I feel a kinship with Bradley Manning. In all likelihood a few weeks from now a military judge will sentence him to serve several decades in prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. My parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were convicted of violating the same act and executed just over 60 years ago when I was six years old. But that’s only the beginning of my sense of connection with him. The prosecutors, and now the judge, have labeled Manning’s actions espionage, theft and several other unsavory terms. Stripped of the pejorative legal expressions, however, what Manning really did, in the simplest words, was to reveal the truth of our government’s actions to the American people and the world.
In 1975, my brother and I began our effort to reopen our parents’ case by filing a massive, precedent-setting Freedom of Information Act suit against 17 government agencies. Reporters asked us if we were concerned that the material we sought would merely prove our parents’ guilt. We answered that we believed that the public had the right to know what was in the secret files even if it did not support our belief that our parents had been framed.
Although the revelations of the ensuing 38 years have, on occasion, challenged my beliefs, today I am remain convinced that my brother and I set the right course. From the 300,000 previously secret files we forced into the public eye in the 1980’s, to the release in 2008 of grand jury witness statements kept under wraps for almost 50 years, the American people have gained a much clearer picture of what actually happened in my parents’ case. Now we know that my parents’ trial judge collaborated with the prosecution, that witnesses perjured themselves and that evidence was fabricated; but we also know that my father, co-defendant Morton Sobell, and others, did provide valuable military information to the Soviet Union during the 1940’s. However, what they transmitted wasn’t the secret of the Atomic bomb as the government claimed to justify the death sentence, and the government executed my mother even though officials knew she did not engage in any espionage. The nuanced understanding we gained from learning what went on behind the scenes has provided us with very valuable lessons both about security failures and the increased need for constitutional protections in times of crisis.
The idea that citizens should know what the government is doing in their name remains one of the cornerstones of my beliefs. This is the only way people can make knowledgeable judgments which are essential to a functioning democracy. Bradley Manning wrote shortly before his arrest: “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public,” http://www.nationofchange.org/moral-verdict-bradley-manning-conviction-….
Some think Manning is a traitor. After all, he released material that embarrassed our government and might put us at a disadvantage when dealing with other nations. I think the idea that we should elevate the interests of our country above those of all others, at a time when many nations in our world bristle with weapons of mass destruction, threatens the security of every person on the planet. My parents placed their faith in the USSR, a nation they felt represented the interests of the working class, which they believed included the vast majority of the world’s people. I think they were misguided. I’ve come to believe that while some countries are a lot better than others, none have evolved to the point where they deserve uncritical support. While I do not reflexively reject the application of all state power, my primary identification is with humanity as a whole.
Bradley Manning also wrote: “I can’t separate myself from others” and he continued “I feel connected to everybody … like they were distant family.” (Ibid.) So Bradley Manning who feels an affinity with all people, believes we all should know the truth, and was so appalled by our war crimes in Iraq that he felt compelled to act, will go to jail. Meanwhile those who grease the wheels of the most destructive killing machines the world has ever known, think it is too dangerous for us to know the truth, and label millions of others the enemy, continue as our rulers.
In the wake of last week’s verdict I wish all the world’s armies were made up of people like Bradley Manning. Our planet would be a much better place if that were the case. And I hope Bradley takes comfort from the many people around the globe who see him as their hero.
(Note: a version of this blog appears as an op-ed in Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2013 edition.)
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You have been fighting for justice for your parents for a very long time.
You have been almost totally immersed in this from the age of 6 on. I understand that and I support your endeavours in this regard. The Rosenbergs should never have been executed.
The people in control in the Executive Branch and the Department of Justice at the time saw to it that Jews (such as Judge Kaufman and the Prosecutor) were the ones who essentially pulled the switch against your parents. I was there on Union Square when the government announced the execution was going to proceed, notwithstanding the clamor from around the world, including the Pope and Einstein, to stay the execution.
I am quite old and I tell you we now live in a different period. I do not support your article about Bradley Manning. In my opinion what he did should not have been done and the same goes for Snowden, especially since they took oaths to safeguard their country. Getting involved in these events does not move your fight for justice forward.
Personally I believe your parents would not have been executed if the atom bomb had not been involved (this was used to scare the jury and the whole country) and Judge Kaufman had not been Jewish.
Robert Meeropol's statement of support for Bradley Manning is entirely justified.
Manning laid bare details of the imperial conduct stemming from the immediate past and present administrations, a conduct based on a rejection of existing international agreements on the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners, and on a broad and arrogant rejection of the Constitutional rights of American citizens. Unfortunately, history is replete with kings, prime minsters and presidents who felt they couldn't govern without censors, prison wardens and assassins at their side.
Our government allocates hundreds of billions of dollars for illegal domestic surveillances and undeclared foreign wars while, at the same time, allows 50 million American adults and children to go hungry.
In the Rosenberg-Sobell case, the Supreme Court chose to ignore the illegalities committed by the judge and the prosecution at the trial, and to let the government execute the Rosenbergs. Sad to say, the Supreme Court has again chosen to look away from the world-scale illegalities being committed by our government.
Whatever sentence Bradley Manning is given will be a harbinger of more suffering to be inflicted on all Americans and the rest of the world.
I disagree with the comments made by anonymous above ;
Somehow s/he feels that if the government engages in illegal and murderous activities those should not be made available for the public to be aware of--i.e. it seems just let them do what they do..
S/he has forgotten that an informed citizenry is essential in a democracy
Manning and Snowdon are heroes of mine -they are very brave and they
acted according to their beliefs.;Sometimes as one ages there is a tendency to subscribe to a conservative agenda;. as this person was in Union Square when the execution plan was made known s/he likely was a progressive person of the times but sadly has regressed.
The idea that we are "all in this together" implies that we have responsibility
Imagine my surprise when I saw your op-ed in the LA Times this morning. Rarely do I get to read anything positive in my local paper. I thank you very much, especially for expressing an unpopular point of view.
I immediately posted your piece on my Facebook page and concurred with your point especially that Bradley Manning is doing us all a favor and wish that all armies were made up of Bradley Mannings.
I admit I am terrified about what he will face in the future. He should be protected, not scorned and jailed.
Thank you again!
I agree with Anonymous. And I disagree with Anonymous. And I suspect that I'll be identified as. . . Anonymous. Seems awfully dumb to me.
Yes, revelations about "secrets" may damage certain reputations and certain aims of the government but lies and secrecy has been far more damaging to our country than any revelations. Yellow cake, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the missile gap, the secret wars in Latin America, the secret coups, the deals, the renditions.
We live in an age where nobody has any privacy any more. The NSA reads everything it can get its hand on (and if you think it's just metadata, boy do I have a lovely bridge to sell you), the Chinese reroute 1/3 of the internet traffic periodically so they can see EVERYTHING, and private companies, even the ones who "do no evil", do this: how do you think Google "knows" the traffic situation on every darn artery in this country?
The only secrets left are the ones that governments keep from their own citizens. Hooray for Manning and Snowden! Tear down the walls of secrecy. Let there be total transparency. Let the sun shine in.
-- David A.
Thank you, Robby for being the person of conscience that you are. I believe that Bradley Manning and Eric Snowden are national heroes for the American people for sacrificing their lives for the truth to be told. It would have been so easy just to go along, but their consciences would not allow it. Their moral and ethical compass is far stronger than some government mandate. I commend these young men for being so brave and courageous. Why are they not commended for being whistleblowers? Does this government believe it cannot do anything beyond reproach given all that we know from the beginning of this country's history including the genocide of our indigenous peoples, slavery, manifest destiny, the internment of the Japanese, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our need to support a military industrial complex, Guantanamo prison, extraordinary rendition and so forth. These two men are examples of who we need as leaders now in this country. Their allegiance is to us the people and to the truth. The information these two men disclosed did not surprise me. They only said out-loud what the average person on the street already knows. I did not hear anything earth shattering. It is pedestrian to see movies where the premise is that the US government is watching us. It alos does not surprise me the manner in which these young men are treated. We have leaders who have placed people's lives in danger, and they are not disciplined in the least. Even Obama did not want to go after Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for their war crimes in Iraq. We, the people, are not surprised!
It must be remembered that in World War 2 the USA and the USSR were allies in the effort to defeat the Nazi-led axis; an effort in which the USSR sustained the greater part of the sacrifices. Also, the Rosenberg frameup was part of a total hysteria campaign to destroy the gains of the New Deal. In the years since, we have heard much about "human rights violations" in other countries; as Americans, let us address the egregious violations here in our country, so many of which continue today unabated.
Where are you??
Not trying to be anonymous--but don't see another option ..
Hello Robert Meeropol,
I read with interest and much agreement the opinion article you wrote "Manning led by his conscience" was published in today's Albany Times Union.
Thank you for your contribution.
I just saw the film on Hannah Arendt, and there's a valuable lesson it in. The film includes actual footage from the Eichmann trial in Israel. More than just that he was "following orders", Eichmann is shown as affirming that one's highest honor is to adhere to one's OATH to one's country. He gave his oath and regarless of the fact that it involved sending people to their death, his OATH was paramount.
Arendt's position was that, oaths notwithstanding, one's primary duty is to HUMANITY. Yes, Manning & Snowden violated their oath, but surely in service to humanity. Can we not learn any lesson from history?
San Jose, CA