CLIO 7 (1) - page 40

demonstrated a diminished necessity for definite
evidence to substantiate accusations. It was this cli-
mate of fear and distrust that rendered the actions
of Julius Rosenberg unacceptable and unforgivable
for the United States government. Threatened by
further attempts of espionage by the USSR, they
knew they had to send a message to the Russians,
setting a precedent for the punishment of those
who committed acts of treachery against their
homeland – and the execution of husband and wife,
both members of Communist associations, ap-
peared to be the most powerful means of demon-
strating this.
Other commentators on the case also
reference anti-Semitic motives for the sentence,
although this argument has been victim to scruti-
ny by other writers and historians, citing the fact
that the main prosecution team, as well as Judge
Kaufman shared the Rosenbergs’ Jewish heritage.
The claims of anti-Semitism have been perceived as
attempts from the left to undermine the American
government of the time; according to them, the
Soviets were using subversive ‘communist propa-
ganda’ to paint a picture of the administration as
proto-fascistic. This line of counter-argument was
most notably expressed by Lucy Dawidowicz in
an anti-communist newspaper, who wrote that it
was merely a scheme to turn ‘individual Jews’ away
from the establishment, not in fact to gain freedom
for the couple.
Having considered the evidence, it would
appear that the execution served to mollify a pop-
ulation on edge in the ColdWar climate, troubled
by the newfound nuclear capabilities of the Unit-
ed States’ mortal enemy. The widespread ill-will
toward the Rosenbergs, which bordered on average
civilians baying for their blood, required placation
– and that was exactly what their sentence was
designed to do. It proved that the government was
willing to take drastic action against the communist
threat in their midst, in order to guarantee the safe-
ty of the American population. This mentality, argu-
ably clouded by politics, resulted in a punishment
that appears to contemporary readers, disassoci-
ated by more than half a century from the political
climate of the red scare, a blatant overestimation of
the severity of the crime.
The legal ramifications of this decision are
immense. However effectively it can be argued
that, in a time of such extreme uncertainty and
danger in relation to the threat of nuclear war, any
affront to national security must be met with swift
and harsh justice, regardless of legal niceties, the
execution of an American citizen without adequate
process is indubitably a shocking event. Indeed,
implications of the executions include social uproar;
along with an extensive clemency campaign taken
up by Emmanuel Bloch, the Rosenbergs’ lawyer,
many famous figures from the United States and
abroad voiced their condemnations of the execu-
tion: philosopher Jean Paul Sartre called it a ‘legal
lynching’, Pablo Picasso deemed it a ‘crime against
humanity’, along with many others including Albert
Einstein, Bertolt Brecht and Frieda Kahlo protest-
ing the decision. Even Pope Pius XII himself made a
much-publicised appeal to President Eisenhower to
spare the couple, however these interventions were
to no avail, and the Rosenbergs were put to death
on June 19th 1953.
The Rosenbergs’ case has gone down in history as
one of the most hotly debated trials of the twen-
tieth century. Despite general consensus agreeing
over their guilt, deeming the trial a sham and the
sentence too harsh, many elements of it, from the
degree of Ethel’s involvement to whether Julius
did actually supply the crucial atomic secrets at all,
are still greatly contested today. However, as the
trial primarily relied upon the testimony of David
Greenglass, a compromised witness who died three
years ago, it is hard to say whether these conten-
tions will ever be resolutely resolved. Nevertheless,
the influence of these executions on future debates
about human rights in terms of crime and punish-
ment will be everlasting.
Luca Ferraro 11D
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