SPIES, DAMN SPIES & STATISTICS
Ellen Schrecker and Maurice Isserman ["The Right's Cold War Revision," July 24/31] state that Judge Irving Kaufman's sentencing speech blaming the Rosenbergs for causing the Korean War (by giving the Russians the A-bomb years before they would otherwise have had it) contained "a kernel of truth." At a meeting in Moscow in April 1950 with Kim Il Sung, Stalin explained that he was acquiescing in the invasion of South Korea primarily for two reasons: the recent victory of the Chinese Communists in their civil war and the new US policy of nonintervention on the Asian mainland. Possession of the A-bomb was last on Stalin's list, understandably because Russia then had only one or two bombs and no delivery system. As for David Greenglass, the Los Alamos machinist recruited for espionage by his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, Soviet archives confirm that he was strictly an also-ran on the roster of atomic spies. Kaufman's sentencing speech survives as one of the most vicious ideological documents of the domestic cold war. Does Schrecker and Isserman's "kernel" of support for it also extend to President Eisenhower's charge that "by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world"?
Atlanta; Kensington, Md.
We are gratified that Maurice Isserman and Ellen Schrecker think that our arguments about Communist espionage "must be taken seriously." And we thank them for their generally civil tone. But while accepting the CPUSA's role in espionage, they still flinch from the implications. They insist that with espionage "context counts." Pointing out that the United States and the USSR were allies during WWII, they ask why historians have not pursued Britain's spies in Washington in that era. "If we were to learn their identities," they ask, "would we excoriate them as much as we do the folks who leaked information to our other wartime ally, in the Kremlin?" Although there is no evidence of these British spies, do they really mean to suggest that spying on behalf of Churchill (unethical and illegal as it would have been) is the equivalent of doing so on behalf of Stalin? Surely context counts here as well. And as for depicting espionage as only "leak[ing] information to…our wartime ally," a number of those engaged in espionage were cooperating with Soviet intelligence in the thirties, before we were allies, while others continued to do so after the cold war began and when we were adversaries.
Schrecker and Isserman suggest that in 1943 there were no "crystal-clear vistas, in which all the actors knew then what we now know–about Stalin, about the Soviet Union." There was, in fact, plenty of evidence. After Stalin's terror, the Moscow Trials and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, most observers did not have to wait until Khrushchev's 1956 speech to notice the monstrous crimes of the Stalin regime. For good reasons, the United States was allied with the USSR to defeat Germany, but that did not make the Soviet Union the moral equivalent of a democracy.