Things looked bleak for the fledgling American Revolution. After Bunker Hill the Continental Army seemed to lose every encounter with the British. The revolution was in need of a hero.
Ben, a Connecticut lad, was a leading merchant in the colony. He not only ran a successful mercantile, but owned a fleet of ships and was an accomplished sea captain. His sense of honor and business acumen gave him an aura of confidence. Acquaintances said he appeared arrogant, and he occasionally sought solutions through dueling.
As his business fortunes rose so did his resentment of British taxation. Smuggling was an acceptable means to evade taxation. Ben became an outspoken leader of the liberty movement. His articulate and passionate letters appeared in local newspapers.
When war broke out Ben was elected captain of the local militia. He promptly organized them into an effective fighting force and presented a bold plan for seizing the British forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga. The plan was accepted and the expedition successful, although Ben was in constant conflict with fellow officers.
Because of the nation's lack of hard currency, Ben spent a large sum of personal money financing the campaign. Added to his financial hardships was the tragedy of his wife's sudden death. Ben contained his sorrow by dedicating himself to the revolution.
About this time Ben caught the attention of George Washington. The General saw through Ben's bluster and tactlessness and recognized him as a leader and good tactician. Ben had come up with a plan to invade Canada and make it a fourteenth colony. Washington gave him the pick of the army.
The hardships of the Canadian expedition were overwhelming. Upon reaching Quebec Ben's troops united with another column under General Richard Montgomery. In the ensuing battle Montgomery was killed and Ben wounded. During the harsh winter retreat, Ben's leadership held the army together.
Returning home, Ben found himself faced with charges because he had forced Canadian merchants to give food to his starving army. To his wounded pride this was a bitter pill. He demanded an inquiry, and, after an investigation, the charges were dropped.
Without a command, and on his own initiative, Ben constructed a small fleet of ships on Lake Champlain. In October 1776 he attacked and defeated a larger British fleet. A few days later Ben and a small group of men held off the British fleet from a scuttled ship while the Americans retreated.
By now Ben had been promoted to brigadier general. He was sure that he was next in line for promotion to major general. The Continental Congress, being politicians, felt that generals should be more evenly distributed from among all the colonies. New England, they felt, had more than its share. So the next major generals would have to come from the southern colonies.
Ben was livid and resigned in response to this decision. However, Washington convinced him to stay. Because Ben was instrumental in defeating a British force in battle, Congress was obliged to give him the promotion. But there was no army for him to command. Ben got into an argument with his commanding officer and was fired. He enlisted as a common soldier and was seriously wounded in the Second Battle of Saratoga.
As he recovered Ben was given command of the garrison in Philadelphia. Tired after having spent much of his personal fortune on the war effort, as well as having been wounded twice, Ben decided to enjoy the fruits of his labors. Ben lived extravagantly. It wasn't long until British sympathizers used his lifestyle to bring charges against him. He was commanded to appear before a court martial.
Ben was exonerated on all charges, given a mild reprimand to please the politicians, and given back his command. But this was the last straw. The young patriot, ablest of generals and loved by his men, became bitter, disillusioned, and it was at this point that Ben...Benedict Arnold...betrayed his country.
Mention the name of Benedict Arnold today and nobody remembers his victories and bravery, only the crime of treason.
The seeds of disillusionment
What causes a person to betray his own ideals? For a person to betray everything he loves and believes he must first feel betrayed.
Benedict Arnold felt stabbed in the back by jealous fellow officers. He had charges brought against him by British sympathizers. Congress refused to refund money he had spent out of his pocket for war expenses. Eventually, he convinced himself that the leaders of the revolution were incompetent and he lost faith in the cause of liberty.
Once we allow bitterness over another person's actions or words to set in we become consumed with self-justice. Arnold's disillusionment in the revolution was rooted in his concern with personal injustices both real and perceived. Always a prideful man, Arnold's pride became more important than his values.
Pride is a great deceiver. It makes us forget our goal and centers our attention on what we feel we deserve because of our own effort and sacrifice. It changes the focus from how we treat others to how others treat us. Issues are replaced with personalities. Character, the internal force to do right, becomes easily manipulated by a drive to be vindicated no matter what the price.
A wise man once wrote, "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2 NIV).
When you feel betrayed
All of us have been misused or betrayed by a family member, friend, employer, organization, even a church. We can internalize the hurt caused by others until the memory of betrayal controls our thoughts and emotions. At times we allow the faults or abuse of others to weaken our commitment to our own values or even our faith in God.
A Canaanite woman came to Jesus asking for her daughter to be healed. Imagine her surprise when Jesus ignored her. His disciples asked Jesus to send her away. Jesus finally addressed her by saying, "It is not good to take the children's bread and give it to the little dogs."
If anyone ever seemed to have the "right" to feel betrayed it was this woman. Jesus, the one many claimed was the Messiah, had ignored her. His disciples were rude and seemed prejudiced against Canaanites. She could have become disillusioned, claiming Jesus to be a fraud.
Instead, she answered, "True, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Jesus commended her faith and healed her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). The Canaanite woman's faith couldn't be swayed by the actions of others. She was too aware of her total dependency upon God.
If beliefs and values are based in spiritual reality, they can't be changed by the imperfections of people. Benedict Arnold felt betrayed by human beings. He responded by betraying his own values and ideals. He serves as a warning on the road to infamy.