It happened today - December 9, 2015

Here’s an obscure tidbit. Oh, that’s original in this series, you may say. But on December 9 1950 Harry Gold went to jail.

Harry who? you may say. I’m sure it mattered to him, especially as he got 30 years in the slammer. But what’s it to me?

I’m glad you asked. You see, Gold was a research chemist who was jailed in the United States for spying for Stalin’s Soviet Union. Specifically, he was a courier between the Soviets and Klaus Fuchs, a British nuclear scientist working at Los Alamos on the atomic bomb.

When Fuchs was arrested in Britain for espionage, for which he got 14 years in jail, he named Gold. And after Gold was arrested he in turn named David Greenglass, who in turn fingered his sister Ethel and her husband Julius Rosenberg, who were later convicted and executed for espionage.

Many people oddly persist in considering it all a “Red Scare,” “McCarthyism” and “anti-Communist hysteria”. But the fact is that there was a concerted Soviet attempt to penetrate the American government, including vital military research efforts, and it was surprisingly successful, in part because it found people who were not only vulnerable to bribery or blackmail but who were genuinely ideologically sympathetic.

Gold himself told investigators he didn’t think he was helping an enemy because the Soviets were wartime allies of desperate convenience against Hitler. But why would you betray your own government’s secrets and surreptitiously circumvent security procedures rather than trust its own judgement? Whatever tale Gold told himself, he had been co-opted by a vicious totalitarian regime and movement out of sympathy.

There were many others who did the same including the infamous Alger Hiss (see my Nov. 27 “It Happened Today”). And while you are unlikely to find many active Bolshevik agents in public life today, it is only because that particular form of poisonous radicalism has collapsed under its own evil weight. The temptation, often among people enjoying successful, even privileged lives, remains peculiarly strong.

We do not wish to be paranoid. But vigilance is not paranoia. And we must be watchful for subversion, corruption, coercion and above all hidden, seductive, dangerous ideological sympathy with our enemies.