What two reasons motivated Benedict Arnold to turn against the American army?
Answer: Jealousy and Debt
The older I get, the more I read, and presumably the more I learn, I become further convinced that there are no new problems today that humans of prior eras haven't faced already (Duh). Gut-feelings and emotions drive individual decisions, and the sum individual decisions drives collective action, and once collective action is cemented, it becomes history. It makes me wonder where we’d be if we could earnestly learn from other’s mistakes (and we do sometimes), but that’s a completely different philosophical question that’s not worth tackling in the confines of a blog post that you’re most likely reading on a 5 x 3 screen. In any event, let me explain.
Benedict Arnold, Benny, if you will, had a good life. He was born into a respectable family in Connecticut, ran show in the French and Indian conflict, and scored some major wins during the Revolutionary War. He was instrumental in helping capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 (which earned him a promotion) and continued to make a name for himself at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield, and Saratoga. Big GW, Mr. Washington himself, even dapped him up when he saw Benny Arnold. (Okay, he didn’t do this but George Washington did recognize old Benny Boy as a valuable asset to the rebel cause, and a true American patriot). Or so he thought… (the plot thickens)
Even though Benny was proving his worth and getting promoted, the dude was still pissed. And not like apathetic pissed, and just purposely sucking at his job, but like seething with anger pissed. Red-faced pissed. Eventually, red-coat pissed (Get it?). Why? Well in 1777 five men who were ranked below him in the army got promoted over him. To Benny, this was a slap in the face. In his eyes, he’d helped clinch some major W’s for the revolutionary army, only to be rewarded with a minor promotion and maybe a cookie.
Look, we’ve all been there. This is the type of thing you come home and complain to your wife about right? Well, for poor old Benny, this was the second part of the problem. First of all, he couldn’t really come home and complain to his wife, seeing as how he was on the battlefield and all, but when he was able to see her she was more concerned with bottle service on Friday night and bottomless brunch on Saturday morning. (Again, she didn’t really do this, but Benny Arnold’s second wife lived a lavish lifestyle). This lavish lifestyle was fun while it lasted, but after a while, Benny and his wife started to rack up some serious debt.
At this point in the story, I hope I’ve painted a broader picture of Benny Arnold’s emotional state circa 1780. The way I see it, the guy was used to having control. I mean he was a brigadier general in the Revolutionary Army - KBD. When this control was relinquished at work (in the form of hiring, or lack thereof), and jeopardized at home due to his wife’s apparent ownership of the checkbook, his back was against the wall. The guy figured he could fix both of his problems with one simple solution: the old can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em approach.
In 1780 Benny was given command of West Point, which at this junction was just an American fort on the Hudson River. Peaceful, gorgeous place to watch the leaves change, and rated 5-stars on Yelp for places to make deals with British commanders named Sir Henry Clinton. And that’s exactly what Benny did. That year he contacted Clinton and met with Major John Andre to finalize his plans of handing over West Point. In return, he would be paid a hefty sum and land a cushy position in the British army. Unfortunately for Benny, but fortunately for you and me, his plot was uncovered, Andre was captured and executed, and Benny fled the scene. Dick move.
Benny did go on to lead British troops in Connecticut and Virginia but we all know how the story ends. After the war, he moved to England and died in London in June of 1801. Look, at the end of the day, Benny was just a man. A man as susceptible as any other man or woman to forces and emotions we all experience at one point or another. If you don’t get that promotion this year, step back, assess the situation and make a rational decision. Keep your finances in check too. Debt isn’t a bad thing if you control it. Once it starts controlling you, you may feel a strange urge to put on a redcoat.