Going against the United States government is usually a bad idea. And it's even worse if you're an American citizen. Sometimes we’ve been too hard on people who were forced at gunpoint to assist the enemy (e.g. “Tokyo Rose”) and sometimes we’ve been too soft on willing collaborationists. Here are 10 Americans who let our side down.
10. BENEDICT ARNOLD
When your name becomes synonymous with “traitor,” you can usually expect to have it pop up on a fair number of lists of famous traitors. You can also usually expect to have been executed by angry patriots long before you get to read any of these lists, but in Benedict Arnold’s case, he was able to die peacefully in Canada at a safe distance from everyone who wanted to kill him. Arnold was actually on track to become an American hero, scoring important victories at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga and often leading his men from the front lines, but his short temper and bureaucratic naivete meant he soon made powerful enemies and few friends in the political structure of the Continental Army. Arnold was also deep in debt after paying for much of his soldiers’ equipment out of his own pocket, so when he found himself relegated to military command of Philadelphia, he developed contacts among Loyalist Americans and eventually started selling pricey but crucial bits of intelligence to the British spy service. When his spymaster was captured, Benedict Arnold officially joined the British Army as a brigadier general, leading several attacks on targets in New York before settling down in Canada, where he played a minor role in British military intrigues and shipping, but was mostly remembered for being an incredibly bitter and unpleasant man.
9. JANE FONDA
Hollywood legend Henry Fonda's daughter was just another actress during the late 1960s, star of the sexy but confusing film adaptation of “Barbarella,” generally considered talented but usually given only roles that emphasized her sex-kitten image, and almost completely apolitical. That was before she met Army private Richard Perrin in 1968, founder of the “Resistance Inside the Army” movement, a semi-secret organization of active-duty soldiers who opposed the Vietnam War. Perrin’s description of the horrors of Vietnam convinced Fonda that the war was not just immoral but an unnecessary trauma inflicted upon American troops, and she lent her talents to a nationwide tour named “FTA” or “Free the Army” (a play on the common military acronym F--- the Army) to act as an alternative to government-approved USO shows. Performing with Donald Sutherland and other counterculture artists and personalities, Fonda made the FTA tour an unqualified success among American servicemen, but the increased visibility from the role brought her to the attention of the North Vietnamese government, which formally invited her to the country in July of 1972.
During her tour of Hanoi, Fonda crossed a line between opposing the war in Vietnam because it was horrible and degrading to U.S. soldiers, to opposing the war in Vietnam by being horrible and degrading to U.S. soldiers. While she claims that the famous picture of her at the controls of an anti-aircraft gun was the result of manipulation and an action she regretted, she has never apologized for claiming that the many American POWs who reported systematic torture and inhumane conditions at NVA prison camps were “hypocrites and liars” who were “trying to make themselves look self-righteous.” The radio broadcasts she made during her Hanoi visit became part of the NVA/Viet Cong’s massive psychological warfare campaign, and the American military has never forgiven her. One of the post-Vietnam traditions of the United States Naval Academy is that if one sailor shouts “Good night, Jane Fonda!” his or her entire training company must reply “Good night, bitch!”
8. ROBERT EDWARD LEE
Son of the famed Revolutionary cavalier Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III, Robert E. Lee bucked the tradition of being named Henry but continued the family’s history of illustrious and exemplary military service, being promoted to a full colonel by Abraham Lincoln shortly after the secession of Texas. Approached numerous times by Confederate conspirators, Lee publicly swore allegiance to the Union and privately ridiculed Confederate military plans, being among the few people who believed the war would be long and bloody. When war became inevitable, Lee was even invited to manage the defense of Washington D.C., a position he rejected as he felt he would be required to invade his home state of Virginia. Lee was desperate to avoid war and supported any attempt at compromise.
So why and how did he become one of the Confederacy’s greatest and most well-known generals? In the end, Lee felt allegiance to his state first and his country second, and when Virginia seceded, he believed he had no choice but to resign his U.S. Army commission and take up the defense of Northern Virginia. Lee’s predictions of a slow, painful war came true, though as general-in-chief of the Confederate military in the last months of battle, he was able to block efforts by some officers to set up guerrilla operations in the mountains, and generally guided the rebel military to a conditional surrender. After the war, Lee immediately lent his name and remaining wealth to reconciliation efforts and a system of state-funded schools for the newly freed black population, eventually receiving a personally written amnesty from Andrew Johnson before dying of a stroke in 1870. Despite his personal ambivalence over the war, Lee remains an iconic figure and a major symbol of the antebellum South, as well as a good person to name your car after.
7. ALDRICH AMES
The most damaging mole in CIA history and believed to be the most damaging spy in American history in general (until the discovery of Robert Hanssen several years later), Aldrich Ames first started working for the Russians in 1985. Nine years later, the CIA noticed that one of their analysts (a $60,000-per-year desk job) owned a $50,000 Jaguar and a $540,000 house -- both of which he had paid for in cash -- and a line of credit cards with minimum monthly payments that exceeded his monthly salary. After making sure that Ames hadn’t just been mowing lawns in his spare time, the CIA arrested him, where he nonchalantly admitted that he had sold the Soviets information that had resulted in the exposure of over a hundred Western agents inside the Eastern Bloc. Ames pleaded guilty to dodge the death penalty (several agents had been executed based on his information) and the American intelligence apparatus breathed a sigh of relief knowing that their worst leak had successfully been patched up. But it wouldn't last.
6. ROBERT HANSSEN
A computer and wiretapping expert, Robert Hanssen rose high in the FBI power structure even though he was actively spying for the Soviet and Russian Federation governments for all but the first three years of his career. His work compromised hundreds of American counter-espionage investigations and earned him over $1.4 million from grateful KGB and GRU agents. Using a system of code names and “dead drops” to exchange information and cash, Hanssen maintained a much lower profile than Ames and would have never been caught if his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) hadn’t spotted a gigantic stack of money on Hanssen’s nightstand during a visit. When captured in 2001 after 22 years as a double agent, Hanssen is said to have asked investigators, “What took you so long?”
5. EZRA POUND
American expatriate Ezra Pound was a revolutionary poet and literary critic, a personal friend to nearly all the American and British writers of the time, and a proud and committed fascist. Pound blamed the international banking system for World War I, which disillusioned and embittered him, and he felt that the experimental system of “social credit” that was needed to replace the banks could only be implemented by a fascist government. After moving to Italy and meeting Mussolini, Pound began working less on his poetry and more on his economic and social lectures and pamphlets, where increasingly the term “international banking” was being replaced by “international Jewry,” and articles or letters would end with the salutation, “Heil Hitler.” During the invasion of Italy during WWII, Pound convinced the government of Rome to allow him to make propaganda broadcasts to American troops, which were of dubious value as his voice was described as “like the sound of a hornet stuck in a jar” and there were fairly few poetry aficionados in the army at the time. Arrested in 1945 by partisan troops, Pound endured harsh conditions in an American prison camp outside Pisa, an experience that drove him insane (or possibly just more insane) and left him unfit to stand trial. After his release from a Pennsylvania mental asylum in 1958, Pound returned to Italy to live out the rest of his days in bitterness and failing health.
4. FRITZ JULIUS KUHN
Born in Germany but living and working in America since 1928, Fritz Kuhn was the man in charge of the infamous U.S. Nazi group, the German-American Bund. An enthusiastic supporter of Hitler’s ideas on racial purity and the fascist system, Kuhn was also a fan of Hitler’s political style. Bund gatherings were known for dramatic outbursts of violence in a way America had never seen before. Ironically, Hitler wasn’t much of a fan of Kuhn and his makeshift Nazi party. The dictator wanted Nazi influence in America to be powerful, but not so powerful that it might backfire and draw America into the war. The Bund’s front-page antics weren’t squaring well with that goal. Eventually, Kuhn was taken down by a New York City tax investigation that showed he had embezzled $14,000 from his own organization, and after leaving jail for that charge, he was promptly arrested for being an enemy agent. There wasn’t any immediate evidence that he had passed on intelligence or attempted sabotage, but when you have someone who was once photographed hanging out with Hitler, you should probably toss that a-hole in prison on general principle. Kuhn was released at the war’s end and returned to Germany a bitter, broken man.
3. AMERICAN WAFFEN-SS VOLUNTEERS
One of the stranger details about Germany’s Nazi-run Schutzstaffel (aka the SS) was that it formed a number of volunteer and propaganda divisions of decidedly non-German and sometimes even non-Aryan ethnicities. French traitors had the Charlemagne Division, Britons could fight their countrymen as part of the Freiwillige Korps, and for years there were rumors of a so-called “George Washington Brigade” made up entirely of renegade Americans. The GWB turned out to be a myth, but it was a myth reinforced by the occasional discovery of SS troops with American accents or names, who often turned out to be not just naturalized citizens but born on American soil. It’s impossible to know for sure how many Americans fought for the Nazis, as records are unavailable after May of 1940, but the sketchy information available on American SS casualties show that these troops fought in every theater of the European war.
2. MARTIN JAMES MONTI
One particularly noteworthy American SS was Army Air Force pilot Martin James Monti, who in October of 1944 hitchhiked and transferred his way to an Italian airbase, stole a fast recon plane and promptly flew it north into Axis hands to defect. Casting about for something to do, Monti made a few propaganda broadcasts under the name Martine Wiehaupt, but his radio voice was lacking and he eventually became an SS sergeant in the closing weeks of the war. Nobody is quite sure of Monti’s motivation (although his mother was a native German) or why he chose to defect to a country that was really clearly losing the war, but it’s assumed that he was a more convincing personality than the SS propaganda office believed, given that he was able to convince a U.S. Army patrol that he was merely an American deserter despite the fact that he was wearing a full-dress SS uniform at the time. He served a brief jail sentence before being released back into the Army, where he kept a low profile and managed to make sergeant by 1948 before someone at the FBI said “Hey, wait a minute!” and promptly threw him in jail for the next 25 years.
Next: 10 Wars You Never Knew About
1. AARON BURR
Burr was vice president to Thomas Jefferson back when the president and the veep tended to be from opposing parties and spent a lot of time yelling at each other. He was also the guy who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in an infamous duel. What most history lessons don’t really get into, however, is that Burr became so unpopular after essentially murdering his political opponent that he basically decided his career was over unless he did something really dramatic, i.e. taking control of the Texas and Louisiana Territories with groups of armed farmers and the help of sympathetic army officers, and possibly invade either Mexico or Washington, D.C., depending on whether he could sweet-talk Spain into the deal. Unfortunately for Burr, Jefferson had been keeping a fairly close eye on his former VP, and various state district attorneys were busy collecting evidence of the so-called Burr Conspiracy.
The hammer finally dropped after Burr’s co-conspirator General James Wilkinson sent Congress the deciphered text of a letter Burr had written of a planned attack on several important Mississippi River towns. Upon being handed a New Orleans newspaper that published his treasonous letter in full and offered a reward for his capture, Burr decided that this was probably going to go even worse than the whole dueling thing, and after a few negotiations at Bayou Pierre, he abandoned his tiny army to hide in the vast marshes of the Louisiana Territory, which is only a good place to hide in if you’re prepared to deal with snakes, alligators, mosquitoes and Cajun food. A considerably thinner and damper Aaron Burr was eventually discovered and captured/rescued by troops from Fort Stoddard, who delivered him to Richmond, Va. for his trial at the Supreme Court. Despite Jefferson’s intense desire to have his former coworker killed by the state, stubborn Chief Justice John Marshall eventually threw the case out based on technicalities. The case became one of the earliest tests of Constitutional law and the limiting of the executive branch. Burr briefly exiled himself to Europe, but returned later under an assumed name to try and start anew. True to form, he was pestering various governments with plans to conquer Mexico (installing himself as governor, natch) even under his new identity, but nothing came of it and he died hounded by creditors from both his old life and the new one.