Benedict Arnold, engraving by H. B. Hall in 1879. (Image courtesy of Marrion Doss / Flickr)
Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: Was Benedict Arnold’s betrayal justified?

Benedict Arnold was an American general during the Revolutionary War who ultimately betrayed his cause.

The book “The Notorious Benedict Arnold” by Steve Sheinkin chronicles the tale of Arnold’s life leading up to the betrayal. To explore if his betrayal was justifiable using the information from Sheinkin’s book, I will be sorting his life into three parts: his early life, military life, and lastly, the betrayal.

Benedict Arnold was born in 1741 to his mother, a prosperous widow until she married Arnold’s father, who was a merchant, according to the Sheinkin book. By the age of 13, Arnold’s father had managed their family’s money so poorly, Arnold was forced to drop out of school and apprenticed to an apothecary, which led him to open an apothecary of his own. Arnold then joined the army as a militia captain years later.

When Arnold was in the military, he was seen as a controversial war hero. He was known for being a decisive and brave commander, who led many battles and was a trusted comrade of George Washington. His achievements and attitude made other military leaders jealous, leading to them starting many rumors and lies, tainting Arnold’s name. This caused a lack of recognition from Congress, which was a leading factor in Arnold’s betrayal.

The betrayal of Benedict Arnold was one that shook America to its core, as one of its most strategic leaders backstabbed his own country and gave away valuable information to the British. Arnold planned to give away to the British a fort called West Point, which was the most important point for American forces to protect. West Point was a fortress that defended the Hudson River, which was a river that separated the colonies. If the British were to seize control of the fort, the American Revolution would have ended with the colonies being separated.

Arnold started by weakening the fort. After weakening it, he gave revealing papers to a British officer that was supposed to be delivered to the British leadership, but that officer was caught on his way to a British fort. Upon hearing of the British officer’s capture, Arnold fled to Britain to live the remainder of his life in exile.

After the treatment that Benedict Arnold went through, the abuse and lack of recognition, was it enough to justify his betrayal of his own country?

In the eyes of Arnold, he thought that this was perfectly reasonable, even telling General Washington about it in a message he sent. Even so, his betrayal was not justifiable. Becoming a leading figure of an army for money and fame is a corrupting motivation; instead, dedication to the country you are fighting for should be the main driver for such a leader.

Even though Arnold went through rough treatment and unfairly did not get recognition for his accomplishments, these events do not give him the right to force the country into a weakened state just because of his hurt pride.

Looking back at his early life, military life, and betrayal, Benedict Arnold was a man who backstabbed his own country for money and lost personal glory, instead of staying dedicated to what he was supposed to fight for — the forming of a new country dedicated to freedom and democracy.