HAVANA TIMES — What happened to the Rosenbergs pisses me off. I’ve known their story since the time I was in high school (they made us read a number of documents about their trial, carefully selected for the 10th grade history textbook).
In June, Cuban television remembered the sad date of their execution.
At the height of McCarthyism, Ethel and Julius, two young, American communist intellectuals, were accused of having leaked the “secret of the atomic bomb” to the soviets and were condemned to death.
According to Wikipedia, the two “were ultimately sent to the electric chair on June 19, 1953. Articles from the time report that, though Julius died after the first discharge, his wife Ethel, despite being a petite and supposedly fragile woman, endured three electrical discharges before dying, a fact blamed on the design of the chair, constructed for a larger person, whose electrodes had not been “adequately” adjusted to the woman’s body.”
Within the context of the United States’ war against Korea, “communist” and “spy” were practically synonyms, but the “deadly” 1917 espionage law invoked during the Rosenberg case, we hear today, was not justly applied, as the Soviet Union and the United States were not technically at war.
There have always been doubts about the facts of the case. In the 1990s, Russia and the United States released documents that reveal that Julius (not Ethel) was in fact working for Soviet intelligence, and that he apparently leaked, not information about the bomb (presumably because he never had access to them), but less spectacular information about the construction of radars.
In any event, Julius was condemned to death for a crime he did not commit, and his wife was, in fact, innocent. In any event, he also acted in accordance with his convictions.
I won’t delve into the political and moral dilemma of whether it was right for an American communist to spy for the Soviet Union at the time, or whether it would have been right, during that same time, for a British anti-Stalinist socialist to maintain ties with his country’s secret services (that militant’s name was George Orwell). I am interested in another aspect of the case.
Said bluntly, I deplore ANY “sanctioned murder” (as I said, it is not even clear how “legal” the execution of the Rosenbergs was, but I deplore it just the same).
It is said Ethel and Julius were the first American civilians ever to be executed on charges of espionage.
Near Havana’s Colon Cemetary, there is a discrete little monument of the Rosenbergs. The faces of the couple look down on passersby from a brick stele crowned by a flock of pigeons.
I wonder: in the days of Stalinism, how many civilians were executed in the Soviet Union on false (and absurd) charges of espionage?
Where are their monuments in Havana?
Of the thousands of Soviet citizens who came to Cuba to aid in its economic development (from 1961 to 1991), there were surely some who were the relatives or friends or colleagues of those executed.
If there is one day in which we remember the cruel death of the Rosenbergs, each and every day of the year is surely the anniversary of the forced departure of hundreds or even thousands of the innocent victims of Stalinism.
The Cold War gave rise to a schizoid, imaginary geometry.
There are still those whose minds operate on the basis of that geometry.