The Trifecta of Treachery

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October 21, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

To commit treachery is to commit the worst crime imaginable.  It’s not the most evil act or vile of acts, but it is the most heinous, and unforgivable of acts.  There’s something inherently mythological and human about betrayal that makes it such an interesting phenomena.  Treachery is a crime that has been a mainstay in human history for thousands of years.  Julius Caesar was betrayed by Brutus, one of his allies, Jesus Christ was betrayed by his disciple Judas Iscariot, Aldrich Ames served as a double agent for the USSR and the information he handed to them led to the death of at least 10 undercover CIA agents, and the Rosenberg couple sold the secrets of the atom to the Soviets.  In fiction, treachery is still considered to be the highest of crimes.  In IL Inferno, the final three rings of Hell are reserved for traitors of varying degrees (traitors to nature, to family, to country, and to God).  Darth Vader and Peter Pettigrew are written to be incredibly unlikeable and devious because of their betrayal to the Jedi, and to James and Lily Potter respectively.  Traitors are despicable because their crime is entirely predicated on deception and falsities.

Treachery comes in two varieties, one in which the betrayer is put in a position to commit treason in the first place, and the second is which the traitor is somehow seduced into betraying a cause.  The first form is based entirely on lies and deception in the first place; there is no sincerities, it’s all feigned for the sole purpose to stab someone in the back.[1]  The second variation is the more romantic, more human, and more grandiose in nature.  It is probably the more unforgivable and deplorable kind of betrayal as well.  This is because it plays upon our desires and emotions, something that everyone can relate to in some capacity.  Whether it be for pride, or money, or even love the fact that a some desire, regardless of what it is, exists that could and did make someone betray a cause that they once adhered to makes it all the more relatable, but at the same time it makes it more jarring because the person in question has now “sold out”.  Their loyalty wasn’t absolute, or sincere then if something else could have swayed them to go against said cause in the first place.

When there is a seduction that leads to betrayal, it means that there is a conscientious decision to betray, that the traitor is fully aware of their actions, and will knowingly betray someone or something if it means that they will get whatever it is they were after.  If someone can buy your loyalty, then you have no genuine loyalty in the first place.  It’s for this reason that the three most notorious traitors in American history are Benedict Arnold, Robert E. Lee, and Aaron Burr.

Any American knows who Benedict Arnold is; he’s the man who tried (and failed) to sell out the United States during the American Revolution.  After defeating the British at Ticonderoga and Saratoga (the turning point of the American Revolution) Arnold decided he wasn’t getting enough credit for his achievements; as a result he decided to work for the British as a double agent.  His plan was to surrender West Point to the British, which would have effectively given them control over everything north of New Jersey.  Thankfully he failed at his plan, but the betrayal had already been committed even though the plan itself had failed.  Unfortunately, he fled to England, and escaped justice for his crime.

Pride.  Solely out of pride did Benedict Arnold sell out his country and his loyalties.  Here was a man who once believed in American liberation as much as anyone else, and the moment he felt he wasn’t getting the credit he deserved, he planned to hand over a strategic stronghold to the enemy.  Not only did he betray the country, but he then wrote a letter to the American people in which he tried to justify his actions.  Not only did he choose to commit treachery, but he then tried to justify it, as if it were the morally correct decision to make.  He thought that he deserved something that wasn’t given to him, and as a result that hubristic desire for acclaim led him to become the first and most infamous turncoat in all of American history.

Fast forward 85 years later to 1860, and in the midst of the most crippling era of American history lay one Robert E. Lee.  Lee was one of the most accomplished and decorated generals that America had ever produced.  What people don’t know is that he was vehemently opposed to slavery and was upset that his home state of Virginia still had not yet abolished slavery.  Yet, despite his perceived loyalty to the union and his abjuration of slavery, Lee chose to serve the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Without a doubt, his decision to lead Southern forces prolonged the duration of the war, and allowed for that many more casualties to abound.  Had he served the Union, as he had pledged to do by initially joining the army, the war would have ended much quicker and cost thousands of less lost lives.

The betrayal of Robert E. Lee to the U.S.A is one that was borne from love. To put it succinctly, he loved Virginia more than he loved America.  This decision led him to turn is back on his former army and nation in favor of a new army and nation whose main tenant was in conflict with that of his former loyalties.  He dismissed his old loyalties in exchange for new loyalties, and then brought war and destruction to his former comrades.  Not only did he trade loyalties, but he attached his old loyalties despite not having any malice or vengeance towards them.  For such an accomplished general, all it took for him to betray his country, a country predicated on the unity of all the states, was the whim of one singular state.  Let the irony never be forgotten.

The reason why Aaron Burr is as treasonous as Lee or Arnold, despite being a member of the trifecta of treason in American history is because Burr kinda failed (as he did with most things) at betraying the country.  His two (biggest) attempts to betray America didn’t really involve anyone but himself.  The first time came during his tenure as Vice President when he tried to take over the newly purchased Louisiana territory with an “army” of farmers and frontiersman, with the eventual goal of attacking the U.S.  Oh, and at some point he wanted to invade Mexico.  Because of a law stating that there must be two witnesses to a conspiracy to commit treason, Burr was acquitted of high treason, much to the dismay of Thomas Jefferson.  I’d make fun of him more, but it was such a stupid plan that doesn’t require much ridicule.

Burr’s second attempt came when he returned to the U.S. from exile, because no one in Europe was stupid enough to listen to him.  He became affiliated with the Blue Light Federalists, whose goal was to get New England and New York to secede from the Union during the War of 1812.  This too failed, because it was a stupid idea.  Out of the three, Burr is the most amusing, because he was just a nut job who failed to do something, so instead of being a despicable man, he’s seen as a farce.  There was no real reason for him to want to betray America, save for wanting power, but he’s clearly demonstrated that he has no idea how to attain it, and failed multiple times in his vain attempts to both gain power and betray his country.

Treachery is an unforgivable act, and one who commits it “well” enough will forever be remembered and vilified in history.  Men such as Lee and Burr are traitors of the highest caliber.  Burr on the other hand, is seen as a fool and a failure because he was so desperate to become a traitor, yet no one took him seriously because of his desperation and absurdity.  To knowingly betray someone or something takes thought and intent.  The intent to do harm, and the thought to go through with it, combined with the deception of believing in something or siding with someone is what betrayal a crime like no other.  No one likes a traitor, but no one will ever forget a traitor.


[1] Kinda like Linda Tripp befriending Monica Lewinski just to get the scoop on her and Bill Clinton.

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