Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BENEDICT ARNOLD; PATRIOT or TRAITOR ?

                                                                                                          © M.C.V.Egan/W.Hartzenberg
History is filled with colorful characters that are both a patriot and a traitor. It is simply a matter of perspective as one country’s freedom-fighter is another’s rebel. In some cases one countries terrorist is also ultimately its savior.
Today with so much information available to so many we may well see a trend in which much of generally accepted history is questioned. An interesting example is that of American General Benedict Arnold (1741-1801).
A historical plaque found on a London building not far from the American Embassy states the following; “Benedict Arnold, American Patriot resided here from 1796 until his death on June 14th, 1801”. The plaque is not one of the usual official blue ones.
Benedict Arnold was a General in the American Revolutionary Army. Acting upon a loyalty to England and planning to surrender the fortifications under his command to the British, this was revealed before he succeeded. Thus Arnold was forced flee and join the British Army where he was given the title of Brigadier General.
In America any traitor is commonly referred to as a Benedict Arnold.  The plaque was placed by a private citizen and distant relative of Benedict Arnold who after researching his ancestor, felt strongly that Arnold was misunderstood. The descendant, an amateur historian is of the opinion that Benedict Arnold’s intentions were in his heart of hearts for the good of America.
With a good deal if not most of the important original documents from The American Revolution housed in the British National Archives at Kew, as well as documents from all other ex-colonies and surely countless amateur historians perusing documents in person or on-line we may well encounter more and more plaques and monuments with conflicting opinions.
They have of course always existed, to Catholics Britain’s Sir Thomas Moore is a Saint and a history of strong prejudice excluded Catholics in the UK from even the right to vote on The Isle until 1829 when the political climate changed and Parliament passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act.
 
So much that we take for granted as accepted and the norm today has contradictory and even violent roots in the past. Exploring the historical perspectives from several sides of a story can raise as heated a discussion as current political discussions of the day.
Koos De La Rey a guerrilla fighter against the British during the second Boer War was rallied around as a folk hero by native South Africans. De La Rey was so daring in his attacks that Afrikaners whom, prior to visibility were impartial started to stand up and fight with him one man by pure force of will turned the tide of a war. Villain to Britain and Hero to South Africa.
Possibly one of the most famous terrorists in the world, Nelson Mandela served a 27 year long sentence for acts of terrorism as defined in The Rivonia trial all the while fighting against a political system focused on racial segregation. A life time after his conviction for terrorism Madiba left prison to become a hero to all, a President of a nation united. An icon.
So this is the question; If history is owned by the victor? Then who is to say that today's traitor won’t become tomorrow’s hero?