10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries

Khalid Elhassan - December 24, 2017

Why do bad things happen to good people? It is an existential question over which philosophers and theologians have agonized for thousands of years. The simplest answer might be the trite but true retort that life is often unfair. Nowhere is that unfairness more true than in the context of heroes who go above and beyond to capably serve their countries, only to end up getting screwed over by their ingrate countrymen for their troubles. No thanks from an ungrateful nation, if you would.

Throughout history, many heroes have been lavishly praised and handsomely rewarded for their deeds of valor and derring do. They are not the subject of this article. Many more heroes received neither praise nor reward, and had to content themselves instead with the knowledge and inner satisfaction of duty done well. They are not the ones this article is about, either. Then you have that subcategory of heroes who went above and beyond, sometimes saving their countries from defeat or outright annihilation. Unlike other heroes, they were not praised and rewarded, nor even ignored and consigned to oblivion. Instead, these unfortunate few ended up getting royally screwed by those for whom they risked their lives. Why? Because, to iterate, life is unfair, and no good deed goes unpunished.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC. Realm of History

Following are ten heroes who were screwed over by the countries for which they fought, sacrificed, and bled.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Miltiades. Wikimedia

Miltiades

Ancient Athens was notorious for screwing over her heroes, and Miltiades (550 – 489 BC) was one of the earliest examples. Miltiades was a general best known for his victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, a decade before the events of the movie 300. Marathon was an upset victory against a numerically superior force, which saved Athens from Persian conquest.

Miltiades was born into a wealthy aristocratic family, which owned a private kingdom in the Chersonese (today’s Gallipoli Peninsula), which Miltiades inherited in 516 BC. When Darius I of Persia invaded the Chersonese in 513 BC, Miltiades surrendered and became a Persian vassal. In 499 BC, the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor revolted against Persian rule. Miltiades marched against the rebels, but secretly supported their cause and helped funnel them aid from Athens.

Athens sent an expeditionary force which joined the rebels in marching to the Persian governor’s seat in Sardis, putting it to the torch. The Persians eventually crushed the revolt in 495 BC, and discovered Miltiades’ betrayal. He was forced to flee to Athens, where he was elected one of its ten generals. The Persians determined to punish Athens for aiding the Ionians, and sent a punitive expedition which landed on the plain of Marathon north of Athens, in 490 BC. The Athenians marched out with a force of about 10,000 hoplites – armored heavy infantry – with no cavalry or archers. They faced a Persian force of at least 25,000 infantry, plus thousands of archers and 1000 cavalry.

The Athenians, who had ten generals and a rotating command system by which each general held command for a day, wavered. For over a week, they simply watched the Persians from heights overlooking Marathon, until Miltiades’ turn to take command. He convinced a closely divided war council to give battle. Descending from the heights, Miltiades assembled the army with reinforced flanks and a weakened center, and advanced. Once they got within Persian archery range, Miltiades ordered his men to charge at a full run.

They rapidly closed the distance, and smashed into the more lightly armed Persians. The Athenians’ reinforced flanks pushed back their opposition, then wheeled inwards to attack the Persian center, which panicked, broke, and fled in a rout to the safety of their beached ships. It was a stunning victory, with the Athenians and their allies losing about 200 dead to the Persians’ 6400.

Miltiades returned to Athens in glory, but it would not last. The following year, he led a strong expedition against some Greek islands that had supported the Persians, but bungled it badly, and suffered a severe leg wound. His defeat seemed so absurd to Athenians, that they figured only deliberate treachery could explain it. His fellow citizens, whom he had so recently saved, put him on trial for treason. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to a heavy fine. He was sent to prison, where he died when his leg wound became infected.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Flavius Aetius. Warfare History Network

Aetius

Another hero screwed over by his country was Flavius Aetius (391 – 454), a Roman statesman and the last great general of the Western Roman Empire. Born into a military family, Aetius spent part of his youth as a hostage of the barbarian Visigoths, and later the Huns. Living amongst the barbarians gave him valuable insider knowledge and insights, which would come in handy later as he fought to prevent Attila the Hun from overrunning Western Europe.

Attila ruled a multi-tribal empire dominated by the Huns, that spanned Eastern and Central Europe. During his reign, 434 – 453, he earned the moniker “The Scourge of God” for his depredations. He terrified the civilized world, invaded Persia, terrorized the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, plundered the Balkans, and extorted vast sums of gold from the Romans.

Attila had crossed the Danube in 440, plundered the Balkans, and destroyed two Roman armies. The Roman emperor admitted defeat, and Attila extorted from him a treaty that paid 2000 kilograms of gold up front, plus an annual tribute of 700 kilograms of gold each year. In 447, Attila returned to the Balkans, which he ravaged until he reached the walls of Constantinople, before recoiling.

In 450, the Western Roman Emperor’s sister sought to escape a betrothal to an old aristocrat whom she disliked, by begging Attila’s help, and sent him her engagement ring. Attila interpreted that as a marriage proposal, accepted, and asked for half of the Western Roman Empire as dowry. When the Romans balked, Attila invaded, visiting his usual depredations, and Aetius was put in charge of organizing the resistance.

By then, the Western Roman Empire was a shell of its former self, and lacked the military means to stand up to the Huns on its own. So Aetius formed an alliance with the barbarian Visigoths, promising them a homeland of their own in southwestern France in exchange for fighting off the Huns alongside the Romans. At the climactic battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451, Aetius and the Visigoths defeated Attila, bringing his devastating invasion of Western Europe to an end.

Aetius’ success aroused the jealousy of the Western Roman Emperor, Valentinian III, who felt intimidated by his formidable general. On September 21st, 454, Aetius was delivering a report to the emperor when Valentinian leaped up from his throne, and out of the blue, accused the general of drunken depravities. Then, before the startled Aetius knew what was happening, the emperor and a co-conspirator hacked the general to death with a sword.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Lazare Carnot. Encyclopedia Britannica

Lazare Carnot

Lazare Carnot (1753 – 1823) was a French politician, general, and administrator during the French Revolution. He was a leading member of the Committees for General Defense, and for Public Safety. In those capacities, he organized and oversaw the mass mobilization of French manpower to beat back foreign attacks from all sides, as well as snuff out internal rebellions. Those accomplishments earned him the moniker Organizer of Victory. Despite his valuable services to France, Carnot ended up getting screwed over by his country.

The son of a lawyer, Carnot attended a military school and upon graduation, was commissioned a lieutenant in the French royal army in 1773. He was a captain when the Revolution broke out in 1789. He entered politics, and by 1792, had been elected as a deputy to the National Convention. Assigned to the Committee for General Defense, Carnot exhibited a genius for administration.

He introduced mass conscription, known as the levee en masse, which put the entire French population at the disposal of the war effort. The French army grew from about 645,000 in 1793, to over 1,500,000 by 1794. Carnot also reorganized the French military, upon realizing that the new revolutionary citizen armies lacked the training of the professional armies of France’s neighbors. Making a virtue out of necessity, Carnot changed French military doctrine to emphasize attacks by massed troops in dense columns. That required relatively little troop training, and when such columns were thrown at vulnerable points in enemy battle lines, they could overwhelm and break them with sheer mass.

As a result, a series of stunning French victories were won, radically changing the war. France went from hard pressed and on the edge of defeat in 1792, to victorious on all fronts, and on the offensive, fighting deep in enemy territory instead of on French soil. Carnot continued to serve the Revolution, and Napoleon thereafter, to France’s benefit. However, after Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, the newly restored French Bourbon kings banished Carnot from France. He spent the final years of his life as an exile, until his death in 1823.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Yue Fei learning archery. Wikimedia

Yue Fei

Yue Fei (1103 – 1142) was one of China’s greatest generals. In Chinese culture, he is considered the epitome of patriotism and loyal service to the nation, and is viewed today as one of that country’s greatest national folk heroes. During his lifetime, however, Yue Fei was treated quite shabbily by his government. For his heroism, self sacrifice, and devotion to duty, he got screwed over royally.

Born into a poor peasant family, Yue Fei joined the ruling Song Dynasty’s military in 1122. From an early age, he possessed great power and near supernatural strength, which made him a formidable warrior. He rose to prominence during a war against the nomadic Jurchen tribes, who invaded and overran northern China in 1126. The Jurchen captured the Song Dynasty’s capital of Kaifeng, along with the emperor and his father. The emperor’s brother fled to southern China, where he reestablished the dynasty, known thereafter as the Southern Song, and was declared the Gaozong emperor.

Accompanying the Gaozong emperor during the flight to the south, Yue Fei assumed military command of the remnants of the Song forces. He managed to defeat the pursuing Jurchen, preventing them from advancing further into China. However, his efforts to recover the lost northern territories were foiled by a powerful peace faction, which balked at the expense of continuing the war.

Yue Fei was poised with his armies to recapture the lost Song capital of Kaifeng, when courtiers advised the Gaozong emperor to recall him and open peace negotiations with the Jurchens. Gaozong worried that a final victory over the Jurchen would end with the release of his captive brother, the previous Song emperor taken prisoner in the fall of Kaifeng. As that would threaten his own claim to the throne, the Gaozong emperor accepted his courtiers’ advice, and recalled Yue Fei to the capital in 1141. There, the brilliant general was imprisoned, and eventually executed on trumped up charges in 1142. Ironically, Yue Fei had tattooed on his back the phrase “serve the country with the utmost loyalty“.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Alcibiades. Ancient History Encyclopedia

Alcibiades

Alcibiades (450 – 404 BC) was a brilliant and unscrupulous Athenian politician and general, and a hero who repaid his country back in spades after it screwed him over. He was perhaps the most dynamic, adventurous, fascinating, and catastrophic Athenian leader, ever. Born into a wealthy family, his father was killed when Alcibiades was a toddler. Athenian leader Pericles became his guardian, but was too busy with his duties as a statesman to give the boy proper guidance. Alcibiades thus grew into a dissipated man, whose gifts of brilliance and charm were counterbalanced by self centeredness, irresponsibility, extravagance, and debauchery.

When the Peloponnesian War against Sparta began, Alcibiades quickly gained a reputation for courage and military talent in battle, and became an Athenian hero. By 420, he had become an Athenian general, and strongly opposed reconciliation with Sparta. In 415, he convinced Athens to send a massive expedition to invade Sicily and conquer Syracuse.

On the eve of sailing, however, statues of the god Hermes throughout Athens were desecrated. Suspicion fell upon Alcibiades, whose dissolute clique had a reputation for drunken vandalism and impiety. He demanded an immediate trial, but his enemies allowed the expedition, whose ranks were disproportionately comprised of Alcibiades’ supporters, to sail on with the charges still hanging over him. Then, after the city had been emptied of Alcibiades’ partisans, he was summoned back to Athens, to be tried before an Assembly in which his enemies were now a majority.

Rather than obey the summons, Alcibiades fled and defected to Sparta. He advised the Spartans to adopt a strategy which annihilated Athens’ Sicilian expedition – the force he had organized, convinced Athens to send to Sicily, and whose men he once led. That was the most catastrophic and bloodiest defeat suffered by Athens during the war. Of the tens of thousands of Athenians who took part, only a handful ever saw Athens again: those not killed in the fighting were enslaved, then sent to Sicilian quarries were they were worked to death.

Alcibiades also convinced the Spartans to abandon their strategy of marching into Athens’ home region of Attica each campaigning season, burning and looting, then retreating and repeating the cycle the following year. Instead, he had the Spartans establish a permanent fortified base in Attica, which allowed them to exert direct pressure on Athens year round. Then, Alcibiades went to Ionia, where he stirred Athens’ allies and subject cities into revolt.

Despite the valuable services he rendered Sparta, Alcibiades wore out his welcome after he was caught in bed with the wife of the Spartan king. So he fled again, this time to the Persians. He convinced them to adopt a strategy that would prolong the war, keeping the Athenians and Spartans too busy fighting each other to challenge Persia’s interests.

Back in Athens, which was reeling from the string of military catastrophes that Alcibiades had helped inflict on his city, political turmoil led to an oligarchic coup. However, the Athenian fleet remained pro democracy, and in the chaos, Alcibiades persuaded the fleet to take him back. From 411 to 408 BC, Alcibiades led the Athenian fleet in a dramatic recovery, winning stunning victories that turned the war around. Suddenly, it was Sparta that was reeling and on the verge of collapse. He returned to Athens in 407 BC, where he received a rapturous welcome. His treasons forgiven and temporarily forgotten, Alcibiades was given supreme command in conducting the war.

However, the Athenians turned on Alcibiades a few months later, after a minor naval defeat when he was absent from the fleet. He fled again, and having burned bridges with all sides, holed up in a fortified castle in Thrace, before fleeing even further away to Phrygia. However, a Spartan delegation traveled to Phrygia, and convinced its Persian governor to have Alcibiades murdered in 404 BC.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Tariq ibn Ziyad. Wikimedia

Tariq ibn Ziyad

Tariq ibn Ziyad (died circa 720) was a Berber general who led the Muslim conquest of Visigothic Hispania, or the Iberian Peninsula. He was a trusted slave of the Muslim governor of North Africa, Musa bin Nusayr, who appointed Tariq governor of Tangier in 710. There, he was approached by a Visigoth nobleman from nearby Ceuta, incensed and out for revenge because the Visigoth king Roderic had raped his daughter. He allied with Tariq, and arranged to ship him and a small army of about 7000 men to Hispania.

In charge of that small army, Tariq crossed from North Africa into Spain in 711. There, he secured a beachhead in today’s Gibraltar – a Spanish derivation of “Jabal Tariq“, or “Mountain of Tariq” – which is named after him. Securing Gibraltar, Tariq reportedly burned his fleet to drive home to his men that there was no possibility of retreat, and it was either victory or death.

Using Gibraltar as a base of operations, Traiq proceeded to subjugate the territory of today’s Spain and Portugal, which he sought to conquer on behalf of the Umayyad Caliphate. He eventually met and fought a Visigoth army about three times bigger than his own, at the Battle of Guadalete in 712. Tariq won a complete victory, in which the Visigoth king and much of the Visigoth nobility were slain. Tariq then proceeded to capture the Visigoth capital city of Toledo. Splitting his small army into smaller divisions, he then conducted a lightning campaign against the reeling Visigoths, which captured many of their major cities, such as Granada, Cordoba, and Guadalajara.

Tariq then governed Hispania until the arrival of his master, Musa, a year later. Musa was reportedly envious of his slave’s stunning accomplishments, and rather than reward him, had him put in chains and had him tortured. In 714, the Umayyad Caliph summoned Musa and Tariq to his capital, Damascus, to report on the conquest and address accusations of corruption.

Upon arrival at the Caliph’s court, Musa sought to claim the lion’s share of the credit for the conquest. Tariq, however, successfully refuted his master’s claims with evidence that Musa was in North Africa while Tariq was defeating and conquering the Visigoths. Discredited, Musa was eventually convicted of corruption and imprisoned. Tariq avoided prison, but was stripped of all titles and ranks. Notwithstanding the immense riches his conquest of the Iberian Peninsula had gained for the Umayyad Caliphate, Tariq died in dire poverty – reportedly reduced to begging for alms outside mosques.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Themistocles. Vatican Museums, Pio-Clementine Museum, Room of the Muses.

Themistocles

Yet another Athenian hero screwed over by his country was Themistocles (524 – 460 BC). He was a brilliant politician and admiral, whose strategy saved Athens and Greece from Persian subjugation with a victory at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. Born to an aristocratic father and a non Greek concubine, Themistocles was ineligible for Athenian citizenship, until democratic reforms made citizens of all free men in Athens. That made him a lifelong champion of democracy.

After the Athenian victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC, most Athenians thought the danger had passed, but not Themistocles. In the 480s BC, Athens’ state-owned silver mines struck a rich vein, and many Athenians called for dividing the windfall among the citizens. Themistocles, convinced that the Persians would return, called for investing the new riches on warships.

There was strong opposition: a strong navy would entail higher taxes borne by the rich. Simultaneously, it would enhance the political clout of the poorer classes who would row those ships. A land strategy based on hoplites, such as those who had won at Marathon, would cost less. It also would not erode the monopoly of the middle and upper classes – the only ones who could afford to equip themselves as hoplites – on the prestige of being the city’s sole armed protectors.

Themistocles engineered the ostracism and banishment of his opponents from Athens, then won the Athenian Assembly’s approval for his ship building program. By 480 BC, when the Persians launched a massive invasion of Greece, Athens had over 200 triremes – as many as the rest of Greece combined. The city also had a booming ship building industry, and her shipyards were kept constantly busy, churning out new warships.

After overcoming a Spartan force at Thermopylae, the Persians advanced on Athens. Many Athenians wanted to fight the Persian army, but Themistocles convinced them it would be futile. Supported by a vague prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi, whom Themistocles might have bribed, he argued instead that Athenians should put their faith not on Athens’ city walls, but on her “wooden walls – her ships. As a result, when the Persians arrived, they encountered a nearly deserted Athens, whose citizens had been evacuated to the nearby island of Salamis. Seizing Athens, the Persians razed the city’s walls, and put the city to the torch.

Off Salamis, the decisive battle of the war was fought. Athens’ Greek allies wavered and were on the verge of taking their ships and going home, when Themistocles forced a battle by tricking the Persian king into believing he had changed sides. He convinced Persia’s king to attack the Greek ships in restricted waters, which had tricky tides and wind patterns with which the Greeks were familiar, but the Persians were not. The Persians were crushed, and the Greeks won a decisive victory.

When the Athenians returned to their destroyed city, their Spartan allies asked them not to rebuild the city’s walls as a sign of good faith. Themistocles led a delegation to Sparta to negotiate, and dragged out the negotiations while the Athenians feverishly rebuilt the city walls. By the time the Spartans caught on, the walls had already been erected.

In subsequent years, Themistocles’ political fortunes declined, and despite his heroics in saving Athens, his city screwed him over. Not given to gratitude for long, the Athenians ostracized and exiled him some years after Salamis. Nimbly, he went to Persia, and ended his days governing some Greek cities in Asia minor on behalf of the Persian king.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Zhukov. Pravda

Georgy Zhukov

Georgy Zhukov (1896 – 1974) was a marshal of the Soviet Union. The USSR’s most important military commander during World War II, he was also arguably the greatest military commander of the conflict. He played a greater role than any other single individual in ensuring the Soviet Union’s very survival early in the war, and a similarly outsized role in securing final victory. He was screwed over soon after that victory.

During the war, Zhukov was Stalin’s golden boy, who almost always came through. He played a prominent role in nearly all the Soviet Union’s greatest battles and campaigns: the defense of Leningrad; the defense of Moscow; Stalingrad; Kursk; liberation of the Ukraine; Operation Bagration; and the climactic capture of Berlin. He not only planned those operations, but often oversaw their execution. And when situations got hairy, Zhukov was often rushed in as a troubleshooter to take direct command and sort things out. No other WW2 general played as many varied roles at the planning and operational levels, strategy and tactical implementation, as did Zhukov.

So ubiquitous was Zhukov’s presence in nearly all Soviet successes, that it is sometimes difficult to tell just how good other Soviet commanders might have been. Whatever they did, Zhukov had frequently played a part in planning it, was often present at their side to see that they carried it out correctly, and sometimes even took over when things got tough.

No sooner had the war ended, however, than the ever paranoid Stalin began seeing the immensely popular and highly respected Zhukov as a potential threat. He was too popular for Stalin to simply have him executed, so other means were used. Less than a year after the victory, Zhukov was accused of political unreliability and hostility to the Communist Party. He was sacked as commander in chief of Soviet ground forces, and effectively banished to command an insignificant military district far from Moscow.

Zhukov was also persecuted by the NKVD, the KGB’s predecessor. His prestige and public standing were too high for arrest and torture, so the NKVD went after his subordinates, and arrested and tortured them instead. A series of investigations were launched, in which Zhukov was accused of official corruption, embezzlement of war booty, and plotting to seize power. Under the mounting persecution, Zhukov suffered a heart attack, and was hospitalized for a month.

His fortunes revived temporarily after Stalin’s death. In the housecleaning that followed, Zhukov had the satisfaction of personally arresting the NKVD’s chief, who was subsequently executed. In the new regime, Zhukov joined the Politburo, and was made Defense Minister in 1955. His popularity eventually worried his colleagues, however. As a result, while away from the USSR on a foreign trip in 1957, they voted to relieve him of all duties, and forced him into retirement.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Scipio Africanus. Wikimedia

Scipio Africanus

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (236 – 183 BC), so named because of his military victories in Africa, was one of Rome’s greatest generals and strategists. He is best known for conquering Carthage’s Iberian territories during the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BC), and for defeating Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC to close out the conflict with a decisive victory. Despite his valuable services, he ended up getting screwed over by Rome.

In 218 BC, a young Scipio led a cavalry charge that saved his father, one of that year’s consuls, from encirclement by Carthaginians. Two years later, he survived the disaster at Cannae, when Hannibal nearly wiped out a Roman army 87,000 strong. Scipio was one of the few Roman officers to keep their wits about them, and cut their way to safety with 10,000 men. They would form the nucleus of a reconstituted Roman army.

In 211, Scipio’s father and uncle were defeated and killed fighting Hannibal’s brother in Hispania. In elections for a new proconsul to lead an army to avenge the defeat, Scipio was the only Roman to seek the position, which others saw as a death sentence. Only 25 at the time, Scipio was underage to be elected a magistrate, but a special law was enacted to give him command.

He opened the campaign with a surprise attack in 209 BC that captured New Carthage (modern Cartagena), the Carthaginian seat of power in Hispania. At a stroke, he secured ample supplies, as well as a great harbor and base for further operations. He then campaigned across Hispania, winning a series of victories, and by 206 BC had seized all of Hispania from the Carthaginians.

Scipio then returned to Rome as its most successful general to date, and was elected consul in 205 BC. By then, Hannibal was isolated in southern Italy, cutoff from supplies and reinforcements. Dismissing him, Scipio boldly took the war directly to Carthage by invading North Africa in 204 BC. The Carthaginians recalled Hannibal from Italy to take command of their armies at home, setting the stage for a climactic showdown between Rome’s and Carthage’s greatest generals. It came at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, in which Scipio won a complete victory.

Scipio returned to a hero’s welcome, but while lionized by the general public, he was hated by fellow patricians. They persecuted him with trumped up charges of treason, bribery, and general corruption in order to sully his reputation. The ingratitude left Scipio disillusioned and bitter, and led to his withdrawal from public life and retirement to his estates in Campania, where he remained until his death.

10 Heroes Screwed Over by Their Ungrateful Countries
Benedict Arnold. C.W. Jeffreys Project

Benedict Arnold

Before becoming America’s most infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold (1741 – 1801) was one his country’s most celebrated heroes. He had been a leading patriot in the fight against the British, and was perhaps the most capable combat leader on the rebels’ side. Then, he got screwed over, and eventually, resentments over slights, coupled with financial distress, led him to sell out to the enemy.

Arnold provided valuable service to the patriots in the American Revolution. It is possible that the rebellion might have been snuffed out early on, if not for him. His first exploit came in the war’s opening stages, when he played a leading role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, in Upstate New York. Artillery and munitions seized at the fort were then dragged across difficult terrain to Boston, where they helped expel the British, giving the Americans an early victory and boost in confidence. Arnold then led an expedition through extremely rough terrain in an attempt to capture Quebec. It failed, but he exhibited remarkable leadership in even getting his men to the outskirts of Quebec.

In 1776, an enterprising Arnold built a fleet from scratch at Lake Champlain, which he used to defeat a far superior British fleet. However, while he was being lionized as a hero by the public, Arnold’s string of successes, rash courage, and aggressive style aroused the jealousy and resentment of fellow officers. They began a whispering campaign, and backbit and schemed against him. It worked: when Congress created five new major generals in 1777, Arnold was stung to discover he was not amongst their numbers. Adding insult to injury, some of those promoted had been his juniors, whose accomplishments paled in comparison to Arnold’s. Only George Washington’s personal pleas prevented Arnold’s resignation.

Soon thereafter, he repelled a British attack in Connecticut, and was finally promoted to major general, but his seniority was not restored – another slight that ate at him. He again tried to resign but was prevailed upon to remain. He performed brilliantly in halting the British advance into upstate New York in 1777, and was instrumental in bringing about its defeat. It culminated in the British surrender at Saratoga, where Arnold fought courageously and was severely injured.

Crippled by his wounds, he was put in charge of Philadelphia, where he began socializing with loyalist families. He also took to lavish living, which he financed with questionable dealings that led to scandal. In Philadelphia, Arnold met and married a younger woman of loyalist sympathies and spendthrift habits, that soon drove Arnold deep in debt. His situation was worsened by his government’s failure to pay him on time, or to reimburse him for personal expenses he had incurred in fighting the British. Between resentments over getting screwed over and financial difficulties, Arnold secretly approached the British to offer his services.

He was placed in charge of fortifications at West Point on the Hudson river, upstream from British-occupied New York City and barring them from sailing upriver. Arnold plotted to sell plans of the fortifications to the enemy, and contrived to deliver them into British hands for £20,000. However, his British contact was captured, along with documents incriminating Arnold, who fled just in time to evade arrest. His reputation in tatters, Benedict Arnold went from hero to villain, and his very name became an epithet for betrayal.

Fully turning coat, Arnold was made a brigadier general in the British army, and led Redcoats into battle against his former comrades. His new masters never warmed to him however, and he was unable to secure a regular commission in the British army after the war. Following the conflict’s end, he engaged himself in a variety of enterprises, including privateering and land speculation in Canada. Eventually, he retired and settled in London, where he died in 1801.

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