In Cuba, where the main mode of transportation for officers is the bicycle, and the only flourishing trade is prostitution, one monument defies the crumbling setting. Even though the late Fidel Castro admitted that socialism had not worked in Cuba, one maxim remains as evidenced by the message on the monument:
“For Peace Bread And Roses We Will Face The Executioner. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Murdered June 19, 1953.”
What is telling about this is how it sidesteps debating their guilt or innocence and focuses exclusively on how they died. With their “innocence” now in ideological tatters, only their execution remains uncontested.
Ironies abound, for it was in Cuba that the couple’s labors for the Soviet atomic program brought the world the closest to nuclear war; when, in 1962, the Soviets installed offensive nuclear warheads on the island.
Sixty years after their death, the Rosenbergs funneling atomic information to the Soviet Union doesn’t provoke the intense debate it did when the Old Left could chant without wheezing and their fist-clenching not limited by arthritis. The truth of the matter is that the Rosenberg couple were a gift for the both the Left and the Right in the early days of the Cold War, The Right was provided with proof of how lax domestic security was under Roosevelt, and how American communists’ allegiance to Stalin was so strong that they were willing to endanger the lives of their fellow citizens in order to weaponize the socialist motherland. For the Left, the persecution of this Jewish couple was proof positive of a pogrom instituted by” fascist” America (it was this particular charge that compelled Joseph McCarthy to put Roy Cohn on his staff, whose zeal and recklessness secured the Senator’s downfall).
Today, the Old Left is in desperate spin mode thanks to the incontrovertible proof provided by the Venona telegrams that Julius was guilty. Declassified in 1995, these intercepted messages to and from Moscow and their agents in America established that Julius was indeed an atomic spy (Ethel’s role still remains ambiguous). Apart from those who do not accept any source coming from the American government as valid, by and large even the most die-hard members of the Left have grudgingly accepted these findings.
Michael Meerpol, their son, accepts that his father was a Soviet spy but that the information he sent did not help the Soviet acquire the atomic bomb in any way. But who would ordinarily be an ideologically impeccable source, the Soviets outed Julius’ role as an atomic spy as early as the 1960s. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev credited the couple with accelerating the regime’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb. Even in the heyday of their rehabilitation, the early seventies, leftist E. L Doctorow in his novel, The Book of Daniel, could not completely absolve them of involvement in the spy ring; he split the difference by having his fictionalized couple innocent of directly sending atomic information, but complicit in a willingness to be the scapegoats so the real spies could escape.
Running counter to Meerpol’s argument, members of the Nation Magazine Left, particularly in the letter columns, have lauded the couple as fighters against American fascism, and credit their help with the Soviets acquiring the bomb to halting any Pax Americana.
I suppose that it is a form of growth.