By Jim Murphy
Published by Clarion Books
Copyright © 2007
The name Benedict Arnold in America over the last 230 years has been synonymous with the words “turncoat” and “traitor”. He turned on the men who trusted him and he turned on his country. Had the British been quick about following his suggestions his traitorous plans may have even succeeded in defeating the American Revolution.
The question many people fail to ask though,is why? What led Benedict Arnold to turn on America, the country he had been fighting so hard to establish? Those who do ask that question might quickly reply that it was greed, but the truth of the matter isn’t that simple.
Benedict Arnold came from a highborn family that had fallen on hard times. For every step forward they would take two steps back and it was often through no fault of their own. Benedict Arnold had a strong desire to return his family name to prominent stature. He worked hard starting an import business which made him a prominent member of society in New Haven, Connecticut. He even became a member of the Freemasons. The War for Independence provided another avenue for Benedict to increase his family’s stature. Many forget that he was a hero of many revolutionary battles. Among his accomplishments were the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, victory at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, the battles of Danbury and Ridgefield in Connecticut, and the Battle of Saratoga. And though he did not succeed He kept the British quite busy in his invasion of Canada.
Though Benedict Arnold was a great military leader, maybe even better than George Washington, he had a heightened sense of pride which made it difficult for him to handle the slings and arrows of his opponents in the American congress and other American Military leaders. What one comes to realize in reading this book is that Benedict Arnold did not betray America out of Greed, but he betrayed it out of pride in his personal honor. Though he had done so much for the Revolution his honor and reputation were constantly being attacked, and he never received the material and military support he needed from congress and his commanding officers to do his job effectively.
“The Real Benedict Arnold” is a fascinating study in what made one of America’s greatest military leaders choose to become one of its most vilified historical figures. I could not help but ask myself while reading this book: if I was in Benedict Arnold’s place what would I have done? While his actions are considered reprehensible, one comes away with a better understanding and maybe even a little compassion for the American Traitor. While not an exhaustive text on the subject, it is a well researched and thought out. Even the adult reader with casual interest in the subject will find it enjoyable.