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Traitors in History

Traitors in History

Kalayu Abrha


One of the key agendas in the complex politics of Tigray, which is gathering momentum in the last few months, is the issue of traitors. Although the intensity and the damage it is inflicting on the people's cause to survive and thrive is immense any analysis of it may become incomplete due to the absence of adequate and reliable information about who is who and the extent of harm done.  In this article I will focus only on notorious historical examples of the damage done by traitors on their respective societies. I will start with an excerpt from Peter Tosh's immortal Reggae piece: 

"Jah Jah guide me from my friends; because I know, I know my enemies. They will come and sit round your table; wanting to kill you like Cain killed Abel."

"Anytime you see your friend, the first thing you see is his teeth, Yes but, if you could see the inner part; then we gonna know the sucker has got a wicked heart."

"Your enemies stay far from you, they don't want to see you, while your friends will come with a smiling face; and it doesn't mean another shoe's lace."

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"Traitor" is defined as "a person who betrays someone or something, such as a friend, cause, or principle". This article is not about betrayal among friends. Although even at individual level betrayal is immoral, it is left up to the individual to handle such irregularities in everyday life. As Peter Tosh suggested seeking God's blessing to protect oneself from betrayal by friends and at the same time being cautious are the best options. The most damaging betrayal occurs to communities at a larger scale. Betrayal of a cause or principle, particularly when the realization of the cause or principle requires engaging in war, traitors can do more harm than the enemy. They cannot succeed to destroy a cause; but they can lengthen the time and worsen the pain in the march towards the attainment of the cause. You cannot have truth on opposing sides. Truth (noble cause) is always on one side as opposed to falsehood (evil cause). One who betrays an evil cause is not named as a traitor. Betraying the Derg, betraying the Sicilian Mafia, betraying Hitler, betraying the Serbs, and betraying the blood thirsty Hutu gangs is not being a traitor. The afore stated elaboration is need because the definition of a traitor does not indicate the nature of what is betrayed.

What are universally accepted as noble causes or principles are the struggle for freedom from slavery, tyranny, and national oppression; liberation from colonial rule; emancipation of women and the marginalized; and the fight for democracy and good governance. Anyone who betrays these causes for whatever reason is a traitor. I say "whatever reason" because no reason under the Sun justifies this kind of betrayal. Traitors put the lives of millions of people at risk; they sabotage well planned operations and multiply losses. Here is the main reason why traitors are more dangerous to a cause than the enemy. One can plan without being closely observed by the enemy: but the traitor co-plans. In addition, the traitor has got knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses on "his side" and/or has a good knowledge of the geography and society of the area where the noble cause fights to realize itself. With this advantage the enemy can catch those that stand for the noble cause unprepared with the help of the traitor.

Those that stand for the noble cause are always surprised, angered, and often discouraged especially by high profile betrayal of trust. The consequences of betrayal could also breed mutual suspicion in the ranks of the fighters for the noble cause. Unless it is handled with maximum care and patience innocent members may be branded as collaborators leading to factionalism and doom. Traitors abound in the world we live in. The Bible has stories of traitors like Delila who was Samson's mistress, the leader of the Israelis. Delila betrayed him to make it easy for the philistines to destroy the Israelis. What motivates traitors to be what they become? In his book "Anatomy of a Traitor", Michael Smith lists down possible motivators for traitors as: money, hatred, love for adventure, fear, inflated ego, revenge, ideology, sense of what is right that transcends nationalities, addiction, and love/sex. Mathew Landis also identified two motivators: deep unhappiness and self-interest. The unhappiness could originate from dissatisfaction, disillusionment, depression, or a sense of defeat. It is "A response to an acute crisis or an accumulation of crises or disappointment". As to self-interest it belongs to every one of us as a species; but it does not become a universal motivator for betrayal. Some base their betrayal on it; some others don't. A "persons pre-existing psychology and circumstances such as how parents model traits like loyalty and grace in their children; and how dire a specific situation is". The latter could mean personal difficulties such as the threat of physical harm, psychological harassment and a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the enemy. It is often the case for traitors to betray when the going gets tough and they are not tough enough to get going. Factinate has very interesting data about who traitors are. During the time considered for the survey of US citizens 93% men and only 7% women spied against their own country; and a third of them were alcohol abusers.

Beginning from antiquity world history is rife with traitors. Neither there is a need nor space to mention them all. Focus on a few significant traitors in different parts of the world is made here. Who does not know the brave and selfless Spartan King Leonidas? He was one of the early victims of betrayal. When the Persians came in huge numbers to invade Greece Leonidas decided to counter them at the narrow pass of Thermopylae. The defence plan was recked when a native Greek named Ephilates betrayed his fellow Greeks and showed the Persians a path around the pass to encircle the Spartans. The latter fought fiercely with unexpectedly huge loss. Later on the Greeks were victorious over Persians and the poor traitor was killed without getting his reward. Dona Marina of Aztec-Mexico was sold to slavery by her mother and she put her revenge by helping the Spanish to conquer her land. American war of independence has suffered one of the most notorious traitors the world has ever seen. Benedict Arnold was a general who was considered to be a great asset for the liberation war. In the middle of the war, he switched sides to the British loyalists and inflicted huge damage to America. He burned and killed in areas including his home place in Connecticut. The reasons for his betrayal were mostly personal: complaint about promotion and his fellows were charging him of corruption and lavish lifestyles. The most likely motivator for his betrayal is believed to be his wife who was a British loyalist. After 20 years of ill health this top traitor of America died in curse. Robert Lee has also betrayed the union and sided with the Confederates, who refused to end slavery.

World War II has experienced a number of high-profile traitors within only five years. Kawashina Yoshiko, a Chinese prince switched sides and fought for the Japanese against China. Higher still, Wang Jingwei formed a pro-Japan puppet government in China. In Europe, Philippe Petain, who was France's hero against Germany in World War I succumbed to his ego and became a leader of the Nazi-puppet government in his annexed Nation during World War II. None of the above compare to Vidkun Quisling whose name came to be synonymous with betrayal. He was the leader of the Nazi-puppet government in Norway. As it often happens to traitors who assume that things never change, Quisling was sentenced to death by firing squad soon after Norway was liberated from Nazi occupation. The truth unfortunately is that traitors will always be there with us taking no lessons from the past about how all ignoble acts are severely punished by God and/ or by humans. God abhors betrayal. Jesus was betrayed by Juda and Peter although we take comfort in the belief that all that was written and destined to happen.

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