Hindsight, Liars, Dupes, Denouements and the Unspeakable

Even the dispicable can’t always dodge the steamroller. Kaufman was rewarded, Greenglass spent a few years in prison, punctuated by testimonies before Congressional Committees to help forge a US package of ideas about a war on International Communism. Appropriate enough, liar lying to other liars to create a consistent set of lies. Not to suggest C0mmunists weren’t also lying. They mostly just weren’t elected and appointed officials sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Federal Judge Irving Kaufman, who subverted the legal processes in his own courtroom to predjudice the jury in favor of conviction of both Rosenbergs, then sentence them to death in the electric chair:

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kaufman graduated from Fordham Law School at the age of 21 and worked for two decades as a lawyer in New York City, mostly in private practice but also as an Assistant United States Attorney. From 1949 to 1961, Kaufman served as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, to which he was appointed by President Harry S Truman. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy promoted Kaufman to an appellate position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He served as an active Second Circuit judge from 1961 to 1987, including a term as Chief Judge from 1973 to 1980. Kaufman assumed senior status in 1987 but continued to hear some cases until his death four years later. On October 7, 1987, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.[1] He died on February 1, 1992 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan of pancreatic cancer. He was 81 years old.[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Kaufman

———-

David Greenglass testifying before a Congressional Committee in 1956.

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-3475_162-563126.html

In 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair for stealing the secret of the atom bomb for the Soviet Union.

They were called the “Atom Spies,” and 50 years ago this summer, they were executed for giving the secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They are the only Americans ever executed for espionage in peacetime.
Greenglass was the star witness for the prosecution against the Rosenbergs – and he also happened to be Ethel Rosenberg’s brother. He served 10 years in prison for his actions as a traitor, and then changed his name and dropped out of sight. As he neared 80, Greenglass decided to break his silence. He talked only after 60 Minutes II agreed to disguise his face and voice.

His story begins in the summer of 1950 when the FBI took Greenglass in for questioning. He confessed almost immediately for spying, and quickly implicated Julius, Ethel and his own wife, Ruth. David and the Rosenbergs were arrested. Ruth Greenglass never was charged.

“That’s what I told the FBI,” says Greenglass. “I said, ‘If you indict my wife, you can forget it. I’ll never say a word about anybody.'”

It was quite simply his choice, he says today. So Greenglass says he turned on his sister to save his wife. “I would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister. How do you like that?”

Greenglass made his choice when America was at war with communists in Korea, and in fear of the Soviet Union, which had recently tested its own atomic bomb.

The four spies were unlikely actors in a Cold War drama: Julius was an unsuccessful engineer; Ethel spent most of her time raising their two young sons; Greenglass was a draftsman and a tinkerer; and his wife Ruth was a wife and mother. All had been ardent communists.

During World War II, Greenglass, then a sergeant, was posted to Los Alamos, the secret army base in New Mexico, where thousands of scientists and soldiers were building the atom bomb. Although he had a low-level job, Greenglass says he knew what was going on.

He says Julius Rosenberg recruited him to spy with a simple sales pitch: “He said, ‘We have to help our ally.'” By ally, he meant Russia. “Russia was an ally at the time, and that we have to help them with all the information we get.”

Greenglass told the FBI that he gave the Russians sketches and details on the device used to trigger a nuclear blast. But he says he didn’t enjoy being a spy.

“I was continually conscious of what’s behind me. I didn’t enjoy it. I just did it because I said I would,” says Greenglass.

Did he realize how dangerous it was? “I didn’t really think it was, because I didn’t think the Russians were an enemy,” he says.

His career in espionage came to an end soon after the war ended. Back in civilian life, Greenglass and Julius opened a machine shop together. They argued over the business, and over Greenglass’ growing disenchantment with Communism.

Four years later, Julius warned Greenglass that the FBI was on to them, and urged him to flee the country. Greenglass had a family passport picture taken, but he had no intention of using it.

“I didn’t want to leave the United States to go to some hellhole like Russia or China, or wherever the hell he wanted to send me,” says Greenglass. Instead, he took a bus to the Catskill Mountains. “I figured I’d find an obscure place. And I see that the FBI is following me. And they lose me.”

But he never made it to the Catskills. He went into custody instead. And within hours, he began cooperating with the FBI, sealing the Rosenberg’s fate.

He was the star witness for the prosecution at their trial, and he told the jury about his espionage, and described the activities of Julius, Ethel and his wife, Ruth.

He testified that one evening, he and Ruth brought sketches and handwritten notes about the atom bomb to the Rosenberg’s New York apartment. After dinner, Greenglass said they set up a typewriter on a folding bridge table in the living room, and turned his hand-written notes into a neatly-typed document for the Soviets.

Prosecutors asked Greenglass who did the typing. He said under oath that Ethel did the typing. His wife, who also took the stand, told virtually the same story.

That story was virtually the only evidence the government had against Ethel Rosenberg. But prosecutors argued that Ethel’s typing proved she was an active participant in the spy ring. After the trial, they admitted that without the typing testimony, they could never have convinced the jury that Ethel was anything more than the wife of a spy – and that’s not a crime.

Why did Greenglass lie on the stand? He now says Roy Cohn, an assistant prosecutor in the Rosenberg case, made him do it. Cohn went on to become Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man.

Greenglass says that Cohn encouraged him to testify that he saw Ethel type up the notes. And he says he didn’t realize at the time the importance of that testimony.

But the jury knew how important it was, and found both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg guilty of conspiring to commit espionage. Judge Irving Kaufman imposed the death penalty.

Fifty years later, we know a lot more than anyone could have known in 1951. For example, we know that much of what David Greenglass said about Julius Rosenberg is true. It has been verified by other, independent, sources, all of which confirm that Julius Rosenberg was a Soviet spy. We also know that there is very little, if any, evidence that implicates his wife, Ethel, in any illegal activity.

But in the days before the execution, there were protests and vigils in New York, Washington and Europe. The Rosenbergs both claimed they were innocent, and many believed in them. There were a flurry of last-minute attempts to get a stay of execution. And there was no shortage of Americans who felt that justice was being done.

Up until the last minute, the authorities were willing to commute the death sentences if the Rosenbergs cooperated and named names. But they refused and were executed on June 19, 1953 – without ever breaking their silence.

Why did Greenglass think Julius and Ethel maintained their silence to the end? “One word: stupidity,” says Greenglass, who holds his own sister responsible for her own death.

—————————————-

But I promised a Denouement:

Of course, it makes no difference now. Any more than it matters who killed JFK, Robert Kennedy, MLK, and President Diem of Vietnam.

Doesn’t matter, really, any more than it matters that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the incident used to justify the US involvement Vietnam War, was a manufactured incident.  A cynical lie to dupe the US public and arouse patriotic fervor.  Same as the Rosenberg trial.

A pyramid of lies, once the foundation’s in place, builds on itself. Only the names of the liars and the names of the victims change. It’s only incidental that sometimes the victims are also liars.

If any lessons can be learned from it all it’s probably only that the romantic patriots can always be trusted. Trusted to believe the lies. The liars can’t trust one another, but they know they can always trust the romantic patriots. 

The liars couldn’t succeed without them.

Old Jules

Today on Ask Old Jules on Facebook:

Old Jules, what’s your definition of an idealist?

An idealist is a person who locks his teeth into the ankle of an abstraction and doesn’t let go, doesn’t look for another ankle, doesn’t look closely at whatever’s above and below the ankle.

Today on the Ask Old Jules Blog:  Ever Met an Alien?

Old Jules, have you ever met anyone that you suspected might be an alien from another planet or a different dimension?

 

About these ads

12 responses to “Hindsight, Liars, Dupes, Denouements and the Unspeakable

  1. Informative post. It makes me sad for Ethel Rosenberg.

  2. I remember the times and mood of the country. Good writing. Enjoyed it.

  3. What’s really changed? Nada.

    • LCTC!: Neckties aren’t as wide as they were back then, doctors don’t make house calls, women talk openly about menstrual cramps and PMS, and the Chinese are dressing better. Gracias, Jules

  4. thanks for following yesterday’s post up with this, fascinating stuff we know little about over here. Great Creedence track too, it was covered by the Gun Club on their second album Miami, good album worth a listen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s