The Dreyfus Case of Cold-War America?

The 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison rebellion earlier this month transported me back to 1971 in a flash. I’m amazed at how the decades have flown by. It seems like we just commemorated the 50th anniversary of my parents’ execution, but already the 60th (June 2013) is coming into view on my temporal horizon. The 60th anniversary of my parents’ arrests, trial, sentencing and even my first visit to them at Sing-Sing prison are already behind us.

We are now passing another major milestone in my parents’ deadly journey from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to the electric chair. This one will never be marked by the mainstream media, but it is one which those of us who stand in opposition to the corporate state should note.

Between August 15th and the beginning of October 1951, the independent, left-wing newsweekly, National Guardian, published a seven-part series of articles on my parents’ case by William A. Reuben. The first installment was entitled: “The Rosenberg Conviction: Is This the Dreyfus Case of Cold-War America?”

Bill (as we knew him) Reuben’s article was based upon a careful reading of the trial transcript. He concluded that my parents and their co-defendant Morton Sobell did not receive a fair trial, and that they were innocent of the charges brought against them. Up until that point newspapers, radio and then fledgling television marched in lock-step to the government’s tune. Not one media outlet questioned that my parents had been master atomic spies who were justly convicted. Even the Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker, was silent.

Reuben’s series, published in a newspaper with a circulation that was well under 100,000, sent a jolt through America’s progressive community. Within a month a courageous couple, Emily and David Alman, founded the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case. They joined with a few others who had neither money nor organizing experience. “We agreed … that we were God’s second choice to save the Rosenbergs’ lives. We agreed that God’s first choice was anyone but us. On the other hand, all there was, was us.” (Exoneration, Emily and David Alman, Green Elms Press, 2010, p. 162.)

From this humble beginning, the movement to save my parents ultimately involved millions worldwide. You won’t find it described this way in high school history books, but it was by far the largest progressive movement in this country in the early 1950’s. It is safe to write that the National Guardian stories, published 60 years ago this month, were the spark that ignited a global protest.

As I survey today’s grim political landscape, I’m keeping in mind that a series of articles by a little known reporter in an obscure newspaper energized a few political newcomers. They built a mass movement that, at the height of the McCarthy Period, came within a hair’s breadth of preventing the most powerful political entity on earth from executing two communists convicted of giving the secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

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