Talk:Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

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Former good article Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was one of the Social sciences and society good articles, but it has been removed from the list. There are suggestions below for improving the article to meet the good article criteria. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
Article milestones
Date Process Result
February 22, 2006 Good article nominee Listed
July 18, 2009 Good article reassessment Delisted
Current status: Delisted good article

Age at death / limitations of sidebar[edit]

The right-hand information block suggested that, having died the same day, they died at the same age in spite of having different birth years. Reviewing the code, it appears this was an auto-calculated field which does not allow the flexibility of reporting two death ages at a unique time for non-unique birthdates. To clarify for other readers, I changed the code from

| date_of_death  = June 19, 1953(1953-06-19) (aged 35) (both)


| date_of_death  = June 19, 1953(1953-06-19) (aged 35) (Julius), and aged 37 (Ethel)

which I believe removes the ambiguity. There is still some minor formatting inconsistency as the sidebar places the initial age in parenthesis, but this was the best I could do with the automated process. At least now they are not reported dead at the same age.

NPV maintained?[edit]

I'm questioning the NPV of this article. The article seems quite slanted towards putting forward a largely discredited theory of the Rosenburg's innocence. Anyone familiar with this episode is aware that it was a celebrity cause of the far left for 20 years that the Rosenbergs were innocent. Eventually the evidence became overwhelming with the release of the Venona intercepts and so it was shelved.

It seems this article continues the tradition, now limited to trying to prove the innocence of Ethyl Rosenburg, alone. In fact as current written it might better by titled "The Innocence of Ethyl Rosenberg".

I note that many of the sources are from the Communist news paper "Sparticus" which can hardly be considered a reliable source in an article about Communist plots and spying.

Having a section on "controversy" and including some trimmed down information on this might be appropriate, but repurposing the article as ongoing propaganda is not.

I believe the article falls far short of maintaining a neutral point of view. (talk) 16:28, 11 April 2016 (UTC)

Spartacus Educational is not a Communist newspaper, though it does have a strange name. You are possibly confusing it with the Spartacus League or the Spartacist League (US).--Jack Upland (talk) 22:40, 5 October 2016 (UTC)
Generally, this article complies with WP:NPOV. The section "Later Developments" has the minor issue that it has a single paragraph devoted to recently declassified Soviet spy agency telegrams identifying Ethel Rosenberg by name and establishing she performed acts to support her husband's espionage, and four paragraphs talking about Ethel Rosenberg's innocence.
This is not a huge POV issue for a reader who understands how to weigh emotional appeals (including the troubling statement that star witnesses in the Rosenberg's trial much later came forth to recant their statements about Ethel Rosenberg during her trial). However, less sophisticated readers may just count lines of text in our article and be persuaded of Ethel Rosenberg's innocence. At that point, our article loses encyclopedic value because walls of text about efforts to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg create WP:UNDUE issues.
Does anyone else think we ought to either
  • summarize the recent statements promoting Ethel Rosenberg's innocence in a paragraph or two (creating a separate main article in which the information as it appears in this article is presented in its present level of detail, along with her descendants' efforts to have her officially exonerated), or
  • expand the description of the VENONA decrypt evidence against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg so that is carries the same weight in the "Later Developments" section as the rest of the section?
If I see other editors support either of these options, I'll do a Request for Consensus on the one that gets the most support. loupgarous (talk) 04:35, 4 September 2017 (UTC)


"Julius Rosenberg (May 12, 1918 – June 19, 1953) and Ethel Elizabeth Rosenberg (September 28, 1915 – June 19, 1953) were American citizens who spied for the Soviet Union" --That's the lead sentence, but the article goes on to say that [at least according to the sources cited] the evidence strongly indicates that Ethel did no spying. Wik should not have self-contradictory articles. Kdammers (talk) 12:19, 16 April 2016 (UTC)

The lead is correct. The rest of the article has been COATRACKED to claim their innocence. Changes coming soon. DaltonCastle (talk) 17:19, 16 April 2016 (UTC)
The article should be neutral. Controversy continues. It would be better to say that they were American citizens who were executed for spying for the Soviet Union.--Jack Upland (talk) 22:34, 5 October 2016 (UTC)

I agree that stating they spied for the Soviets is not neutral. Jojalozzo (talk) 23:30, 9 January 2017 (UTC)

Current wording of the lead reflects WP:WEIGHT of specialist historians' opinion about Ethel's culpability (and absolutely no RS disputes Julius's guilt any more): "In 2014, five historians who had published on the Rosenberg case wrote that Soviet documents show that "Ethel Rosenberg hid money and espionage paraphernalia for Julius, served as an intermediary for communications with his Soviet intelligence contacts, provided her personal evaluation of individuals Julius considered recruiting, and was present at meetings with his sources. They also demonstrate that Julius reported to the KGB that Ethel persuaded Ruth Greenglass to travel to New Mexico to recruit David as a spy."[6]" (talk) 04:05, 10 January 2017 (UTC)
This is corroborated in Richard Rhodes' history of the development of thermonuclear weapons, Dark Sun, which describes how encrypted telegraphs from Soviet intelligence case officers in the US identified Ethel Rosenberg by her first name. This same set of decrypts led eventually to the arrest of Klaus Fuchs and the chain of events which caused Harry Gold's arrest, and that of David Greenglass, and the Greenglasses' testimony implicating both Rosenbergs in the courier network from Fuchs at Los Alamos to their NKVD handlers. Any language in the article stating their innocence must be balanced with the statements the Greenglasses made to the FBI, and the VENONA decrypts showing Ethel Rosenberg acted as a culpable accessory of her husband.
I just read the article. Under ==Later developments==, it presents four various narratives of Ethel Rosenberg's innocence of the charges, each occupying a separate paragraph, in parallel with a single paragraph on the Venona decrypts which indicate Ethel Rosenberg's guilt.
That in itself might be considered WP:UNDUE - the statements maintaining Ethel Rosenberg's innocence occupy five times the article space as the paragraph describing the Venona decrypts which showed the Soviets were aware of her activity on their behalf - which amounted to acting as a witting accessory of her husband Julius Rosenberg.
It's not a huge issue with me, personally. No one's covered with glory in this sorry episode but the men who discovered the Rosenberg's espionage, Meredith Gardner and Robert Lamphere. who did their jobs in good faith and honorably.
I would, however, endorse a consensus that we ought to have two subsections in ==Later developments==, one on statements affirming Ethel Rosenberg's innocence, one on the VENONA decrypts which affirm her guilt. It's important on contentious cases such as this that we're careful to be even-handed. I don't blame the Meeropols for wanting to have their mother exonerated, but amount of article space devoted to that in this article belongs in a separate main article (perhaps "Efforts to Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg"). loupgarous (talk) 02:47, 4 September 2017 (UTC)

What does this mean?[edit]

From the intro: Distilling this consensus, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote that the Rosenbergs were "guilty - and framed"

What exactly does "guilty - and framed" mean anyhow? It sounds like wishy-washy legal speak that you would expect from a lawyer. If uttered by anyone else they would be called weasel words. Simply because it was uttered by some famous lawyer doesn't make it really material to the subject and here is sounds very vague to the point of worthless. Perhaps it can be removed. Zedshort (talk) 20:05, 5 October 2016 (UTC)

It means the Rosenbergs spied for the USSR (both of them, although Julius did most of the legwork) but that they were victims of prosecutorial misconduct. This is the position of most scholars who have gone into the question (i added cites to back up). It's not 'weasel words' it's a direct and pithy and accurate. NPalgan2 (talk) 20:15, 5 October 2016 (UTC)
And why is Alan Dershowitz quoted? Is he an expert in this case? Simply because he is a famous lawyer and even has credentials in some aspects of the law does not make him a useful person to quote on the subject. To label them both guilty and at the same time framed is precisly what I mean by weasel have it both ways and very lawyerly. Zedshort (talk) 23:09, 5 October 2016 (UTC)
Why not read Radosh and Milton's book? NPalgan2 (talk) 00:27, 6 October 2016 (UTC)
It's not having it both ways.--Jack Upland (talk) 11:44, 6 October 2016 (UTC)

It means what it seems to mean ... nothing. Those are just weasel words that should be removed. Dershowitz's opinion should be removed. It is not based on fact. It is merely an opinion, and not even a legal opinion. It has zero credibility in this context and adds nothing to this article, which SHOULD be based only on facts. As it is now, about half of it is based on opinion and conjecture, and therefore it isn't worth reading. (talk) 08:06, 26 June 2017 (UTC)

My interpretation of Alan Dershowitz's remarks is that Judge Irving Kaufman improperly had had ex parte communications with Federal prosecutors and the FBI while presiding over the trial of the Rosenbergs, stating among other things, his desire to sentence the Rosenbergs to death. This and other judicial malfeasance and prosecutorial misconduct do, in fact, lie in Alan Dershowitz's field of competence, so reference to his statement that the Rosenbergs were "guilty - and framed" should remain in the article - it adds the commentary of someone with unique qualifications to make those comments - and Alan Dershowitz is notable enough to have his own article here on the basis of his activity as a legal scholar and a defense attorney. loupgarous (talk) 03:06, 4 September 2017 (UTC)
Also, "guilty, but framed" are not WP:WEASEL words. "Many legal scholars agree the Rosenbergs were 'guilty, but framed'" would be a clear case of WP:WEASEL because the words identify no reliable source for that assessment.
The actual statement in the article is "Distilling this consensus, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote that the Rosenbergs were "guilty – and framed."". It's a simple, declarative sentence properly attributed to Dershowitz, and within Professor Dershowitz's competence as a legal scholar at Harvard School of Law and experienced defense attorney to make. It is in the article with proper weight, and sums up the opinions of historians who have examined the case. loupgarous (talk) 03:29, 4 September 2017 (UTC)

What kind of value did the Rosenbergs provide to the Soviet Union?[edit]

The second sentence in the article states: They were instrumental in the transmission of information about top-secret military technology and prototypes of mechanisms related to the atomic bomb, which were of value to the Soviet nuclear weapons program and also provided top-secret radar, sonar, and jet propulsion engines to the Soviet Union

(Presumably the second part refers to plans rather than actual artifacts.)

But the bibliography provided doesn't seem to unambiguously support the idea that the prototypes of mechanisms were so valuable.

Reference 3 (by American author and educator Radosh) does, but reference 56 (from the NYT) quotes the director of the facility where the Soviet bombs were made as stating that they got nothing from the Rosenbergs. I'm not sure how the Wikipedia's doctrine of 'reliable sources' plays out here, but the article seems to be weighting the Weekly Standard more heavily than the NYT. Of course, that may actually be the truth, but references provided seem to add up to a kind of murky total (and i suppose that the actual material that they provided is not available for independent assessment).

Son of eugene (talk) 01:16, 20 February 2017 (UTC)

Accounts differ.--Jack Upland (talk) 07:41, 20 February 2017 (UTC)
In equity, if any spies working on the Soviets' behalf were executed owing to the extent to which they aided the Soviet nuclear program, Klaus Fuchs, Donald MacLean, David Greenglass and Harry Gold ought to have been before or with the Rosenbergs. Fuchs was the man without whom the idea of thermonuclear weapons and so much other crucial and hard to develop design and scientific information would never have left Los Alamos, Gold moved Fuchs' information to Russian handlers. David Greenglass allowed the Soviet nuclear program not to have to design the explosive lens array at the center of the plutonium bomb. MacLean was the Russians' eyes and ears in high-level Anglo-American cooperation during the Manhattan Project. None of these men died, so I concur with Alan Dershowitz that while the Rosenbergs were guilty and unquestionably so of spying for Stalin, they were "framed" to the extent that they died while three incomparably more guilty Soviet spies lived. The preponderance of guilt in this case was forced on the Rosenbergs' shoulders where it did not belong.
I'm re-reading Richard Rhodes' history of the invention of thermonuclear weapons, Dark Sun, and finding myself of two minds on the question of whether the Rosenbergs ought to have died at all. The nuclear secrets they helped steal for the Soviets may have emboldened Stalin to back Kim Il Sung in his invasion of South Korea, which carried an eventual price tag of 1.2 million (according to sources cited in our article Korean War) military and civilian deaths. Had the US continued to enjoy a substantive nuclear monopoly in 1950, it's unlikely that invasion would have occurred. Rhodes states that his sources say Stalin was apprehensive about backing the invasion even with his small arsenal of fission bombs. The Rosenbergs intended to move considerable military technology (not merely the explosive lens and other technology for imploding plutonium which David Greenglass personally transferred to the Soviets) and it's not possible to say whether or not the Soviets would have eventually gotten most of it through Lend-lease. The issue, ultimately, rested on whether or not the Rosenbergs had the mens rea or "ready mind" - the willingness and awareness to commit a grave crime, and proceeded to commit it, aware of its consequences - Soviet world domination. They were committed Communists and desired that goal.
In the matter of weighting, there's no basis, given sources from the Weekly Standard and New York Times to prefer either per se. Both sources have been WP:BIASED for years. We ought to use our best judgment in weighting source material. Citing Ronald Radosh as a source for the assertion that the Soviet nuclear program got nothing from the Rosenbergs is, by itself WP:UNDUE - views of other historians with other perspectives on the matter should be presented. Richard Rhodes, who was severely critical of the Rosenbergs' execution, interviewed most of the still-surviving staff of the original Soviet nuclear program, and he does no more than say that there's disagreement on that point. Rhodes has flaws, of course - including a huge vendetta against Edward Teller he pushes through almost the last three-quarters of Dark Sun. Rhodes tends to bend over backwards in being charitable toward Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - but there's nothing in his extensive description of the material supplied to Igor Kurchatov through the NKVD and GRU's combined atomic spy network to absolve the Rosenbergs of complicity in that spy effort. They were complicit in helping Fuchs' material move into Soviet hands. And a nuclear arsenal emboldened Stalin in his expansion of Communism throughout Europe and Asia, so blood was on the Rosenbergs' hands, arguably. loupgarous (talk) 01:48, 2 September 2017 (UTC)
Well, as I said, accounts differ... We should summarise what reliable sources say, and clearly indicate that this is an opinion, whether it's an opinion by the New York Times and Washington Post, or the New York Post and Washington Times. Of course historians are biased. Even I am partisan. In addition, reflective retrospective crystal ball g(r)azing is problematic. If the Rosenbergs had not been spying (if they were), would the Korean War (the origins of which are contested) have occurred anyway? And even if they did cause the war, are they responsible for the carnage? Is April Glaspie responsible for the carnage of the Gulf War and the Iraq War? Is Hitler responsible for the Cold War or the Israeli-Palestine conflict? These are questions we can't answer while the hourglass sand flows... As Kissinger said Zhou said, it's too early to tell. And we could wool-gather till the cows come home and the chickens return to roost. But at the going down of the sun and in the misty mornings of consciousness, I've lost the thread of the conversation in the stream of the collective unconscious... In summary, we should uphold the policies of Wikipedia (which I know we all hold to be holy writ) and avoid violating WP:UNDUE, WP:FORUM, and most of all WP:TEMPLAR as much as is humanly possible. In fact, we should avoid Wikipedia policy discussions altogether. That being said, I don't think you know what "equity" means in a legal sense.--Jack Upland (talk) 17:32, 2 September 2017 (UTC)
I misused the term "equity". I meant "fairness". That said, there's abundant evidence in reliable sources that Gold and the Rosenbergs were complicit in the transfer of classified nuclear weapon design information from Fuchs (and the team Greenglass worked with by his own efforts). If the Rosenbergs deserved death, so did Gold, Greenglass, Fuchs, and MacLean, each of whom engaged in espionage on United States soil.
Practical considerations (the British declining to extradite Fuchs to face charges carrying the death penalty and and MacLean's defection to the Soviet Union) saved Fuchs's and MacLean's lives. That left Gold and the Rosenbergs. Gold sold Greenglass out, and David and Ruth Greenglass sold the Rosenbergs out. All of that's in reliable sources. I was answering the OP's question "What kind of value did the Rosenbergs provide to the Soviet Union?", and not writing for an article here. Broadly construed, the Soviets got incredible value for the few thousand dollars in bribes, gifts and expenses for their spies in and around the Manhattan Project (that figure comes from Rhodes' Dark Sun, as well as the following information).
Richard Rhodes describes interviews with the surviving Soviet nuclear weapons team in which the information relayed from Fuchs and Greenglass through the Gold/Rosenberg network played a central role in that research and development effort. The Soviet espionage apparatus and nuclear weapons decision-makers (the NKVD's Lavrentiy Beria controlled both) distrusted the espionage results as possible disinformation, but Igor Kurchatov explicitly asked for all available intelligence of other nation' nuclear research and tachnology. When the father of the Soviet atomic bomb specifically asks for something from the head of Soviet intelligence, it's important, and the Rosenbergs were part of that intelligence effort.
The Army Security Agency's Meredith Gardner supplied decrypts of Soviet cable traffic which FBI agent Robert Lamphere was able to use to identify Ethel Rosenberg as a Soviet espionage contact in 1948; the same group of decrypts were later used to identify Klaus Fuchs as the main spy inside Los Alamos; the arrest of Klaus Fuchs caused Julius Rosenberg to urge David Greenglass to leave the United States as soon as possible, giving them four thousand dollars to do so. And that request caused the Greenglasses to testify against the Rosenbergs for leverage in a plea bargain (as did Harry Gold). All of that's in Dark Sun and the sources Rhodes cites to support it.
You're right that from there, what follows is largely crystal-ball stuff. Many sources point to the mutual desire of South Korea's Syngman Rhee and North Korea's Kim Il-Sung for a war of unification (of course, the outcomes each man desired were different), but anything that could have influenced the willingness of Stalin to ship massive war materiel to North Korea and Mao to send 300,000 "volunteers" to support the North Korean invasion mattered in those decisions.
To compare and contrast one of your examples and mine, whatever April Glaspie might have had on her person when speaking to Saddam Hussein, it wasn't a nuclear weapon. The Rosenbergs were part of the effort which gave Iosif Stalin one. Just in the way that intelligence on the direction of our efforts prevented the Soviets from making costly errors in reactor and nuclear weapon design, at the very least, the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb long before they'd have gotten one without help. loupgarous (talk) 23:10, 3 September 2017 (UTC)

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