As I wrote here in June: “From June 21st to July 5th I am joining a half dozen other members [of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights] on a speaking tour to the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima in Japan, and Taipei, Hsin-chu and Tai-chung in Taiwan.”
Thus, I was half a world away when the FBI arrested ten people and accused them of being agents of the Russian Federation. It was hard to figure out what was going on from Japan and Taiwan, but I soon learned the 10 people included four couples who collectively had seven children, and that one of the children was three years old, the exact age I was when my parents were arrested.
The media wanted to know my reaction to these events, but my rigorous schedule, limited phone and email accessibility and a twelve hour time difference forced me to remain silent until today. This was, to a degree, fortuitous because whatever I might have said last week or even two days ago would not fit today’s circumstances.
At first it appeared that these children's world was being turned upside down; they were separated from their parents and faced enduring the spectacle of their parents’ trial and long-term imprisonment. Now it looks like those who are not yet adults may be uprooted and shipped back to Russia with their parents. We don’t know if these children can speak a word of Russian, and we don’t know what kind of life they, and their parents, face in Russia. Since we have so little information we can only speculate. Still I can’t help imagining being a teenager growing up in an American suburb, with immigrant parents, who – presumably – had told you a cover story, and then discovering that your parents are not who they said they were; and next, summarily being deported to a different country.
I know of at least one teenage RFC beneficiary who suddenly discovered his parents’ secret life when his father was arrested. He has never gotten over what he considered an enormous betrayal. Is this the way some of the older children will feel? Clearly, how much the children knew, and how deeply connected they were to their parents lives would make a tremendous difference. Those who were blindsided and felt they and their parents were living a lie could be devastated regardless of how this case is ultimately disposed of. While the children would probably suffer more if they faced long-term separation from their parents, I doubt any of them will have an easy time even if they are reunited and set up in relatively comfortable lives in Russia.
While I was focused on the children initially, I can’t help but marvel at the political gulf that separates my parents’ case from the current one. The way the government reacted to the present situation stands in stark contrast to how they treated my parents.
At the height of the Cold War, the government inflated the vague charge of Conspiracy to Commit Espionage levied against my parents into the Theft of the Secret of the Atomic Bomb. We know now that my father and a group of technically oriented young adults supplied our ally, the Soviet Union, with military-industrial information to help them defeat the Nazis. But the government transformed this activity into giving our most deadly weapon to our greatest enemy and causing the Korean War.
Today the United States is engaged in delicate negotiations with Russia, and is courting their cooperation. Thus, initial claims that these people were part of a dangerous network of “sleeper” cells have been re-characterized as a poorly conceived plan of a relatively trivial nature that produced little, if any, information of value for Russia. General Leslie Groves, the head of security for the Atom Bomb project, wrote years after parents’ execution: “I think the data that went out in the case of the Rosenbergs was of minor value.” Perhaps, that is how my parents’ case would be presented if it occurred today.
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