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Aristotle Killed the Rosenbergs

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Aristotle Killed the Rosenbergs

Justice Brandeis said in his dissent to Olmstead v. United States, "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. . . If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

Aristotle and his use of dialectics and rhetoric is the forefather of great speakers and thinkers. Plato, Aristotle's once teacher, warned us and spoke out against the dangers and use of speaking rhetoric. America should have listened, as Americans we should study our history or, as in the past, we will be doomed to repeat ourselves. Aristotle was critical of the manipulation of emotions from ones audience nevertheless he thought a study of human emotions was essential to rhetoric. (Herrick 83) It was this manipulation that resulted it the deaths of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Adolf Hitler was a brilliant man and his skills in rhetoric and public speaking were astounding. Senator Joseph McCarthy was a highly educated person and his skills in speech were as powerful as those of Hitler's. Thankfully McCarthy's influence did not have the same worldwide dramatic impact, unless your name was on McCarthy's black list, the one that nobody ever saw and or McCarthy never produced. None the less, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were tried and convicted of espionage, and were put to death in the electric chair, how were they convicted? rhetoric.

Rhetoric it's self is almost impossible to define although Aristotle laid out three key factors that are need for persuasive public speaking. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was a skilled speaker, used all three factors to push his political career and campaign for McCarthyism. Logos: the use of words for argumentation. Pathos: the use of emotional appeal to affect an audience. And, Ethos: the use of credibility to persuade an establishment of authority.

Aristotle said out of those three factors Ethos was the most important. Senator McCarthy had Ethos. During World War II Joseph McCarthy was a member of the United States Marine Corps. He earned a law degree from Marquette University and was admitted to the bar in 1935. He then worked for a law firm for four years. In 1939 he became a judge for the 10th District circuit. In 1946 he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate. In 1950 his Ethos was established and Logos took over in McCarthy's career when he delivered a speech in West Virginia stating "The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205, a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."

Mark Twain said, "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please" (Brainy Quote). Senator McCarthy never produced that list of 205 so called Communist working inside our government. A few days later, in Salt Lake City, UT, he delivered a similar speech but the number he cited had now dropped to 57, and a couple of days after that in the Senate, he claimed 81.

One brief moment of Logos to let the Pathos begin. Get ready, get set, witch hunt. Shortly after that speech thousands of U.S. citizens were accused of being Communists or sympathizers of the communist party. Those U.S. citizens were subjected to questioning, interrogation and aggressive investigations by governmental and non-governmental agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover was one such governmental entity that was instrumental in conducting those investigations. The lives and careers of many American citizens were ruined.

To understand why the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death we have to look at the time frame in which this occurred. We look at the Pathos: the use of emotional appeal to affect an audience. After WWII the American government was in a state of paranoia, delusional or not there was a sense of hysteria and fear that the Russian government would obtain the atomic bomb. Many Americans thought that we would lose our system of democratic government to a socialistic or communistic state of rule once the Russians bombed us and took over. In the late 1940's to the late 1950's, the years of the Second Red Scare, the years when Senator Joseph McCarthy lead his political campaign against communism.

Let us take a look at the definition of McCarthyism: 1. The practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-Communist activity, in many instances unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence. And 2. The practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism (Dictionary.com). The focus, or Pathos, during the McCarthyism era was based off the fear of national and foreign communists influencing our society. Another fear that the followers of Senator Joseph McCarthy had was that the communists were trying to infiltrate the federal government.

After World War II began in Europe, the U.S. Congress legislated the Alien Registration Act, this was also known as the Smith Act, 18 USC ยง2385, " The Smith Act of 1940 5 made it a criminal offense for anyone to knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises, or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association" (Findlaw)

A vast number of people were investigated under the anti-communistic regime of McCarthyism. Scientists who were extremely anti-communist were investigated. Some people were investigated just for having the last name of Rosenberg. At some point the investigation to maintain national security turned in to a witch hunt. That witch hunt under the guise of national security did produce spies that were giving, or selling secret information to the Soviet Union. Morton Sobell, who was a co-defendant in the Rosenberg trial admitted that he was a spy. David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenbergs' brother, who supplied documents to Julius Rosenberg admitted to being a spy as did many others. The difference between Greenglass, Sobell, and the Rosenbergs is that the Rosenbergs were the only ones sentenced to death. It was a time in American history when the Federal Government felt that a message needed to be sent and it needed to be sent out with a loud voice. During that time Texas Governor Allan Shivers suggested capital punishment be the penalty for membership in the Communist Party.

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