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10 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History

notorious traitors

Treachery is one of the worst kinds of crimes one can ever commit. Not only does it ruin the trust with former allies but also poses a question on the imposter’s character. It is safe to say that there is no glory in any sort of reward the traitor may gain in exchange for betraying his own people. History has plenty of examples of cowardly turncoats. Following is the list of 10 of the most notorious traitors in history. 

1. During the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold betrayed America by offering to surrender West Point, New York in exchange for £20,000 and a general’s commission in British Army. British failed to get their hands on West Point, but Arnold’s plan was revealed and so he escaped to the British Lines.

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold. Image credit: Shutterstock

Arnold was indeed a skillful leader and distinguished himself in multiple battles in the Revolutionary War. He also gained support from George Washington.

For his exceptional performance, in 1780 he was handed over command of West Point, the fort situated on Hudson River.

The traitor started making secret contacts with the head of the British forces, Sir Henry Clinton. He promised complete surrender of the fort and men to the enemies in exchange for his selfish benefits.

On 21 September, the plan was proposed to Major John Andre by Benedict, but it was uncovered. Andre was captured and executed by the British, but Benedict successfully fled away to Virginia and Connecticut.

In the aftermath, he moved to England, though he never got what he was promised from the British. He died in London the following year on 14 June.

The former American hero is so hated by the Americans that his name is considered synonymous with the word “traitor.” (1, 2)

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2. Mir Jafar was the man who betrayed his Indian countrymen for a bribe that opened the gates for the British’s more than the 200-year rule in India. He assisted the enemies to win over the Bengali ruler in the Battle of Plassey. The event is considered the beginning of British Imperialism in India.

Mir Jafar
Mir Jafar. Image credit: Wikimedia.org, Tilly Kettle/Wikimedia.org

The East India Company of England was already establishing itself aggressively in the Indian markets in the 18th century. They also had their headquarters in the prominent city of Calcutta and were looking forward to assuming complete control over it.

Siraj ud-Daulah, the ruler of the kingdom, resisted the British’s imperial intentions. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Clive declared war against Siraj at Plassey. The ruler’s forces far exceeded the British company’s army by 50,000 to a mere 3,000 men. However, what the king didn’t see coming was the not-so-obvious betrayal by his own men led by Mir Jafar.

On 23 June 1757, Jafar ordered his forces to hold back in the battle of Plassey and let the enemies take over. Siraj, the ruler, fled, but not for so long, and was captured and executed. 

Clive replaced Siraj’s rule of Nawab with Jafar but benefitted himself by assuming the post of governor in Bengal. Jafar’s greediness proved fatal when two years later, Clive found out about Jafar’s additional treaty with the Dutch. He was replaced by his son-in-law, Mir Qasim.

Jafar is hated in Indian, Pakistani, and Bengali history to the degree that his name is a replacement for the word “traitor” in their respective languages. (1, 2)

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3. When the Nazis were at war with multiple nations, Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian diplomat, launched a coup against his own king to gain favor from Hitler. He indeed became the minister-president under the Quisling Regime, known as the Nazis puppet government in Norway.

Vidkun Quisling
Vidkun Quisling. Image credit: Riksarkivet (National Archives of Norway)/Flickr.com via Wikimedia.org

Quisling was forever looking for outside support since his Nasjonal Samling Party lost in the 1930s elections. He turned towards the Nazis, and his insignificant party was known as the Norwegian Nazi Affiliate.

It didn’t take Quisling long to finally meet Hitler on 18 December 1939. During the encounter, his idea of invading Norway from the seaside was of lesser importance to Hitler. The two men allied based on their common views on the idea of a dominant race. Hitler was really impressed by Quisling’s proposal of producing a generation of ideal citizens. The plan was to merge the Nazi Aryans and Quisling’s Nordic race.

The Nazis entered Norway on 9 April 1940, and Quisling didn’t hesitate to self-declare himself the prime minister of Norway.

When the country was liberated in 1945, the culprit was held responsible for sending almost 1,000 Jews to die in the concentration camps. He was arrested, found guilty of treason, and executed. During the Second World War, his name became synonymous with the word “traitor.” (1, 2)

4. In pre-communist China, Wang Jingwei, a politician, shook hands with the Japanese enemies. In order to gain power, he agreed to establish a puppet government in Nanjing in exchange for some minor concessions.

Wang Jingwei
Wang Jingwei. Image credit: blog.livedoor.jp via Wikimedia.org, Shutterstock

Jingwei got his release from prison in 1911 in the light of the Wuchang Revolution. He became a national hero and a prominent political figure of the Senate.

After the Chinese leader Sun Yat-sen’s death in March 1925, he was competing with Chiang Kai Shek for the position. Chiang assumed the throne because of his military might.

To gather military support, Jingwei initially made contact with Hitler. Helpless in December 1938, he escaped secretly to Hanoi to make contacts with the Japanese. The enemies took control over Nanjing, and Jingwei was appointed as a puppet ruler. He enjoyed very little power when he served as the head of the state for the Japanese puppet government in Nanjing. 

Jingwei moved to Japan in March 1944 and died on 10 November the same year. He was undoubtedly a significant contributor to Xinhai Revolution. However, the hatred he receives as a traitor in Chinese history exceeds his accomplishments. (1, 2)

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5. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of conspiring to pass US atomic secrets to the Soviets. Even though they maintained their innocence up until their death, they became the first US citizens to be convicted and executed for espionage during peacetime.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Image credit: alphahistory.com

Julius, an engineer working for the US Army Signal Corps, and Ethel, working as a secretary, met as members of the Young Communist League.

On 17 June 1950, Julius Rosenberg was arrested on suspicion of espionage and was accused of managing a spy ring. It was said that the ring passed top-secret information related to atomic bombs to the Soviet Union. His wife, Ethel, was also arrested after a couple of months.

The one who turned the Rosenbergs in was Ethel’s younger brother David Greenglass. David was a former army sergeant and was working as a machinist at Los Alamos, the secret atomic bomb lab situated in New Mexico.

David had already confessed his treason passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union and served 10 years in prison for that offense.

The Rosenberg matter caught media attention and was seen as a very controversial one. Nonetheless, on 19 June 1953, they were executed in electric chairs at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. (Source)

Also read: 10 Amazing Pictures From History and the Backstories Behind Them

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