In Part 1 of this blog topic, I described the panel I’m on at the Left Forum at Pace University in NYC, on Saturday, March 20th at 3PM, entitled, "Exonerate the Rosenbergs? Robert & Michael Meeropol React to Morton Sobell and Other New Developments." [For links to maps, directions, and other details, see Part 1.] I concluded the first part with this question, “How can you exonerate people who are guilty?”
While many people equate the word “exonerate” with “innocent,” the two words are not synonymous. I have been trying to explain this distinction for decades. I am very sympathetic to those who don’t get it because it took me years to figure it out.
In the late 1970’s I gave a talk about my parents’ case at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The hall was packed with scientists. Afterwords, Dr. Henry Linschitz, the scientist who headed the part of the atomic bomb project where David Greenglass worked said to me, “The question is not whether they were guilty. The question is, ‘guilty of what?’” I nodded politely, but I didn’t understand.
It wasn’t until 1985 that I got it. There was, and remains to this day, no credible evidence that either of my parents helped steal what the prosecutors called “the secret of the atomic bomb.” Despite that fact, Judge Kaufman told my parents that, “your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb,” justified the death sentence he imposed. In effect, Judge Kaufman sentenced them to death for atomic treason, a deed they did not commit, when they had only been accused of conspiracy to commit espionage.
Even if my father and others conspired to commit espionage, they did not “steal the secret of the Atomic Bomb,” and they did not commit treason, and the U.S Government was aware of this distinction all along. Yet the FBI, prosecutors, Judge, and even the President, intentionally propagated the “atomic espionage” and “treason” façade in my parents’ case, and knowingly used these embellished and inflammatory allegations to justify killing them. My parents should be exonerated because their prosecution and execution were a result of a government orchestrated conspiracy to falsely enhance the charges against them.
Some say that this distinction is too subtle for people to comprehend. I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve found that most people grasp this concept readily when I’ve taken the time to explain it. And I admit being surprised when left wing folks, who state that they hold common people in the highest esteem, make this assumption. These individuals are concluding that the average person is too dumb to see beyond guilt/innocence, good/bad, all/nothing, etc. I fervently hope that such an elitist attitude is unwarranted.
It may also surprise people to learn that this kind of exoneration has a precedent. In August of 1977, on the 50th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution, Massachusetts’ Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring that because of the unfairness of their trial, “any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.” Dukakis’ proclamation did not claim that either of these victims of wrongful execution was innocent, but it nevertheless exonerated them.
Similarly, just as my brother and I can admit our earlier mistake in proclaiming our parents’ total innocence, it is past time for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to both acknowledge that it was wrong to execute two people for a the crime they did not commit, and also to remove from my parents’ names all stigma that is associated with their commission of that act.
Finally, by now some of you may also be wondering what planet I live on. I’m calling for bold federal action from an administration that has been, to put it kindly, timid. I’m arguing that my parents deserve an exonerating proclamation rather than proclaiming that it is politically feasible. I hope that I’ve effectively demonstrated that my parents’ should be exonerated, and cleared up some confusion in the process. Getting this administration to act will doubtless be very difficult, but its impossibility is only certain if we don’t try.
Read my post-panel report on the Left Forum event here.
See videos of the Left Forum panel on the RFC's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/wwwrfcorg. Click on the "UPLOADS" button and look fora series of videos with titles starting, "Left Forum...". (Thank you to videographer Joe Friendly for making this footage available.)
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