Commonplace Book: Roy Cohn on traitors


Compelling passages, notable quotables, bon mots, disjecta, ephemera, and miscellany.

ROY: You ever hear of Ethel Rosenberg? Huh, Joe, huh?

JOE: Well, yeah, I guess I. … Yes.

ROY: Yes. Yes. You have heard of Ethel Rosenberg. Yes. Maybe you even read about her in the history books.

If it wasn’t for me, Joe, Ethel Rosenberg would be alive today, writing some personal-advice column for Ms. magazine. She isn’t. Because during the trial, Joe, I was on the phone every day with the judge …

JOE: Roy …

ROY: Every day, doing what I do best, talking on the telephone, making sure that timid Yid nebbish on the bench did his duty to America, to history. That sweet unprepossessing woman, two kids, boo-hoo-hoo, reminded us all of our little Jewish mamas – she came this close to getting life; I pleaded till I wept to put her on the chair. Me. I did that. I would have fucking pulled the switch if they’d have let me. Why? Because I fucking hate traitors. Because I fucking hate communists. Was it legal? Fuck legal. Am I nice man? Fuck nice. When they say terrible things about me in the Nation. Fuck the Nation. Do you want to be Nice, or you want to be Effective? Make the law, or subject to it. Choose. Your wife chose. A week from today, she’ll be back. SHE knows how to get what SHE wants. Maybe I ought to send her to Washington.

JOE: I don’t believe you.

ROY: Gospel.

JOE: You can’t possibly mean what you’re saying.

Roy, you were the Assistant United States Attorney on the Rosenberg case, ex-parte communication with the judge during the trial would be … censurable, at least, probably conspiracy and … in the case that resulted in execution, it’s …

ROY: What? Murder?

JOE: You’re not well is all.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes: Part One: Millennium Approaches (1992, 1993), by Tony Kushner


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