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Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies  

Ruth Hall Hear Ruth Hall's thoughts on why her father passed atomic secrets to the Soviets.

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Family of Spies
Ruth Hall
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NOVA: When and how did you learn about your father giving atomic secrets to the Soviet Union?

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?

"I'm very proud of what they both did."

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.

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 to.

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 need people who dare to come forward as he did."

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.

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.

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