REMEMBERING THEODORE HALL
(This entry is posted in concert with Progressive Blogger Union topic 33)
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the electric chair after being convicted of treason and espionage. Though the Rosenbergs’ actual involvement in giving the Soviets crucial nuclear secrets is the subject of some reasonable dispute, there is no doubt that they were largely being used as propaganda tools. Consider the words of the judge who imposed their sentence:
I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb […] has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason.
Sure, Judge Kaufman. All that was the Rosenbergs’ fault. What a jackass; he’d make a great Dubya nominee for a high court position.
Obfuscatory bloviating aside, another reason the Rosenbergs were so vehemently railroaded and demonized is that they were likely fringe players at best; prosecuting the real spies would have been quite embarrassing, not to mention dangerous to U.S. efforts to ferret out other spies. After all, the nuclear secret was already out, and the U.S. only needed to offer some red meat to the ignorant electorate. Who better than commie Jews like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?
In any case, there still remains the historical question of who actually gave away crucial secrets to Stalin’s USSR. By his own account, as well as by official record, the key player might have been Theodore Hall. Hall was a young physicist who had worked on the U.S. nuclear program, and he is known to have had much close contact with Soviet agents. Reactionary vitriol notwithstanding, the next most pertinent question is “why?” Why would a brilliant young scientist risk throwing away his career and his life to give the Soviets the bomb? I found a few quotes from Hall, taken from a New York Times article from 1997 (the article was reprinted at a neo-Nazi website, of all places, which is where I found it):
“During 1944 I was worried about the dangers of an American monopoly of atomic weapons if there should be a postwar depression. To help prevent that monopoly I contemplated a brief encounter with a Soviet agent, just to inform them of the existence of the A-bomb project. I anticipated a very limited contact. With any luck it might easily have turned out that way, but it was not to be. Now I am castigated in some quarters as a traitor, although the Soviet Union at the time was not the enemy but the ally of the United States; the Soviet people fought the Nazis heroically, at tremendous human cost, and this may well have saved the Western Allies from defeat.
“It has even been alleged that I ‘changed the course of history.’ Maybe the ‘course of history,’ if unchanged, could have led to atomic war in the past 50 years — for example the bomb might have been dropped on China in 1949 or the early 50’s. Well, if I helped to prevent that, I accept the charge. …”
“In 1944 I was 19 years old — immature, inexperienced and far too sure of myself,” he wrote. “I recognize that I could easily have been wrong in my judgment of what was necessary, and that I was indeed mistaken about some things, in particular my view of the nature of the Soviet state. The world has moved on a lot since then, and certainly so have I. But in essence, from the perspective of my 71 years, I still think that brash youth had the right end of the stick. I am no longer that person; but I am by no means ashamed of him.”
As I said a fortnight ago, the U.S. government proved in 1945 that it was willing to use nuclear weapons to make a political statement. What was to stop them– given the inherent political capital provided by the Cold War– from using nukes to achieve strategic political goals against, say, the USSR or China? Considering the U.S.’s later overt and covert incursions into Latin America, the Middle East, and southeast Asia, it is a good thing that a powerful, nuclear-armed counterbalance existed to hold the U.S.’s imperial aspirations in check. It is a shame that counterbalance was the corrupt and totalitarian Soviet Union, but I think Theodore Hall was right in thinking (even in hindsight) that having the Soviets as a counterbalance was better than having none at all.
On top of the Iranians’ natural concerns rests the spectre of a depleted, demoralized, and overstretched U.S. military. Combined with the Bushies’ continuing mutterings about developing and using ‘limited’, ‘tactical’ nuclear weaponry, the Iranians must feel like a man faced with the decision of whether or not to run from a policeman. You can run from the skinny or fit policeman, because he’s going to try and chase you, and you just might get away. You’d better not run from the fat, out-of-shape policeman, though, because he is just going to shoot you in the back.
Right now, the Bushies are spreading whispers that they are the fat policeman. Whether or not these whispers are true or whether they are just woof tickets is open to debate. However, the Bushies have demonstrated that they are willing to spill other people’s blood and drive the U.S. into economic hell in order to pursue their megalomaniacal ambitions. Considering that they are far less sane and competent than the Truman administration (which did its nuclear deeds in the waning moments of an actual world war, against an actual enemy), can we really count on the fact that the Bushies are bluffing when they voice nuclear plans?
We can’t take that chance, especially considering all the paranoid drivel coming from right-wing mouthpieces about ‘terrorists’ being close to nuclear capability. How long would it take the Bushies to whip up chickenshit patriotic fervor for an attack on Iran, whether or not there were a nuclear attack on the U.S., and whether or not Iran were involved? As long as the ignorant U.S. electorate could be convinced of an Islamic extremist nuclear threat on U.S. soil (see: Iraq), the Bushies might feel they’d have the political capital necessary to launch a ‘preemptive’ nuclear strike against a scapegoat like Iran.
While we don’t need to wish for our own generation’s Theodore Hall to give nuclear secrets to Iran, we must understand the danger of a U.S. administration that thinks it can use nuclear weapons with impunity. This is especially true of an administration that has already clearly demonstrated its willingness to use overwhelming military force without just cause.