In an interview with New York Times reporter Sam Roberts, Robert Meeropol, the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, admitted on Wednesday that “his father deserved to have been convicted of the legal charges that led to his parents’ execution. ‘Yes, he was guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage,’”Meeropol told him.
After decades of denial, and insistence that his father was framed up and was innocent, Robert Meeropol for the first time has admitted that his father — but not his mother — was legally guilty of the charge for which he had been indicted.
Moreover, Meeropol seemed to have been stunned and surprised by the revelation that Steven Usdin and I had in our Weekly Standard article about the case two weeks ago, in which co-defendant Morton Sobell revealed to us that on a July 4th weekend in 1948, he and three other men, including Julius Rosenberg, photographed top secret documents obtained for them by scientist William Perl, which they passed on directly to a KGB officer.
On this, Meeropol wrote: “I’d be less than honest if I did not admit that the latest news that Morton Sobell, my father and two others provided aeronautical information to the Soviet Union in 1948 gives me pause. My parents wrote in their last letter to me and my brother: ‘Always remember that we were innocent and could not wrong our conscience.’ My father, at least, doesn’t seem quite so innocent anymore.”
What he neglected to say is that this story, first outlined decades ago by my co-author Joyce Milton and I in The Rosenberg File, was sharply attacked by Michael, Robert’s older brother, in the book they co-authored in its second 1986 edition. Michael Meeropol had argued that this entire incident had been fabricated by the FBI in order to frame Perl and to force him to testify against his parents. Now, it seems that at least Robert Meeropol has acknowledged that the incident did take place, and that his father was engaged in very real espionage.
The significance of the younger Meeropol’s admission was well stated by Tablet magazine’s Marc Tracy, who writes that this is “perhaps the final wall of denial to fall in a case that has obsessed the American Jewish community for six decades,” and, I would add, that has been a linchpin of the American Left’s argument that the United States government was not only evil during the Cold War years, but was ready to kill regular American citizens because they were against the Truman administration’s anti-Soviet policies.
Tracy also points to my own recent article in Tablet magazine, of which he notes that whatever critics of the U.S. role in the case have argued, “most of [their arguments], especially today, Radosh persuasively argues, stems from the far left’s desire ‘to maintain their view that the only guilty party was the United States.’”
Strangely, after having said that his father was guilty, Robert Meeropol makes a statement that is not only a backtracking to his own admission, but is flatly wrong. Meeropol writes:
Ethel was not a spy and Julius was ignorant of the atomic bomb project. They were innocent of stealing the secret of the atomic bomb and they were fighting for their lives. It would have been next to impossible for them to explain to their children and supporters the subtle distinction between not being guilty of stealing atomic secrets and blanket innocence. Given that, I can understand the course of action they took from a political standpoint.
First, as John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev have revealed in Spies, Ethel Rosenberg was not only aware of the network her husband had put in place, she herself suggested that her brother David Greenglass be recruited by the KGB since he was stationed at Los Alamos. Second, and most importantly, Julius Rosenberg was not only aware of the Manhattan Project, he recruited a second atom spy, Russell McNutt, precisely because he thought that McNutt would be able to gather atomic bomb information from the plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
So when he writes that his parents “were innocent of stealing the secret of the atomic bomb,” he is only partially correct, since while they did not steal the secret, they did indeed seek to steal any information pertinent to building a successful a-bomb that they could get their hands on. As for his argument that it “would have been next to impossible” to explain to he and his brother what he calls a “subtle distinction” between stealing atomic secrets and blanket innocence, he makes no sense whatsoever.
As we now know, the secrets they stole were many, they helped serve the Soviet military machine, and they were classified and not meant to be given to any power, especially to the Soviets. Hence Meeropol’s so-called distinction is a distinction without a difference.
The rest of Robert Meeropol’s blog reveals his attempt to square the circle; his determination to still honor his parents while now acknowledging what he calls their “uncritical support for the USSR,” which actually was not that which characterizes the attitude of the whole group of US fellow-travelers, but was actual espionage on Stalin’s behalf. He still confuses what his parents did with what he calls a “more humane and just society [that] rests on the activism of ordinary citizens with family concerns” that they should take into consideration.
I and most Americans do not confuse activism for a just society with spying for a foreign power, especially one that virtually represented the totalitarian state in its ugliest manifestation. So Meeropol writes that although he questions his parents’ judgment, “I remain proud of them, even if my father did what he could to aid the Soviet Union throughout the 1940s and my mother supported him.”
Sadder even is his final sentence, in which he writes “my parents acted with integrity, courage and in furtherance of righteous ideals, and passed their passion for social justice on to me and my brother.” Their would-be integrity and courage consisted of lying about what they were doing, sacrificing their own children for Stalin’s cause, betraying their own country, and exemplified a lot of terrible things, none of them having anything whatsoever to do with furthering “righteous ideals.” Like what, I would ask him: forced collectivization of the land, the murder of hundreds of thousands, the establishment of the Gulag, the path to aggressive war in the new post-war period? What does any of this have to do with “social justice,” unless he is indicating that this was the goal that was to occur after many eggs were broken to make the perfect omelet?
One has only to look at the many comments on Meeropol’s blog to find out how the Old Left thinks. One commentator writes: “In the case of your parents I am not bothered by the fact that they were communists, nor by the apparent fact that at least your father supplied information to the USSR. Many would do the same even today in the hope of achieving peace.
On the other hand I am bothered by the reaction of a government (now and in the 1950s) that labels all dissent as treason.” The writer, like all good Old Leftists, does not realize that if any nation criminalized dissent, it was the Soviet Union. And this person would spy for that state today, if it still existed.
Another writes that history proves that the Soviet Union under Stalin was right and that Truman was wrong. Therefore “History is verifying the truths that motivated their bold actions.” In other words, they were right to spy, and history should honor them. Another relates the story of an old German Jewish refugee he knew, who also was a spy for the Soviets. This person writes: “He explained that many communists and sophisticated observers of history believed that the only sure way to prevent a return of fascism and to better the chances for a peaceful world, was to work for the social and technological development of the Soviet Union.”
They believed that, and obviously most of them still do. These are all the people who revere the two Rosenberg sons, and want to comfort them by assuring them their parents are heroes to them for betraying the United States.
I now wait for comments from Robert’s older brother Michael. In the past few years, it has become obvious they both look at their parents’ espionage somewhat differently, although they have often appeared together on panels. What does Michael Meeropol think, and will he too make his thoughts public?
And, finally, will Tony Hiss, Alger Hiss’s son who wrote one book in defense of his father many years ago, have second thoughts as well? Will he too stun the world with his own public reconsideration?
Time will tell. I never thought that one of the Rosenbergs’ children, despite all of his confusion, would ever admit publicly that his father was guilty. It is a good sign that finally, it has become hard for the truth to be ignored after so much evidence has been accumulated about the Rosenbergs’ guilt. There is still a long way to go for their many apologists, but at least a first step has been taken.