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Julius & Ethel Rosenberg
Why were the Rosenberg’s executed?
Ethel Rosenberg, 35, and her husband, Julius, 34, ride to separate jails in on New York City
March 29, 1951 following their conviction as traitors in the nation's first atomic espionage trial.
The Rosenbergs became the first American civilians to be executed for spying when they were put to death at Sing Sing
Prison in Ossining, New York.
After Julius Rosenberg became an engineer with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1940, Ethel's brother, Sgt. David
Greenglass, who worked on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, N.M., passed on nuclear weapon secrets to the
Rosenbergs who then attempted to pass them on to the Soviet Union.
The middleman between the Rosenbergs and the Soviets, Harry Gold, was arrested in 1950 in connection with another
spying case and he apparently sold out the Rosenbergs and Greenglass. Gold got 30 years while Greenglass, who ratted
on the Rosenbergs and served as the government's chief witness in their prosecution, got off with a 15-year sentence.
The Rosenbergs, despite worldwide appeals for clemency, were not so lucky. They were convicted under the Espionage
Act of 1917 and died in the electric chair on June 19, 1953.
Hunting Communists at Home
President Truman ordered 3 million government workers to undergo loyalty checks. If you objected to the check, you lost your
job. From 1947 to 1951, loyalty boards forced over 3,000 government workers to resign. And so began the anticommunist
The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began targeting actors, directors and writers in the movie industry.
The committee believed that communists were sneaking propaganda into films. The “Hollywood 10” was a group of American
screenwriters and directors, alleged members of the Communist Party, who were convicted of contempt of Congress during the
height of the second Red Scare. Blacklists were circulated among Hollywood movie studios. Blacklists were unofficial lists of
people thought to be communists—careers were ruined.
Senator Joseph McCarthy Hunts Communists at Home
McCarthyism—came to stand for reckless charges against innocent citizens.
Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, used the Korean War to play on
people’s fear of communism. At various times, McCarthy declared that he had a list of 57, 81, and 250
names of State Department officials who belonged to the Communist Party. He never produced a
single name and the charges were never proven. However, he launched a witch hunt for Communists
that ruined the careers of 1000s of people within the US.
Document 1 - Senator Joseph McCarthy, Speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950
Six years ago, . . . there was within the Soviet orbit, 180,000,000 people. Lined up on the American side, there were in the world at the time, roughly
1,625,000,000 people. Today, only six years later, there are 800,000,000 people under the absolute domination of Soviet Russia—an increase of over 400
percent. On our side, the figure has shrunk to around 500,000,000.
This indicates the swiftness of the Communist victories and American defeats in the cold war. As one of our outstanding historical figures [Abraham Lincoln]
once said, “When a democracy is destroyed, it will not be from enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within.” The truth of this statement is
becoming terrifyingly clear as we see this country each day losing on every front. . . .
The reason why we find ourselves in this position is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores . . . but rather because of
the traitorous actions of many Americans. This is glaringly true in the State Department . . .While I cannot take time to name all the men in the State Department
who have been named as active members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 names that were made known
to the Secretary of State [Dean Acheson] as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in that State
How did McCarthyism contribute to an atmosphere of paranoia among Americans?
Space Race!
For over a decade, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a heated competition—the space race. The
space race began in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. The Soviet leader Nikita
Khrushchev and the American presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all
agreed that conquering outer space was very important. Both countries wanted to win—to prove their scientific
superiority and to show their military strength.
Soviet Premier Khrushchev wanted to show that communist technology was superior. President Kennedy
wanted to beat the Soviets to the moon. Speaking about the prospect of sending astronauts to the moon in
1961, Kennedy said, "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more
important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
Space Race Timeline: Events Leading up to Americans Walking on the Moon
The Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first artificial Earth
satellite. "Sputnik" is the Russian word for "Traveler."
Why was it so important to “win” the
space race? What did it signify?
The United States launches its first satellite, Explorer I.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is formed in
the United States. NASA is the federal agency devoted to exploring space.
1968 The United States launches Apollo 8, the first manned space mission to orbit
the moon.
1969- U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin
and Michael Collins make it to the moon. Armstrong is the
first man to walk on the moon and was followed by Buzz
Who “won?”
Nuclear Weapons Race/Threat
The nuclear arms race was central to the Cold War. Many feared where the Cold War was going with the belief that the more nuclear weapons
you had, the more powerful you were. Both America and USSR massively built up their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The world greatly
changed when USA exploded the H-bomb in 1952. This one bomb was smaller in size than the Hiroshima A-bomb but 2500 times more powerful.
The Soviets produced an H-bomb in 1953 and the world became a much more dangerous place.
In October 1957, the world was introduced to the fear of a missile attack when Sputnik was launched. At the end of the 1950’s, American
Intelligence estimated that in a Russian missile attack, 20 million Americans would die and 22 million would be injured.
During the 1960’s, the Russians put their money into producing more missiles regardless of quality while America built fewer but better quality
missiles. By 1961, there were enough bombs to destroy the world. Despite this, great emphasis was put on new weapon systems - mobile missile
launchers were built, missiles were housed underground in silos and in 1960 the first Polaris submarine was launched carrying 16 nuclear
missiles. Each missile carried four warheads which could be targeted on different cities; hence one submarine effectively carried 64 nuclear
In 1967, China exploded an H-bomb. China was a communist country. In the west, NATO felt out-numbered as the table below shows and so had
to place her faith in nuclear missiles.
2.6 million
13, 000
10, 750
Warsaw Pact
4 million
During the 1960’s the theory of MAD developed - Mutually Assured Destruction. This meant that if Russia attacked the west, the west would
make sure that they would suitably retaliate i.e. there would be no winners.
How did the US and the USSR fight through an arms race?
Preparing for a Nuclear Attack
A fallout shelter is a civil defense measure intended to reduce casualties in a nuclear war. Nuclear fallout is radioactive
dust created when a nuclear weapon explodes.
Americans Built Bomb Shelters
One technique was to shield oneself from the nuclear blast by means of a barrier such
as a "fallout shelter." Where a "fallout shelter" was not available, virtually any barrier
would have to do, even a school desk or a kitchen table. Students practiced drills called
"duck and cover" to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear attack. Private homes and
public buildings had fallout shelters that were stocked with canned goods and other
necessities. Drilling for nuclear war became a part of life's routine in the 1950s and like
fire drills today in the schools was taken very seriously.
Were the preparations for a
nuclear attack effective?