“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History
“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History

William McLaughlin - June 12, 2017

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History
Benedict Arnold even had a signed Oath of Allegiance, making his treachery all the more bitter. Wikipedia

Benedict Arnold

A lot of people are familiar with Benedict Arnold, though many might be surprised to learn that he was a famous hero of the revolutionary war before he decided to become a traitor. Arnold was a true patriot at the beginning of the American War of Independence.

Right at the outset of the war, Arnold headed north to establish bases of control and hopefully sway the Canadians to the rebel cause. In one of the first major actions of the War, Arnold snuck over to the poorly defended Fort Ticonderoga and captured it and all its artillery. Arnold’s idea was genius; though Ticonderoga was a small garrison, its capture hampered communication and inland logistics for the British. The captured cannons also played a role when they were brought to Boston and fired into the British-held town until they forced a retreat.

Arnold then had the idea to attack Quebec City, again a strategically sound choice. Arnold led a winter assault in 1775 that saw hundreds die just from the elements. At the battle, Arnold suffered a terrible injury to his leg. Later he oversaw the construction of a quick fleet to block an advancing British fleet at Lake Champlain. The battle was a tactical defeat for Benedict, but a heroic delaying action that held back British operations for almost a year.

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History
A monument to Arnold’s foot that he badly re-injured at the Battle of Saratoga. his name is nowhere to be found on the monument, however. Wikipedia

Benedict Arnold thought that he didn’t get enough credit for his actions, and when he saw junior officers being promoted all around him he resigned. He was eventually persuaded to rejoin again but had to serve under General Horatio Gates. The two men despised each other, and when Arnold attacked without orders and secured an impressive victory, in was reportedly Gates who took the credit.

Finally fed up, Arnold took a military governor position in Philadelphia where he married the daughter of a British loyalist. Soon, crippling debt and lingering resentment of his treatment by the American forces led to him offering to turn over the fort at West Point for a substantial fee. Ultimately, the Americans discovered this plot and the whole plan backfired, with Benedict Arnold just escaping to British protection.

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History
Benedict Arnold welcoming Confederate President Jefferson Davis to Hell in a Civil War era political cartoon. Wikipedia

Benedict Arnold is remembered as a bitter traitor, seeking personal glory over fighting for his country. He fought in a few minor engagements before heading Britain. His betrayal actually relit the revolutionary fire in America after strings of grim campaigns and battlefield defeats the Americans had something to rally against. Arnold would live out the rest of his life in Britain, getting much less than the agreed upon sum for West Point as the plan was comprised. He could never return to America and he was treated with indifference in Britain as he never really gained much for them before the war’s end.

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

One of the largest cases of treachery on modern times, the tale of the Rosenberg’s is sad and terrible, and still controversial. The second Red Scare of Communism framed the circus-show of a trial for the Rosenbergs, and though there is controversy, we do know for sure that Julius was a traitor.

Julius and Ethel both grew up in New York. Julius went to college for electrical engineering, where he joined the Young Communist League. Ethel had been an aspiring actress before getting involved in labor groups and eventually into the same Young Communist League.

Julius got a job as an engineer at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey in 1940. The fort developed guided missiles, radar, and other advanced technology. Two years later he was recruited by a Russian spy handler Alexander Feklisov through communist party connections.

For years, Julius passed classified information to his Soviet spy handler, including plans for the U.S.’s first jet fighter. Ethel’s brother David Greenglass just happened to be working on the Manhattan project during this period as well. He was soon recruited by Julius and began supplying information on Atomic bomb research, while Ethel typed up the reports.

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History
A sketch of an implosion type atomic bomb that was passed to Russia through Julius. Wikipedia

When the Rosenbergs were finally caught and arrested, a group of government officials met in private to discuss the largest and most serious case of espionage in recent history. They decided that they Rosenberg’s spy ring was much larger than it seemed and hoped that they could pressure the two into talking.

Despite not having much evidence against Ethel, the prosecution fought for the death sentence on her as well as for Julius. The fact that the two were/had been members of a communist group fueled the fires for their conviction during a fearful time of the Cold War, but the fact that the Rosenbergs had two young children and Ethel’s guilt was in doubt stirred public sympathies.

The judge, Irving Kaufman, extrapolated the treason into a “crime worse than murder”. The implication was that Russia gained knowledge of the atomic bomb early enough to be aggressive on the world stage, causing the Korean war and thousands of American lives. The treason led to the constant fear of nuclear holocaust as the two rival superpowers seemed a phone call away from launching new and terrifying nuclear bombs.

Through the trial, both Julius and Ethel pled the 5th and refused to talk. Public outcries for clemency failed and both were sentenced to death. It was a sad and only partially just case as the proposed death penalty for Ethel was supposed to be a bluff for more information, and the Rosenbergs called the bluff. Foreign governments, the Pope, and others pleaded for at least Ethel’s life to be spared, but to no avail.

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History
The trial and executions had worldwide coverage and many sympathized with the Rosenbergs. Pinterest

On June 19, 1953, the Rosenberg’s were put to death by electric chair. The fall of the U.S.S.R. brought out more proof that Julius was indeed guilty of serious espionage, and that Ethel was certainly guilty as well, but likely did not deserve the death penalty.