One of the advantages of progressive government in New York City these days is that the occasional actions and pronouncements of the city council provide a certain entertainment value to outsiders. Of course, this is easy for The Scrapbook to say, since we are located 225 miles from Gotham and can afford to laugh at the antics of New York’s elected officials. But it must be said: For comic relief, if for nothing else, the city council of New York is now almost as reliable as the Berkeley, California, city council.
Is the Bronx now a nuclear-free zone? Does Brooklyn boycott lettuce? We don’t know. But as of last week, we do know that the city council of New York celebrated the 100th birthday of the “wrongfully” executed Soviet atomic spy Ethel Rosenberg with official recognition of her life, works, and “bravery”—and framed proclamations, complete with embossed seal and signatures of council members.
Of course, from The Scrapbook’s perspective, this is beyond parody. The New York Post ran a photograph of Rosenberg’s two sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol, holding those aforementioned proclamations, surrounded by beaming council members. Over the decades, the Meeropols have waged a relentless campaign to transform their parents from convicted spies into left-wing heroes, but with mixed results. The Soviet archives have long since confirmed that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were, in fact, spies and traitors—and accordingly, the Meeropols have lowered their sights: No longer claiming that their parents were wrongfully convicted of espionage, they now argue that their mother, at least, should not have been put to death.
From a human perspective, The Scrapbook can appreciate the instinct of the Meeropols to champion their parents’ cause—even if one parent, mother Ethel, chose to transform her young sons into orphans rather than betray her Soviet masters. What is less understandable is the persistence of belief—on the left, in the press, especially in
the academy, and in the face of all legal, forensic, and archival evidence—that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg did not betray their country in the service of a tyranny unmatched in human history. Reasonable people can argue about whether the Rosenbergs should have been executed; they cannot, however, claim the Rosenbergs were innocent.
Something of this willful ignorance—and historic incoherence—was reflected in the words of one bumptious council member, Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), who explained to the Post that “a lot of hysteria was created around anti-communism and how we had to defend our country, and these two people were traitors and we rushed to judgment and they were executed.”
Not exactly, Councilman Dromm: The Rosenbergs were traitors, all right, but there was hardly a rush to judgment. And the Cold War was not some capricious cosmic joke. It was a serious, life-and-death, high-stakes confrontation between liberal democracy and Communist totalitarianism—and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as Marxists like to say, were on the wrong side of history. No amount of belief in mythology can change the facts. Not even a framed city council proclamation.