Howard Zinn taken to task for giving Rosenbergs a pass

Historians in the News

The last time we checked, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States was in its twenty-fifth printing and had sold some 500,000 copies. It is probably more widely used in American classrooms than any other survey of the subject. This is a pity, for the book should really be titled "An Anti-American History of the United States." Although published long before the term "political correctness" gained currency, Howard Zinn's opus is a perfect specimen of political correctness on everything from the depredations of supposedly genocidal Europeans who forged the nation and deprived the noble, peace-loving Indians of their happy hunting grounds to the Vietnam War as a prime example of American imperialism and beyond.

Pick a topic, any topic, and you can be sure that Zinn is there with the standard-issue, off-the-rack left-wing cliché to explain it. Take the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in June 1953, for example. The Rosenbergs had been convicted of espionage, and not just your common or garden-variety espionage. They (Julius in particular) had funneled to the Soviets information critical to the construction of atomic weapons. According to Zinn, though, their conviction, and subsequent execution, was chiefly an illustration of right-wing, anti-Communist zealotry in the United States—"a demonstration to the people of the country … of what lay at the end of the line for those the government decided were traitors." In a later essay, Zinn asked whether the Rosenbergs had been executed "because they were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union"—or was it because "they were Communists" who had the misfortune to advertise their beliefs at a moment when "anti-Communist hysteria" was sweeping the country.

Zinn meant the questions to be rhetorical. Of course it was a matter of anti-Communist "hysteria." But the true answer, we now know, was the former.

We say "now," but in fact the Rosenbergs' guilt has been established "beyond a reasonable doubt" at least since Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton published The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth in 1983. It has taken until now, however, for the news to penetrate the carapace of leftist denial. The Rosenbergs were spies for one of the most brutal tyrannies in history. Their treachery collaterally aided in blighting the lives of those nameless millions who suffered under the jackboot of Soviet Communism. Yet the Left adamantly denied the Rosenbergs' guilt almost as vociferously as they did Alger Hiss's. But just as it has been incontrovertibly demonstrated that Hiss was guilty of espionage, so it is with the Rosenbergs. Last month, Morton Sobell, co-defendent with the Rosenbergs, finally came clean at the age of 91. Sobell had been sentenced to thirty years in prison for his role in the case. He had always protested his innocence. Now, fifty years on, he finally acknowledged that he and Julius Rosenberg were both Soviet agents....

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Randll Reese Besch - 10/9/2008

Zinn also is as far from political correctness as you can get. Indeed he would be attacked for refuting the myth of the noble white christian American settlers and their Great White Fathers.

Could the Rosenbergs have been doing so that the USA wouldn't be the sole power with nukes to threaten the world? I don't know. Would they have done the same for the USA if Russia had been the only country with nuclear weapons?