Family of Spies
Hear Ruth Hall's thoughts on why her father passed atomic secrets to the Soviets.
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See a photograph of Ted Hall
NOVA: When and how did you learn about your father giving atomic secrets to the
Ruth Hall: Well, my parents told me they had something to tell me. They came to
London, and we went to a very crowded little Indian restaurant. As soon as my
father started, I broke into a smile, because I wasn't surprised. My partner
sometime ago, back in the 1970's, had suggested that this might be the case.
And I thought it very likely was, because given the position he was in, given
what I knew about his views, and given what I knew about his courage, I thought
that this would be a logical thing for him to have done. I knew he was a very
principled person, and he could have done it. So that was in the back of my
mind for years, and when they finally told me, it was confirmation.
NOVA: What did you think about it? What did you think of his action?
Ruth Hall: I was very proud of him. I understood why he'd done it. He said that
he'd done it to prevent a monopoly of power in the hands of the U.S.
government. I think we've seen now, and even at the time when he told me we
were seeing, what the results of that monopoly were.
We've seen the U.S. feeling that it could just trample all over the world
because there was no one to stop it. We've seen it using depleted uranium in
the Gulf, in Kosovo, whereas before with the Soviet Union it felt that it had
to think twice before using what amount to nuclear weapons. Now, with the death
of the Soviet Union, there's no powerful state to stand up to them. Cuba tries
to stand up, but it's very small, and there are youth with stones in Palestine,
there are revolutions in South America, but there's no state. I think that does
make a difference.
There is a big movement that I think my father was part of. He came out of
something. I mean, there were many, many people standing up to the Nazis. There
was a movement that I think also gave him the courage to do what he did. He saw
what he knew had to be done, and he did it. I thought that was a principled
action very much in line with what I knew of him.
NOVA: Now, you also know that Stalin ruled the Soviet Union as an absolutely
despicable despot. So one could say that your father unwittingly handed over
vital military secrets to a dictatorship. How do you react to that?
Ruth Hall: The Soviet Union was a disaster. I've never had anything to do with
it, or with the Communist Party, in fact. I'm part of the women's movement and
one of many people in the world who have not been associated with the Soviet
Union, but are appalled at what the U.S. government is doing. It is a fact that
for some decades the Soviet Union was a counterbalance that prevented some of
the worst excesses—prevented, for instance, what very likely would have
happened, the bombing of China. We can only be grateful for that.
"I'm very proud of what they both did."
NOVA: Is it a funny feeling to think that your mom and dad lived a whole secret
life that you knew nothing about? Tell me how that feels.
Ruth Hall: I think it's an amazing tribute to them that they were able to do
that. I think very highly of my mother (as well as my father) for her having
helped him have the strength to keep it secret and prevent the government from
having another victory, as they had over the Rosenbergs with that ruthless
murder of those two people. And I'm very proud of what they both did. [Read an
interview with Joan Hall, Ruth Hall's mother.]
NOVA: What do you cherish most about your father?
Ruth Hall: That's really an impossible question with somebody as unique and
wonderful as Ted was. I mean, we all knew him as an enormously warm, loving
man, full of humor, full of life, with a really profound intelligence.
But I think for me personally, some of the things he taught me. For a start, he
was really devoid of ego. I mean, his humility was legendary; he just didn't
put himself first. And he kept things in proportion. If I went to him with a
problem as an adult, he would share that sense of proportion with me so that it
became not just you but what was happening to you, fit into its place in the
world. That was very much the quality that made it possible for him to do what
he did. Also, I think he really taught me to dare to think for myself, and to
think things through with an honesty and depth that he achieved, and I aspire
I think my father did what he did because not to do it was also taking another
kind of action. When people have privileged information, as he did, and they
hold onto it—that is, they keep it protected by their employers,
governments, or corporations, whoever it is, and prevent other people from
having that information—they are deciding the fate of those of us who are
dependent on it.
We who don't have the information are very dependent on people who are in
positions in the establishment, and especially the scientific establishment,
people who have information which is vital to our lives. We're dependent on
them to do what he did, as whistle-blowers, as people who share something vital
about global warming, about the dangers of meat, you know. We as people who
don't have scientific information are very dependent on scientists like him who
share what they have.
"We need people who dare to come forward as he
Now, it might not be about nuclear weapons. It might be about genetic
engineering, or it might be about global warming. But we need people who dare
to come forward as he did and let the rest of the world know what they know.
Joan Hall |
Ruth Hall |
Boria Sax |
Robert and Michael Meeropol |
William Weisband, Jr.
Read Venona Intercepts |
Family of Spies
20th-Century Deceptions |
Decipher a Coded Message
Teacher's Guide |
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