Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Remembering the Rosenbergs and the Reds

The history and executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have always been simultaneously fascinating and horrifying to me. Part of what keeps me so intrigued with the story is that my Generation Y brain can just not wrap itself around the time period and context that produced such a sad, sad scandal. The New York Times has an article today that helps humanize the Rosenbergs' side of the story a little more than I've ever heard before, by highlighting the Rosenbergs' sons' (who are both apparently committed socialists) reactions to new information which confirms their father had spied for the Soviets. There are the unanswered questions that remain: Did Julius actually give the Soviets nuclear secrets? Did Ethel Rosenberg actually commit any crime?

But what still seems to bother me about this case is I really cannot grasp the fear and passion that led to the federal government's orphaning Michael and Robert by electrocuting their communist parents. It's almost like the more I read about it, the more bizarre and other-dimension-like the entire event seems. How can there be such a historical disconnect in my imagination just a generation after the infamous case? How much had to change in just a few decades in the historical and political thought 0f the nation to make this context so out of reach for me? Obviously I know the by-the-book history of the Cold War and McCarthyism...but...I still can't make all the pieces add up.

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