The Five Most Notorious Traitors

Traitors.  The very word conjures up images of people who go against everything we believe in or try to destroy the fabric of our society.  Who were the worst traitors in history?  Were they as bad as we’ve heard they were?  Here are five traitors and their reasons for doing what they did to drag their names through the mud for all eternity:

Guy Fawkes: Traitor of the British Parliament
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November…” These words are from the famous poem about Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, which occurred in 1605.  The plan was to blow up the British Parliament by Catholics living in England and wishing to kill King James I.  Their main goal was to restore Catholicism to England.  Fawkes was chosen to be the person to blow up Parliament and snuck into the basement of the building and was supposed to set off the dynamite that was being kept there.  The whole plan was a mess.  The gunpowder was planted in the summer of 1605, but then the British closed Parliament because of a fear of plague.  Then, when they re-opened the government building, other members of the plot got cold feet because some of the Lords in Parliament were Catholic and they didn’t want those people to get killed, so an anonymous letter was sent and Fawkes got caught.  He was beaten and tortured and then sentenced to be drawn and quartered (think the end of “Braveheart“) with seven of his co-conspirators.  Right before this was supposed to happen, though, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold in an attempt to escape his painful demise and broke his neck – dying instantly.  Today, the English still celebrate the death of this traitor by lighting bonfires and burning dolls dressed as Guy Fawkes in effigy.  They also light fireworks (obviously to remind them what would have happened).  The term “guy” to represent a male person comes from Guy Fawkes.  If the name sounds familiar, it may be because he is the inspiration behind the 2005 film, V For Vendetta.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: The Secrets of the Atom
At the height of the Cold War, in 1953, one couple was more popular than anyone in the movies or on the radio.  They were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and they made the inevitable a reality: They gave the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians!  Julius and Ethel were the first American civilians ever tried and executed for treason in the entire history of the United States.  Since the execution, decoded Soviet cables, codenamed VENONA, have supported courtroom testimony that Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, but doubts remain about the level of Ethel’s involvement.  The decision to execute the Rosenbergs was, and still is, controversial.  The execution of the two is often blamed on the hysteria that gripped the American public after it was known that we were not the only country to have atomic power.  The other atomic spies that were caught by the FBI offered confessions and were not executed. Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who supplied documents to Julius from Los Alamos, served 10 years of his 15 year sentence.  Harry Gold, who identified Greenglass, served 15 years in Federal prison as the courier for Greenglass and the British scientist, Klaus Fuchs.  Ethel was indicted along with Julius so that the prosecution could use her to pressure Julius into giving up the names of others who were involved.  The two didn’t talk, however, and through the whole trial pleaded the Fifth Amendment and remained silent.  he conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair.  Their execution has been compared to a legal lynching. By today’s standards, the trial was a whirlwind. They were convicted in 1951 and executed in 1953.

Benedict Arnold: The Colony’s Traitor
In the United States, the name of Benedict Arnold is almost synonymous with the word “traitor”.  He started off the American Revolution as a general for the Colonies, yet defected halfway through the war because he thought the British were going to win and he didn’t want to be hanged.  According to his plan, he was going to hand the fort at West Point, New York, where he was a Major-General, over to the British, yet the plot never succeeded.  He did defect, however, and became a Brigadier General in the British army.  So why did Arnold do it?  Mainly it was because he felt he kept getting the shaft here in the United States.  He was pivotal in several battles during his service to the Colonies, was severely wounded in the leg and was passed over for promotion over and over again while others took credit for accomplishments he thought he deserved.  Congress investigated his accounts and found that he owed the Colonies money even though he spent much of his own money on the war effort.  Frustrated and bitter, Arnold decided to change sides in 1779, and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he sought and obtained command of West Point in order to surrender it to the British. Arnold’s scheme was exposed when American forces captured his contact, British Major John André, carrying papers that revealed the plot.  He escaped to England and lived out his years as a merchant.  Even though he was a great general with the Colonies, his name was demonized by authors such as Benjamin Franklin and Washington Irving.  Today, most people remember him as only a traitor.

Brutus: A Thorn In Caesar’s Side
This is the shortened name of Marcus Junius Brutus, was a politician of the late Roman Republic. He is best known in modern times for taking a leading role in the assassination conspiracy against Julius Caesar.  Some sources refer to the possibility of Caesar being his real father, since his mother had been the mistress of the famous Caesar.  While he opposed Caesar, politically, Caesar had publicly forgiven him for insults that he killed others for lesser offenses.  This helped to add to the claim that he may have been the bastard son of the leader.  He became involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar when many senators began to fear Caesar’s growing power following his appointment as dictator for life.  Brutus was persuaded into joining the conspiracy against Caesar by the other senators.  One of the things that makes us remember Brutus is from William Shakespeare‘s play, Julius Caesar.  In the play, during the throes of death, Caesar states, “Et tu, Brute?” (translation: “And you, too, Brutus?“).  After the assassination, Brutus was declared a traitor and enemy of Rome by Caesar’s nephew and first emperor of Rome, Octavian.  The two went to war and when Brutus’ troops had been defeated, he committed suicide to avoid torture and death.

Judas Iscariot: Traitor of Jesus
Judas is the person that most traitors are weighed against.  He was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus of Nazareth and kept the finances for all of Jesus’ group.  It is not known exactly where his last name comes from.  It could be from the location of his birth or the title of “assassin”, or Jewish rebels that fought against the Romans.  According to the Gospel of Mark, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver.  In the Gospel of Matthew, it states that he committed suicide for his betrayal.  In the various other writings of the day – including the Gospel of Judas, his death comes in a variety of ways.  Some say he was stoned to death by Jesus’ other apostles, another states he became so fat that he could not get out of the way of a speeding chariot and was crushed.  Biblical scholars have argued over the death of Judas.  So why did Judas betray Jesus?  Some scholars believe it was simply for money, while others feel that Judas thought Jesus was going to have the Romans kicked out of Israel and when this doesn’t happen, he is the one who feels betrayed.  One of the most interesting theories comes from a piece of paper found recently.  In 2006, a papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas dating back to 200 AD, was translated into modern language and suggests that Jesus may have asked Judas to betray him because he knew that his death was needed and Judas was the apostle that he trusted to do this deed.  This was immediately dismissed by theologists, but the writing still remains.  Ironically, this was not a new theory, as some theologians throughout history speculated the same thing.  Finally, yet another theory is that Judas didn’t exist at all!  He is merely a literary invention that was driven by an early split in the Christian Church.  They state this since he is not even mentioned in the Epistles of Paul, nor in the Q Documents (the “common” material found in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark).  The truth may never be known, but Judas’ name will live on as a traitor.