Benedict Arnold was a traitor. I’ve known this since I was very young. I’m sure there are times when I’ve read other bits and pieces about Arnold, but for me Benedict Arnold has simply been a synonym for the word “traitor”.
Steve Sheinkin’s political/military thriller about Arnold fascinated me. Sheinkin shows Benedict Arnold as a heroic warrior and remarkable military strategist. It seems, though, that if his name were not synonymous with traitor it might be synonymous with the term “loose cannon.” In the battle of Saratoga, for instance, he fought tirelessly to win the battle, as he knew it had to be won, regardless of the orders of his commanding officer.
Benedict Arnold might also be synonymous with the phrase “doesn’t play well with others.” Those whom he commanded were very loyal. Those on his level or above, with the exception of George Washington, viewed him with frustrated disdain. He was not a political creature; his feelings were hurt and his pride was offended far too easily. But he lived in a political world and the higher he rose in that world the more political he needed to be.
It’s an interesting comment on his strategic skills that, had a couple of things going right that went wrong, his plan against the Colonists might very well have won the war for the British.
John Andre, Arnold’s British contact also had an interesting life during the Revolutionary war. Sheinkin includes chapters on Andre, a likable sounding officer with too much ambition.
The story moves very quickly. It contains more about the heroics of Arnold than it does about his treachery.
The work is also thoroughly researched. Clearly Sheinkin knows his subject well. However, I think he may step a little far in assuming that he knows Arnold’s motivations. At one point he writes “but therein lies the key to understanding Arnold: he didn’t feel guilty. He was always able to convince himself that what he was doing was right. And if any feelings of remorse popped up, instead of dwelling on them he blended them with anger and spewed them outward at his enemies.”
The last 25 percent of the book contains source notes, quotation notes and an index.
After reading the book, Arnold is no longer simply a synonym for “traitor” in my mind, he is a complex human being with great strengths and, unfortunately, great weaknesses.
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