Engendering Sedition: Ethel Rosenberg, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, and the Courage of Refusal

Tyrell Haberkorn

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    On April 5, 1951, Ethel Rosenberg was sentenced to death for allegedly conspiring to commit espionage and sell US atomic information to the Soviet Union. On August 28, 2009, Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul was sentenced to eighteen years in prison for allegedly insulting the royal family of Thailand. Ethel Rosenberg denied committing the crime alleged against her, and documents later released by the US government indicate that even the highest levels of the intelligence apparatus knew she had not been involved in espionage. Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, on the other hand, admitted uttering the statements she was accused of saying, but denied that this implied guilt of the crime of insulting the monarchy. The lives of these two women, the legal cases brought against them, and the punishments they experienced, in the case of Ethel, or are experiencing currently, in the case of Daranee, are separated by an ocean, nearly sixty years, and different legal systems.1 Across these differences, I argue that these two cases were diagnostic of both the increased use of fear as a tool of repression by the state and looming national crises. The disjuncture among the alleged crimes, the paucity of the evidence presented, and the severity of the punishment provides an immediate point of reflection. Upon examining the legal instruments under which Ethel and Daranee were charged, the misuse of the law, the logic of the courts that convicted them, and the public discourse surrounding both trials, this disjuncture becomes both easier to understand and more unsettling. As both cases unfolded, it became clear that Ethel Rosenberg and Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul were on trial for far more than the charges listed in their indictments: they were on trial for disloyalty to the nation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)621-651
    JournalPositions: East Asia Cultures Critique
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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