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If liberals ever admitted the Rosenbergs were guilty, they would have to admit that all those people protesting on their behalf - and warning of impending fascist tyranny in America - were total Communist stooges or complete idiots. At least they wanted to hold on to the suggestion of symmetry: "Yes, Stalin committed many excesses - but there was also McCarthyism in America!" So no matter how much evidence kept rolling in, liberals clung to the theory that the Rosenbergs were innocent.
Among the evidence tending to prove the Rosenbergs' guilt was the detailed confession of Ethel Rosenberg's brother David Greenglass implicating his sister and brother-in-law. There were the scores of eyewitnesses who painted a clear picture of a Soviet spy ring with Julius Rosenberg at its center. There was the fact that two members of the Rosenbergs' circle fled the country upon the Rosenbergs' arrest. And, of course, there was a unanimous jury verdict - or as patriot Ethel Rosenberg called it, "American fascism." As Rosenberg prosecutor Roy Cohn said, "To ask for any more, is to ask for the impossible."39
In 1983, Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton wrote a book about the case, The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth. They, too, had been "idealists," and fervent believers in the Rosenbergs' sublime innocence. And then they looked at the evidence and concluded otherwise. Indeed, so overwhelming was their case against the Rosenbergs, even OJ. defender Alan Dershowitz proclaimed it "definitive." Henceforth, he said, all "reasonable" discussion of the case must begin with the "fact that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of espionage."40
Alan Brinkley, also then a Harvard professor, said The Rosenberg File presented "a vast accumulation of small but incriminating facts, an accumulation so large (and thus far so uncontradicted) that even the most determined conspiracy theorist will have difficulty believing that it could have been the result of a calculated frame-up."41 And yet, the title of Brinkley's book review called it "A Story Without Heroes." The accusations against the Rosenbergs "may have been generally correct," Brinkley admitted, but the government's "tactics were consistently questionable and at times shamefully unethical."42 On one hand, the Rosenbergs had spied on their own country and turned over atomic secrets to a grisly totalitarian regime that would threaten American citizens with nuclear annihilation for the next fifty years. On the other hand, the prosecutors had played rough. So there were mistakes on both sides.
Yet more evidence of the Rosenbergs' guilt appeared with the publication of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs in 1990. The late Soviet premier gushed with praise for the Rosenbergs, saying they had provided "very significant help in accelerating the production of our atomic bomb." Indeed, Khrushchev was unrestrained in his gratitude: "Let this be a worthy tribute to the memory of those people. Let my words serve as an expression of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives to a great cause of the Soviet state at a time when the U.S. was using its advantage over our state to blackmail our state and undermine its proletarian cause."43
The New York Times reacted to Khrushchev's stunning if inadvertent admission of the Rosenbergs' guilt by saying it was "unlikely to settle a matter that has generated passionate books and an endless debate."44 As long as liberals refuse to concede a point, it remains unsettled." Indeed, the Times reported that reaction was "fervent and inconclusive."45 Liberals think they can defeat the truth with loudness.
Unhappy with the way the real evidence was going, in 1993, the American Bar Association staged a "mock trial" of the Rosenbergs and proclaimed them innocent.46
And then, two years later, the Soviet cables that had indisputably identified Rosenberg as a spy were declassified.
There wasn't much room for any more nails in the coffin of the Rosenbergs' guilt after that. And still the evidence kept pouring in! In 1997, former KGB colonel Alexander Feklisov gave a television interview in which he identified himself as Julius Rosenberg's Soviet controller. He praised their important contributions to the USSR's acquisition of the bomb. Feklisov said, "Julius and Ethel are heroes, real heroes," and "I don't want to take this story to my grave."47 He later boasted that "the Rosenberg network was one of the best-producing groups of agents in the history of Soviet technological espionage."48
To this day, there are liberals who refuse to admit that Julius Rosenberg was a spy. In 2002, the London Guardian would concede only this: "Recent evidence, from the so-called Venona tapes of wireless traffic between Soviet intelligence and its agents in America and from newly opened Soviet archives, strongly suggests that Julius Rosenberg may have been a spy."49 There is no comparable refusal to accept facts among conservatives. Even the right-wing militias of liberals' fevered imaginations are not this insane.
In 1992, ABC's Nightline was puzzling over the guilt of two engineers in the Rosenbergs' spy ring who fled to Russia after the Rosenbergs were arrested. Joel Barr disappeared so fast he left all his possessions behind in a Paris apartment. Alfred Sarant left behind a wife and child - but took his neighbor's wife with him. Once safely ensconced in the mother country, the USSR, Barr and Sarant were set up in fabulous apartments in Leningrad and were paid ten times more than the average Russian worker. They were given their own institute to design technology that would be used to shoot down American planes. Their work helped the USSR develop radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles later used against American planes in Vietnam.50 The deciphered Soviet cables revealed that Barr and Sarant were "among the KGB's most valuable technical spies," as Haynes and Klehr put it in Venona.51
But in 1992, ABC's Nightline didn't know what to make of a Communist Party member fleeing to Russia upon the Rosenbergs' arrest. In a program titled "American Patriot/Soviet Spy?" Ted Koppel interviewed Barr - who had recently returned to America to collect his Social Security benefits. Koppel treated Barr's spy status as an open question. As Koppel put it, "You'll have to make up your own mind." Barr had been a member of the Communist Party. He happened to know America's most notorious spy, Julius Rosenberg. And he fled to the USSR the instant Rosenberg was arrested. What evidence was Koppel waiting for? ABC News has accused American corporations of conspiring to maim and addict consumers with substantially less evidence than the evidence tending to show Barr was a Soviet spy.
Amid occasional clips of FBI agents blind with rage, screaming that Barr was a Soviet spy who had done incalculable damage to America, Koppel informed the audience that Barr had "left" the country because he was "pro-Communist." Koppel quickly explained that being "pro-Communist" was "not such a terrible thing during the U.S.-Soviet alliance of World War II." Only later, he said, being "pro-Communist" was "no longer acceptable."
The allies' compact with Stalin was a military alliance, not an endorsement of Stalin's murderous ideology. No one took seriously the idea that because of an expedient alliance, Stalin was a fine fellow. Churchill had wanted to crush Soviet totalitarianism back in the twenties. Republican presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover refused to recognize the Soviet regime (though Franklin Roosevelt's very first diplomatic act as president was to grant the USSR diplomatic recognition, coinciding, as it turned out, with Stalin's forced Ukrainian famine). Referring to the alliance with Stalin, Churchill said that to defeat Hitler he would have allied with the devil. When the United States made an alliance with mad mullahs in Afghanistan against the USSR, no sensible American would go sign up with the Taliban. In forty years, Nightline will be running a special on American Taliban
John Walker Lindh: "American Patriot/American Traitor?" You'll have to make up your own mind!
Retired FBI agent Robert Royal said of Barr, "He recruited a minimum of 18 of his classmates as Russian spies. There's no way you can describe the hideous nature of this group of people and what they did to this government, what it cost us." He said the FBI had identified Barr as a spy. To this Koppel retorted: "That may have been what the FBI concluded, but Joel Barr adamantly denies it, and the FBI has never proved it." It was a little difficult to prove, on account of Barr's fleeing the country.
Koppel joshed with the American traitor, telling Barr, "You're a piece of work, you really are." Barr was, Koppel said, "charming, engaging, at times bewilderingly disingenuous." Not disingenuous outright, but "bewilderingly disingenuous." Koppel evidently considered it out of character for Bolshevik traitors to be "disingenuous." Barr's children - who, Koppel noted, "share their father's love for music" - told Koppel the reason their father fled to the Soviet Union was that he "decided to live" there. His decision came, as luck would have it, at the precise instant the Rosenberg cell was broken and David Greenglass began to inform on the cell. Koppel was still unable to draw any firm conclusions. As he said, "Joel Barr makes your head throb."
Barr had retained his American citizenship and had even voted in recent presidential elections. Guess which party he belonged to? Guess!
KOPPEL: You voted?
MR. BARR: Of course I voted. Are you kidding? I'm a Democrat.52
Of course - "I'm a Democrat." What else would he be? He should have said - "I'm still a Democrat."
Koppel concluded with the mind-bogglingly stupid point that Barr didn't look like a spy: "He still doesn't seem to fit into any easy preconception of what a spy should be." What does Koppel think Soviet spies are supposed to look like? Jim Thorpe? Barr was a first-generation Russian Jew, born in Brooklyn, who joined the Young Communist League at the City College of New York. Apart from being a Harvard-educated patrician WASP, there was no more archetypal Soviet spy.
Only after the Venona cables irrefutably identified Joel Barr as a Soviet spy did the damnable question of whether Barr was a Soviet spy finally come into clearer focus for liberals. Clearer, but still murky. When Barr died in 1998, the New York Times wrote in his obituary, "Mr. Barr was suspected of passing secret information about technology advances to the Soviets" (emphasis mine). Dozens of Soviet cables had identified Barr as a Soviet spy.53 He fled to the USSR, where he helped develop Soviet military technology. If the Times ever produced half that much evidence in support of global warming, conservatives would concede the point. Perhaps the ABA could stage another "mock trial," this time finding Barr innocent of Soviet espionage.
In 1998, several years after Harry Dexter White's extensive espionage activities were revealed in Soviet cables, the New York Times published a letter from White's daughter scoffing at the "flimsy" evidence for the claim that her father was a Communist agent.54 Among the copious Soviet cables identifying White as a spy, one reveals that the Soviet Union offered to pay the education expenses of White's daughter to help keep him in government service where they needed him.55
These are the people who are indignant that McCarthy was not always scrupulous about his facts. Conservatives are compelled to engage in ritualistic self-flagellation over the possibility that Senator Joe McCarthy may have said he had in his hand a list of "205" rather than "57" card-carrying Communists. But liberals will never abandon their provably false assertions about Soviet spies. Listening to liberals discuss Soviet spies is like being trapped in some infernal freshman dorm debate about the meaning of words. How do we know the cat is on the mat and the mat is not on the cat? "Seeing before me a cat on a mat directly causes me to truly believe that the cat is on the mat. Such causation, though, falls desperately short of the call for the epistemic evidence that epistemically justifies beliefs."56
In 2002, the Seattle Times described the government's case against accused spy Judith Coplon as "entirely circumstantial."57 The circumstance was this: In March 1949, she was arrested while handing secret government documents to a Russian agent. I suppose you could call that a "circumstance." Needless to say, Soviet cables confirmed that Coplon was a Soviet agent. Liberal refusal to accept any evidence that any person ever spied for the Soviet Union would be exasperating if it weren't so comical.
No amount of evidence proving anyone was a Soviet spy could ever be enough. Blindingly obvious Soviet spies were treated as innocent liberals victimized by anti-Communist hysteria drummed up by Joe McCarthy. Fleeing to the Soviet Union is deemed ambiguous evidence. Handing secret documents to a KGB agent is merely "circumstantial." One could have a more fruitful discussion with a paranoid schizophrenic about his tinfoil hat than with liberals about Soviet spies crawling through Democratic administrations at the onset of the Cold War. This is the atmosphere in which McCarthy's charges have been evaluated for the last half century.
THE INDISPENSABLE JOE MCCARTHY
The truth about McCarthy will sound insane, because it has been a major goal of the left to make it sound insane. Your tax money is used to support school textbooks and college professors churning out nonsense about McCarthy. It has been pounded into people that the "Red Scare" was a weird psychological obsession and that McCarthy was the evil genius behind it. Even people who know better are constantly being forced to declaim McCarthy a very bad man just so liberals will leave them alone. It is the code word that must be uttered to gain acceptance into the halls of establishmentarian opinion. Crying "McCarthyism" is the coward's version of fatwa. Traduce the McCarthy myth and you can expect a double-blacklisting.
Despite the fevered associations of Joe McCarthy with Hollywood blacklists, ruined lives, destroyed reputations, broken careers, suicides, divorce, and depression, McCarthy's campaign was somewhat more limited in scope. McCarthy's contribution to "McCarthyism" consisted exclusively of his investigation of loyalty risks working for the federal government. He was not even particularly interested in the Communists themselves. His targets were government officials charged with removing loyalty risks from sensitive government jobs. His campaign lasted only a few years, from 1950 to 1953, until liberals immobilized him in 1954 with their Army-McCarthy hearings and censure investigation. He conducted his investigations from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the express mandate of which was - surprisingly enough - to investigate the federal government. As we now know, McCarthy was not terrorizing people purposelessly. His targets were Soviet sympathizers and Soviet spies.
Liberals use animal-like logic to string together irrelevancies from Hollywood blacklisting to the Smith Act all under the rubric "McCarthyism." It has simply become de rigueur to describe all Communists as hapless victims of "McCarthyism," irrespective of whether McCarthy had ever heard of them and certainly irrespective of whether they were Soviet spies. It would be as if conservatives grouped the violence of the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, SDS, and drunk drivers under the name "Kennedyism." Actual knowledge about McCarthy is a constant impediment to the urgent business of denouncing him. It is simply axiomatic that McCarthy was evil incarnate, just as it is axiomatic that all Republican presidents are stupid. In actual usage, "McCarthy-ism" means "Anyone looking at a liberal with a dyspeptic expression between 1930 and 1955."
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