"The Buck Stops Here" and Other Distortions

President Harry S. Truman was famous for the sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.” But when it came to my parents’ case this proved just as false as so many other truisms about our government - such as that all citizens be afforded due process before the law, be presumed innocent until proven guilty, or that our constitution’s “separation of powers” would prevent the judicial branch of government from conspiring with the executive branch to speed an execution.

My parents’ First Petition for Executive Clemency reached President Truman’s office on January 10, 1953, but he “vacated the Presidency on January 20, 1953, without acting on the Rosenbergs’ clemency appeals” (Invitation to an Inquest, Walter and Miriam Schneir, Pantheon, 1983, p. 192). In a few days we will reach the 60th anniversary of the day Truman passed the buck to Eisenhower.

Three weeks after entering office, the newly inaugurated President denied the petition. Eisenhower explained his denial of their request as follows:

“The nature of the crime for which they have been found guilty and sentenced far exceeds that of the taking of the life of another citizen: it involves the deliberate betrayal of an entire nation and could very well result in the death of many, many thousands of innocent citizens.” [This presumes my parents stole what prosecutors called valuable atomic secrets, but now we know that this was not the case.]

“All rights of appeal were exercised and the conviction of the trial court was upheld after four judicial reviews, including that of the highest court of the land.” [Another error, since the Supreme Court never reviewed my parents’ case.]

“I have made a careful examination into this case and am satisfied that the two individuals have been accorded their full measure of justice.’ [Eisenhower only consulted with those involved in my parents’ prosecution.]

Eisenhower received my parents’ Second Petition for Executive Clemency on June 16, 1953 just a few days before their execution. He denied that one as well. On June 16th he explained in a letter to his son, John, that although it might seem harsh to execute a woman, if he commuted her sentence it would only encourage the Soviets to recruit more female spies. Eisenhower’s rationale for executing my mother was that the Soviet Union would recruit more female spies because, if captured, they’d be imprisoned, rather than executed. This doesn’t make much sense, but as Truman’s “The buck stops here” plaque and Eisenhower’s statements denying my parents’ first clemency petition indicated, accuracy and logic were in short supply during the McCarthy era hysteria.

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Comments

I am one of your older followers and am now finding it harder to read your posts. Could you make the type larger?

I find it hard to keep from crying every time I read a post. I remember the time too well.

You have made a wonderful man of yourself (with the help of the Meeropols). I will keep donating as long as I can.

Unfortunately, we don't have a good way of adjusting the type size for blog posts.  But you should be able to adjust the display size that you see, either by changing settings in your internet browser, or changing settings on your computer monitor.  Hope that helps since we value every supporters' interest and want to make things as accessible as possible.

It was a terrible decision--unjust, and only helped to stimulate more hysteria. But oligarchy isn't about fairness and justice, it's about maintaining power. Your parents were unfortunate victims of a system which has been operating for millennium and continues today. Hopefully, one day a history will be written that understands your parents, and those like them, as conscientious people seeking equity and justice. When that happens, we'll have, as a species, risen to higher level of consciousness--one where justice supersedes self-interest, where humanism trumps cruelty, and where cooperation is valued over dominance. Best wishes to you and your family on what must be a sad day.

It is more acurately known as the "Truman-McCarthy Era," since it was the president who instituted the witchhunt through his Attorney General's list of "subversive organizations" long before Sen. Joe McCarthy launched his drunken tirades.

Robert, I join you in this. The more I read about it, the more questionable this whole case becomes. You should continue your campaign.

McCarthyism ruied the lives of many decent people as well as the Rosenbergs. Ethal and Julius Roenberg will long energize the fight against injustice.

You can enlarge anything on the page you are reading by holding down the "control" button and tapping the + key. I use it more and more. Happy new year!

Many things were going agaisnt the Rosenberg couple and spying was not high on the list as people still claim. We have to remember that racism was an accepted social norm and Jews were looked down at in this country and accused of having killed Jesus among other things, Boat loads of Jews asking for asylum were turned back at the New York harbor to be sent back to be murdered by the Nazis. This government and U.S. companies had excellent political and economic relations with Hitler all during the 1930's while millions of Jews were being murdered. Yet Presidents Truman and Eisenhower lied saying they knew nothing about it. A man such as President Truman who celebrated with dance and wine the day after dropping not one but two atomic bombs on innocent civilians in Japan killing more than two hundred thousand and injuring tens of thousands more would not touch his heart in executing two individuals on trump-up charges.
1) racism was an accepted social norm in this country and Jews were look down upon and accused of having killed Jesus. I am sure that if the Rosenberg had not been Jewish they would not have been executed. Many Americans were spying for the Soviet Union at the time and many were caught but not executed,
The U.S. government had excellent political and trade relations all during the 1930's up to the war because the U.S. and western capitalist powers were hoping that Hitler would defeat the Soviet Union and get rid of communism such as he did by outlawing the leftwing parties incluing the German communist party;
2) "the communists are coming" was deliberately cooked up to scare people into supporting rightwing causes such as the McCathy scare tactics. The UnAmerican Activities Committee is one example of this which ruined many lives. The Rosenburgs were executed not becuase they were spies but becuase it was necessary to show that the U.S. was not weak and was strong against communism.
3) Giving aid and comfort in time of war to the enemy is a capital offense punish with execution yet U.S. companies such General Motors had a plant in Berlin making tanks for Hitler before and during the war; General Electric also had a plant in Berlin and was making electrical bomb fuses for Hitler; Ford Motor Company had a auto plant in France and was making trucks for Hitler before and dduring the war; Dupont and Dow chemical companies were selling chemicals to the Nazis; Smith & Wesson also had a manufacturing plant in Germany making small arms for the Nazis; In August of 1978 a dosen of these companies doing business before and during the war with Nazi Germany sued the U.S. government for compensation for sustaining damages to their plants from U. S. bombers.
3) Given all the above the spy charges against the Rosenberg don't pass the test of haivng put the U.S. in mortal danger which the government reasoned to be sufficent for their execution.
4) The Rosenbergs were used as pawns for a growing empire that wanted to flexed its muscles to show the world that it was harshed on its enemies - the boogeyman of communism.

A very sad day to recall. And I do remember that night, even though I was a child at the time. All my relatives gathered in front of a small black-and-white television to watch, not believing that the execution would actually take place. There are so many injustices in this world, yet this one should be remembered because the "fight against terrorism" has many of the same demonizing qualities.

Your organization helping children is great, & I will continue to donate when I can.

I think It is more accurately known as the "Truman-McCarthy Era," since it was the president who instituted the witchhunt through his Attorney General's list of "subversive organizations" long before Sen. Joe McCarthy launched his drunken tirades.

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