Julius Rosenberg and Politics of Fear

Julius RosenbergI’ve never been a good team player. If the side I’m pulling for commits a foul, I call it. Affinity doesn’t mean a great deal to me. That’s why people tend to see me as a political radical. I don’t see any reason to accept our political Overton Window. Indeed, if the Republican Party were not totally insane and divorced from reality, I wouldn’t be a Democrat. But that doesn’t much matter, given that I’m also not much of a partisan except in the sense that the Republicans basically never have any good ideas and the Democrats do.

I wasn’t born this way, of course. But like most people (I think), I was born not liking to be lied to. And all through grammar school, I was lied to. I used to be a true believer in what America stands for. But my disappointment came not because things were more complicated than young minds could understand. My disappointment came about because those in power don’t even try to live up to our ideals. It doesn’t matter if you look at Nazi Germany or Stalin Russia or 1984, the power elites are interested in one thing and one thing only: power and power and more power. I accept that. But no country’s power elite has ever made such a big show of only being interested in the ordinary folk.

Since we are nominally a democracy, it’s important to keep the people focused off what is actually keeping them down and focused on something else. Usually these things are real, just not that important. We saw just such a thing last week where 60 Minutes got the nation to weep for BP because a couple of unscrupulous small businesses conned them out of a couple of bucks. And of course, the Republicans have Benghazi! for all their followers. But the general approach is just to keep the people afraid.

And that brings us to Julius Rosenberg was was born on this day in 1918. As I said, the things were are supposed to be afraid of usually are bad things. In Rosenberg’s case, he really was a spy for the Soviet Union. The information he leaked caused the Soviet Union get get the atomic bomb anywhere from one year to not at all faster than it would otherwise have. My guess is “not at all.” This was from a period where people in the United States thought the Russians were a bunch of idiots. That was a widely held view until Sputnik.

But Rosenberg was a spy. Why did we kill him? And even more: why did we kill his wife, Ethel? There were lots of people involved in the plot, including the guy who actual stole the documents, David Greenglass. And none of them were killed. Why did we kill the Rosenbergs? Certainly, part of the reason that we killed Ethel was they were trying to use death as leverage to roll over on other people. But it doesn’t appear that there were any other people to roll over on. I think it was all panem et circenses. Killing the married couple—the Jewish married couple—was a great show! It was like a magic trick: look at the commie infiltration in my right hand while I take away your union rights with my left!

I doubt Ethel Rosenberg had anything to do with this plot other than knowing about it. Julius Rosenberg strikes me as a naive man at least as far as what he thought about the Soviet Union. But he was clear-eyed as he waited to die. He wrote:

This death sentence is not surprising. It had to be. There had to be a Rosenberg case, because there had to be an intensification of the hysteria in America to make the Korean War acceptable to the American people. There had to be hysteria and a fear sent through America in order to get increased war budgets. And there had to be a dagger thrust in the heart of the left to tell them that you are no longer gonna get five years for a Smith Act prosecution or one year for contempt of court, but we’re gonna kill ya!”

He was 35 yeras old.

Happy birthday Julius Rosenberg!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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