Magazine article Insight on the News

Don't Put Much Weight on Historical Revisionism

Magazine article Insight on the News

Don't Put Much Weight on Historical Revisionism

Article excerpt

I hereby call on Attorney General Janet Reno for a retrial of Benedict Arnold, falsely accused of treason. As a people living under the rule of law, offering ourselves as an example to both the free and not-so-free worlds, we owe it to history to clear the good name of Benedict Arnold.

I freely acknowledge my moral indebtedness in this matter to the American Bar Association, which during its recent annual convention in New York staged a mock retrial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Executed in 1953 for passing U.S. nuclear weapons secrets to the Soviet Union, the couple was found not guilty by the ABA. This verdict was blared from almost every television and radio station in America, and was reported with only slightly less gusto in the print media. But the circumstances of this strange "retrial" were hardly touched on.

Although conducted under ABA auspices, the whole affair was what television calls a docudrama - an art form long on drama and notoriously reckless on documentation. It was, in fact, wildly fictionalized. Ethel Rosenberg - played by a talented actress, naturally - maintained in heartrending speeches that she never was disloyal to her country, that communism was only "20th century Americanism" and that she was just a young idealist hoping to build a better world.

Unfortunately, Ethel Rosenberg made no such speeches; impressed the jury as cold, hostile and arrogant (borne out by her letters); and of course "took the Fifth," remaining grimly silent on whether she was a member of the Communist Party.

The fact is that no informed person - especially in Moscow, where incriminating evidence is readily available - questions that the Rosenbergs were dedicated Soviet agents. Julius led a major Soviet espionage network.

But the ABA, which should be disbarred if it keeps on like this, shifted both the historical context and the trial's whole object. In 1951, at the time of the trial, communists had won a civil war in China, seized Czechoslovakia, blockaded Berlin and attacked in Korea. They were not, in short, noticeably peaceful people.

But the ABA presented the trial as if the Rosenbergs were idealistic innocents merely exercising their sacred freedoms, and the United States tried them for their political opinions, fabricating an espionage case against them: The Rosenbergs in their naivete made a mistake or two in judgment, but their hearts, after all, were in the right place.

In my view, Benedict Arnold's heart also was in the right place. …

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