Reds not dead

August 16th, 2008
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Every once in a while a newspaper headline will highlight developments in a court case long since past, especially if there’s even the faintest hint that the convicted might have been innocent. These stories are particularly poignant if the person was executed.

So it was that the case of the Rosenbergs, America’s notorious atom spies of the early 1950’s recently made news. There has been a long standing debate whether Ethel Rosenberg was wrongly convicted – her husband Julius’s guilt having been admitted by all but the most ardent Red apologists. It seems that Ethel’s brother, who was instrumental in smuggling A-bomb secrets via Julius to the Soviets, could have fingered her in order to protect his own wife and himself.
All fair and good. Enough real life tragedy to fill a clutch of news stories, if not a Shakespearean tragedy.
The amazing thing about these recurring stories is the absolute lack of context. The focus is on the minutiae of the individual case, kind of like the voluminous discussion of the “magic bullet” in the JFK assassination. The possible miscarriage of justice, in the Rosenberg case at least, crowds out the facts of espionage, treason and the implications of an early Soviet atomic bomb.
The political spin, or rather the subtext that the Left pursues in these stories, is that there are (were) fundamental lapses in justice in the Western democracies. The cases are churned over and over and assume legendary proportions – Sacco and Vanzetti, Eddie Slovik (the only American shot for desertion in WWII), and the “Haymarket martyrs”. The latter I only know about because a long red light in Ottawa gave me time to read more of an anarchist placard than I really wanted to.
What is left unsaid in all this is that, when you look at such “clear” injustice in democracies, how much better are they really than places like Russia, China, or Cuba. So these cases feed the moral equivalence narrative that remains with us to this day.
Yes if, that is if, Ethel Rosenberg was wrongly executed that would be a great tragedy, a great injustice. It does diminish a democracy when something like that happens. Assuming that in Rosenberg’s case it actually did happen.
What all this genteel discussion ignores is of course that in Soviet Russia, China and elsewhere, there where millions of people killed, thousands summarily executed, without so much as a second thought; let alone a gut wrenching public debate stretching out over decades.
So a real moral equivalence debate would have millions of actual unjust executions, plus millions more possibly unjust executions on the one side, and then the handful on the other side. We are talking now about nationals of the principal countries here, not foreign nationals killed unjustly – that’s another debate for another time.
Let’s have more debate on the Rosenbergs I guess. Every article proves the real, material superiority of Western democratic society over the others; the fact that the articles are even written. But pause a moment for all the millions of nameless, faceless victims. No articles will ever be written about them, describing their families and the peculiar, personal, unique way they met their fate. Sorry Ethel, but those are the facts.
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