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January 12, 1975 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1975-01-12

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Sunday, January 12, 1975 I

TH ICIA DIY-udyJnur-2,17

1 1111111:



__________ BOOKS

The controversy: Four authors
on the atomic bomb spy case


ON DOING TIME, by Morton nature was directed toward the
Sobell. New York: Charles destruction of the American
Scribners' Sons, 1974, 525 pages, way of life, the trial captured
$10.95. societal anxieties of the era.
INVITATION TO AN IN- The controversy over their
INVITATIONWaltOan i I guilt or innocence did not end
QUEST, by Walter and Miriam with the four-thousand volts ad-
Schneir. Baltimore: Penguin ministered to Ethel and Julius
Paperbacks, 1973, 487 pages, at Sing-Sing prison in 1953. So
$3.50. hotly contested is the entire
THE IMPLOSION CONSPIR- affair that even today, some
ACY, by Louis Nizer. Green- twenty-four years after the
wich, Conn: Fawcett Crest Rosenbergs and Sobell stood
Paperbacks, 1973, 543 pages, trial, the FBI refuses to release
$1.75. the entirety of their files.

E. L. Doctorow. New York: ed by recent revelations of
Signet Paperbacks, 1971, 319 illicit Government activity, hasr
pages, $1.50. led to a whole spate of new
books, exploring the Rosenberg-
By DANIEL BORUS Sobell matter and the Govern-
POLITICAL TRIALS present ment handling of the charges.
a both a thorny problem and For the historian, the crux of
a golden opportunity for Ameri- the matter is whether the evi-
can historians. On one hand, deuce is enough to convict and
they must distill established if not, as now seems clear,
facts which legally convict the why this execution took place.
defendants from entangling rhe- Long-forgotten co-defendant
toric and passionate controver- Morton Sobell, who served 18
sy On the other; historian can years of a thirty year term for
extract fertile clues to Ameri- his involvement in the "Rosen-
can values, goals, beliefs, and berg spy ring," has just com-
mores from the manner in pleted his account of his role
which the cases are prosecuted, in On Doing Time. Partially a
administered, and publicized. misnomer, Sobell's book deals
Since the advent of the Cold not only with his life in prison,
War, there have been a num- but his early life and political
ber of these trials, pitting, for beliefs, his kidnapping in Mexi-
the most part, the Left against co to stand trial with Julius and
the concerted strength of the..........................
increasingly monolith i c
and powerful Government. For the historia
These cases are immediatej
touchstones to those acquainted matter is whethe
with recent history. In the last
seven years, the Berrigans, the enough to con Vi
Chicago Seven, Spock, Coffin,
and Ellsberg have put not only now seems clear
their alleged criminal behav-
ior, but their political beliefs Lion took place.
to court-room battle.
Because of the magnitude of.....s a. :i .:.:::":.....::::.
the alleged crime, the finality Ethel in New York, his incom-
of the penalty, the hysteria of petent but well-meaning de-
the press and public during the fense, and his sentencing. The
early Fifties, and the advent book's value, though, lies in the
of the Korean War, no political story and the description of a
trial has had the devastating ef- man jailed for what he was-
fect of the Julius and Ethel rather than for what he did.
Rosenberg and Morton Sobell
"atomic spy" case. !OBELL IS THE prototypical

fy for the government in the
"atom spy ring" case, was ar-
raigned for conspiracy to com-
mit espionage. The prosecution
never charged Sobell with traf-
ficking in illegal knowledge of
the bomb, but they dil charge
him with membership in the
Rosenberg spy ring. By the
laws of conspiracy, the acts of
one are the acts of all; so Sobell
was, by his association with
Rosenberg, culpable for Rosen-
berg's transgressions.
law and its use are obvious,
given the government's position
that membership in the Party
automatically meant active
work in behalf of the Soviets. It
is, then, not a quantum leap to
assume that any one who knew
Julius and Ethel was fair game
for indictment.
Though Sobell is a man grie-
vously wronged and entitled
to damages from the govern-
ment for his time behind bars,
he takes a back seat to the
central figures, Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg. Their death
and those who were responsible
should occupy the center of our
Approached by Otto Premin-
ger to do a film treatment of
the case, famed attorney Louis
Nizer set out to do the "defini-
tive" statement on the trial. To



n, the crux of the
:r the evidence is
ct and if not, as
, why this execu-
this task he brought his liberal
reputation, his love of law and
reason and his quick mind.
Sadly, the expectation for a
dignified and just treatment of
the case are not realized.
DISDAINING the exacting evi-
dence of Walter and Miri-
am Schneir's Invitation to an
Inquest or any other additional
research beyond the trial tran-
scripts, newspaper accounts of
the p e r i o d and, strangely
enough, E. L. Doctorow's fic-
tional account The Book of Dan-
iel, Nizer's Implosion Conspir-
acy endorses the outcome of the
trial. The book comes to this'
conclusion from Nizer's basic'
premise - that the Rosenbergs
are guilty because the jury1
finds them so. He argues
throughout the book that the
relevant question is not whe-
ther the Rosenberg's actually
committed the acts of which

this is not a truly political
case - that the charge has been
f introduced by those who want
to suggest a frame-up. But the
facts seem to indicate other-
wise. Since the prosecution ar-
gued that the defendants were
motivated by their ideological
fanatacism which by its very

player. Like the prosecutor
Saypol, the presiding witnesses
Elitcher and Greenglass, and
Ethel and Julius, he's Jewish.
Like Julius and Elitcher, he's an
electrical engineer whose Com-
munist views were molded at
City College in the late Thirties.
Though it is not a rigidly ana-
lytical work, Sobell's work book
does a creditable job in analyz-
ing the weakness of Max Elit-
cher's testimony against him,
the timidity of his defense and
the political nature of the law
and terror invoked against him.
Sobell, who had refused to
yield to FBI demands to testi-

they are charged, but whether
the evidence as presented is
enough to convict them. What
is sacrosanct in our systemtof
justice, he stresses, is the
jury's decision as to who in a
dispute is telling the truth.
Now that the passions have
subsided somewhat, that seems
beside the point of historical in-
quirv. It is not.hard to see why
the jury, given the information
they had, would believe the pro-
secution witnesses. After all,
neither Gold, who was serving
his thirty years, or David
Greenglass, who was sending
his sister to the electric chair,
seemed to have a reason to lie.
Add this to the prevailing anti-
Communist sentiment and fear,
and the jury's decision is not
difficult to explain. History is1
not served by simple regurgita-
tion and lack of inquiry.
Nizer tends to make assump-
tions that are not justified, con-
sidering America's recent ex-t
perience. First, he states that
the legal system, despite its ad-
mitted faults, is sacred, and its
aim for perfection excuses its
excesses and mistakes. Nizer's
conception of the legal system
leaves no room for forged hotel'
cards and government-induced
perjured testimony, for preju-
dicial environments in the court-
room, and for prosecutors who
engage in demagogic tactics.E
Nizer believes in the liberal tra-
dition; if it failed, it was
through mistake, not design.
environment of hysteria
surrounding the Rosenberg case,
and others like it, did niot im-
pede theadministration of jus-
tice. His references to other
events and inquiries are kept
to a minimum. Nizer never ex-
plores the sense of dread with
which Americans regarded the
Soviets, nor does he investigate
the paranoiac climate of the
McCarthy era. To Nizer, the
post - war hysteria has been
over-exaggerated; it can be dis-
missed as a bad dream from
which the country awoke with-I

V W tune-up
$10 plus parts
8-6 Mon.-Fri.
between S. Industrial &

Sunday, January 12

out having suffered lasting dam-
Compounding these errors,
Nizer proceeds to create emo-
tional and personal livesnfor
Ethel and Julius on the scant-
iest of evidence. Since they
took no money, Nizer needs to
explain the motivation for their
"crime." Agreeing with the
prosecution, Nizer suggests
their motive was ideological fa-
naticism. To this end he cre-
ates scenes and conversations
which may or may not occur-
red. To wit: "He (Julius) prop-
agandized against National Bis-
cuit Company cookies, products
of Standard Oil Company, Gen-
eral Motors and Dupont be-
cause they were the result of
labor exploitations. He adopted
the whole lexicon of Commun-
ist grievances, which offered
the simplistic view that every
injustice resulted from capital-
ism and nothing else ... (Page
27.) The "source" for this char-
acterization is not given, but a
very similar passage appears in
Doctorow's Book of Daniel on
page 45.
So deep was their fantacism,
Nizer claims, that they ignored
the welfare of their sons. "Lat-
er, when her son Michael was
two and one half years old, she
took a course at the New School
for Social Research in child
rsychologv. This was an indi-
rect revelation of the fact that
even at that early age her son
had shown neurotic tendencies.
Somehow, the wholesome life
which knits even underprivileg-
ed families in love had failed
her." (Page 274). His basis for
such statements are unclear.
WHILE IT IS fraudulent to
pass off fiction as fact, fic-
tion can provide a commentary
on fact, rounding it out and ex-
olaining the consequences of the
act. Although it would be a grie-
vous error to assume a total
congruence between Doctorow's
Book of Dniel and the Rosen-
berg case, Daniel offers an ans-
wer to what the case says about
our society. To Doctorow, the
trial is evidence of this soci-
ety's need to find sacrificial
lambs for its irrational and
xenophobic fears.. Throughout
the work, Doctorow raises is-
sees which will continue to
plague this society: the contin-
ual triumph of might over vir-
tue, the repressiveness of the
government,, the covert anti-
Semitism that helned bring the
case to court, and the individ-
irl's need to resolve the con-
flicts and passions of the past
before acting in the present.
Given Doctorow's thesis on
the self-destructive nature of the
society, what course is left for
the individual? Ethel puts it
best in her final letter to her
sons before her execution:
"Eventually, you must come to
believe that life is worth the
living . . . Your lives must
teach you, too, that good cannot
really flourish in the midst of
evil; that freedom and all the
things that go to make up a
truly satisfying and worthwhile
life must sometimes be purchas-
ed very dearly.



12-1 P.M.
1-2:30 P.M.


Program in Judiac and Gebraic Studies-Winter 1975

Hillel Social Hall
1429 Hill Street 663-3336

BEGINNERS HEBREW: a multi-media
audiovisual approach to the teaching
of language.
BASIC JUDAISM I: an introduction to
Judaism and Jewish life for those with
no Jewish background.
BASIC JUDAISM 11: for those who wish
to explore the basic principles of the
Jewish religion.
we will be reading and discussing in
depth three.major American novels.
course will examine and compare
classical Jewish and Christian views.
Heschel, Rosenzweig, existentialism
and the challenge of modernity.

A STUDY OF THE BIBLE: a study of
Biblical religion particularly as it
relates to previous religions that
surrounded it.
HASSIDISM: Jewish mysticism in its
mass revival of 18th and 19th Century
Eastern Europe, prayer and song, dancin
and swaying, ascent to the heights of
the "Ein Sof."
will discuss Midrash views of the story
of the binding of Isaac, but also the
nature and structure of Midrash.
study of source materials: this course
will deal with the origins and develop-
ment of the Arab-Israeli conflict and
the emergence of the Palestinian
national movement and the P.L.O.

"The Ethical Development of College Students"-G-350, Section 001
How does, could or should the University influence the ethical
development of students? How does ethical growth take place?
Does the University have an ethical viewpoint? A moral or
political one? How have your values been affected by your col-
lege education thus far?
Instructor: JOHN ELLIS 764-9472 (office), 761 -7713 (home)
TIME: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4-5:30 p.m.
3 credits, Room 1309 SEB
"Chicanos and U.S. Higher Education"-G-350, Section 002
Topics to be covered include: the current status of Chicanos in
higher education, a Chicano view of higher education in the
1970's, Chicano studies in the University, the Chicano college
as an alternative, the Chicano student, Chicano research in the
University, and Michigan public higher education and the Chi-
I a.. TA DInCu P(C A ' 7K A C r'0 1, A C 71 I(. .L .a1

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