Elizabeth Warren, Rosenberg stooge

The Rosenbergs

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

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.

Tony Kushner

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.

Senator Warren

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.

The letter

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.

President Eisenhower

“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.

Arthur Miller’s crucible

Yesterday we started exploring the life and career of the late playwright Arthur Miller, who continues to be viewed by mainstream American cultural commentators as a pillar of principle – and who, since his death in 2005, has been shown to have been an active Communist.

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Arthur Miller in 1966

Indeed, historian Ron Capshaw has shown that Miller, even after becoming a famous writer, was careful to alter his political views in accordance with changes in Party orthodoxy. To sum up these changes briefly: during the 1930s, the CPUSA rejected all non-proletarian literature (i.e., literature that did not center thematically on the oppression of the workingman by the capitalist system); in 1944, under Earl Browder, the Party became more tolerant, accepting certain kind of non-proletarian writing as legitimate; a year later, however, after Browder was replaced as head of the Party by William Foster, “Browderism” became heresy. Through all these shifts in policy, Miller kept one finger firmly in the wind, dutifully reflecting the pronouncements of the Party bosses in his plays and other writings.

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Later, he would write The Crucible as an outraged reaction to the execution for treason of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose crime was nothing less than having helped pass the secrets of the atom bomb to the Kremlin. What’s interesting is that while he opposed the Rosenbergs’ execution, in 1949, participating in a New Masses symposium, he expressed the opinion that the American poet Ezra Pound, who had lived in Italy during the war and delivered crackpot radio speeches in support of Mussolini, should be shot. In short, while Miller viewed fascist treason as a capital crime, then, he did not see Communist treason in the same way.

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The original 1953 production of The Crucible

For Miller, indeed, Communism was no treason at all. In a 1996 article in The New Yorker, he explained that he had written The Crucible because he recognized certain experiences as universal: just as people in colonial Salem had turned the other way when their neighbors were arrested for witchcraft, and gentiles in Nazi Germany had turned away when their Jewish neighbors had been arted off to Auschwitz, so in the 1950s “the old friend of a blacklisted person” could be seen “crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him.”

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Senator Joseph McCarthy

Note that Miller here equated Communists not with Nazis but with the Jewish victims of Nazis; the Nazis he equated with Joe McCarthy and HUAC. Four years later, writing in the Guardian, he revisited his reasons for writing The Crucible, this time ridiculing the belief, during the late 1940s and early 1950s, “that a massive, profoundly organized conspiracy was in place and carried forward mainly by a concealed phalanx of intellectuals, including labor activists, teachers, professionals, sworn to undermine the American government.”

Miller treats this “belief” as an absurdity. On the contrary, the existence in midcentury America of a large-scale intellectual conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government is an irrefutable historical fact. Indeed, it is a fact that has become increasingly well substantiated in recent years as more and more incriminating documents from the Soviet archives have come to light.

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Nine of the Hollywood Ten

And this fact, as has often been noted, points to the central problem with The Crucible and its supposed relevance to what (thanks to Miller) came to be called the anti-Communist “witch hunt”: in seventeenth-century Salem, there were no witches; in mid twentieth-century America, there was an underground network of would-be Communist revolutionaries, and Miller was an active member of it. The executed “witches” of Salem were innocent victims; the Rosenbergs were anything but innocent, and neither were the Hollywood Ten, all of whom have been shown to be card-carrying Communists. And neither was Miller himself.

(Another failed parallel should also perhaps be pointed out: while the Salem “witches” were put to death, the Communists that HUAC and McCarthy uncovered were deprived of work by the Hollywood studios for a few years, with a few being jailed very briefly for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents. Whether or not one considers their questioning by Congress or their punishment by the studios to have been just, the fact is that most of them were extremely well-off people who did not suffer materially for having been found out as Communists.) 

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Inge Morath

Yesterday, we began our brief look at Arthur Miller by noting his image as a man of profound social conscience. One closing detail. Miller and his third wife, photographer Inge Morath, had a son, Daniel, who was born with Down’s syndrome in 1966. Inge wanted to keep the baby, but at Miller’s insistence he was put away in an institution near their home, which, according to one former employee, “was not a place you would want your dog to live.” Inge visited Daniel weekly; Miller never saw him – not once. He refused to talk about Daniel, and in his autobiography, Timebends, which came out in 1987 (by which time Daniel had moved into a group home), Miller dropped the boy entirely down the memory hole. Still later, apparently under pressure from his son-in-law, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller agreed to meet his son, who by then was doing very well and living on his own. But when Inge died, Miller told the Times obituarist that they had only one child together, their daughter, Rebecca. This from a man whose most admired play, Death of a Salesman, concludes with a famous speech in which a character, speaking at the grave of Willy Loman, passionately insists that “attention must be paid” to the life of even such an apparently insignificant person as this just-deceased salesman.

Such, then, was the moral hypocrisy of Arthur Miller – whose private morality could not have been more thoroughly inconsistent with his glorious public image as a world-class bulwark of social conscience.

The conscience of Arthur Miller

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Arthur Miller with his second wife, Marilyn Monroe

Arthur Miller (1915-2005), author of such plays as Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All My Sons, and A View from the Bridge, was – and is – considered not only one of the great dramatists of the twentieth century but also one of the century’s great embodiments of moral principle. When he died, the Chicago Tribune called him “the preeminent social conscience of the world stage, the Denver Post said he was “the moralist of the past American century,” and The New York Times, in which his obituary was headlined “Arthur Miller, Moral Voice of American Stage,” praised his “fierce belief in man’s responsibility to his fellow man.” At his memorial service, fellow playwright Tony Kushner described Miller as having possessed the “curse of empathy.” To this day, his plays are taught in American schools – not only in English classes, but also in history classes, where The Crucible is used to illustrate the supposed parallels between the Salem witch trials of 1692-3 with the interrogation of suspected Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Miller testifying before HUAC

What had Miller done to win such praise? Many of his plays were, to some extent or another, pleas for social conscience and social responsibility. They are populated by characters whose idealism is crushed or whose ambitions go unfulfilled; Miller’s apparent empathy for these losers in the game of life earned him widespread plaudits. So did his conduct when he himself appeared before HUAC on June 21, 1956. Whle admitting to having attended Communist Party meetings and been involved with a number of Communist front groups, pro-Communist appeals, and Communist-organized protests, Miller refused to name the names of other people who had taken part in these activities. This alone was enough to make him a hero on the left at the time – and a few years later, in the 1970s, when every last one of the men and women who had stood up to HUAC came to be uniformly lionized by mainstream American culture (never mind whether or not they had actually been Stalinists), Miller was consistently depicted as a man of high principle. To so much as hint that he had been a Communist was considered the most vile kind of slur on his character.

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Alan Wald

In fact, while he had declined to tell HUAC whether he had ever been a Communist Party member, the truth was that he had, at one time, at least, been a convinced Communist – and, for all we know, remained one for the rest of his life. In 2007, two years after Miller’s life, historian Alan Wald revealed that Miller had frequently written for the Daily Worker, New Masses, and other Communist periodicals in the late 1930s and 1940s, and that between March 1945 and March 1946 he had contributed theater reviews to New Masses under a pseudonym, Matt Wayne. Miller’s writings for these publications, according to Wald, were ideologically consistent with the then-current Party line and were “militantly angry” in their hostility to “imperialism,” which Miller identified as “the enemy.”

More tomorrow.