say, senators don’t routinely pass on such requests to presidents; looking at Warren’s letter, one can only assume that she agreed with Meeropole that his mother deserved to be pardoned – pardoned, that is, for having committed an act that was almost beyond imagining in its potential consequences.
“The nature of the crime for which they have been found guilty and sentenced,” said President Eisenhower on refusing to spare the Rosenbergs’ lives, “far exceeds that of the taking of the life of another citizen; it involves the deliberate betrayal of the entire nation and could very well result in the death of many, many thousands of innocent citizens.” Fortunately, Obama – although widely viewed as a pretty left-wing politician – appears to have agreed: he turned down Senator Warren’s request. So far, then, Ethel Rosenberg remains unpardoned. If Elizabeth Warren is ever elected president, however, that will presumably change.