An Open Letter on Benedict Arnold and Love

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Presumably He meant that literally.

As in, love one another without any thought of reciprocation or recompense, as He loves us.

But what is the nature of that love, precisely? We make much of the unconditional reach of His love, but certainly it was not without form.

He could forgive thieves and adulterers, but He could also clear out a crowd in a hurry when the temple needed cleansing. There are limits to even the patience of God, else there had been no need for an ark in the days of Noah.

I have been asking this question for some time now. Years. Dissatisfied with the answers I see all around me.

I know; I know that it’s an individual matter we each must decide: who to marry, what storms to weather and for how long, which familial relationships must be nurtured and borne with against all odds and which ones need an immediate cleansing. We cannot judge another’s choosing—whether they have a history of overturning tables, or of meek—or majestic—silence in the face of abuse.

But still, I find myself asking. And occasionally finding answers in unexpected places.

There is a monument on the battlefield at Saratoga that reads, “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution.”

The inscription does not name the man.

There is another monument, also nameless, at the West Point US military academy.

Why the anonymity for this brilliant Major General?

His name was Benedict Arnold.

The man was so heroic that even after becoming one of the most notorious traitors in American History, his brilliance merits a monument.

Benedict Arnold and his contemporary, George Washington, both wanted victory for the Continental army—wanted it enough to stare down the enemy and bleed and suffer every kind of privation for it.

They both witnessed the same vicious political infighting and corruption of the newly formed Congress. They suffered physical and financial privations, were insulted and mocked and treated with indifference, ingratitude and slander. They fought and bled and struggled—ostensibly for the same cause.

The things Benedict Arnold wanted were not contemptible—peace for his country and an unsullied reputation for himself—but nor were they possible; not in the way he imagined, and not on Major General Benedict Arnold’s personal schedule. Unfortunately for Arnold, defecting to the British made those things he wanted even more elusive. He knew what he had become, and so did they. His welcome was cold and the course of the war largely unchanged.

Washington remained loyal even when he saw that the men entrusted with leading his country into a new era of freedom were possibly more corrupt than the Monarchy they claimed to revolt against, when his own honor and name were sullied and no amount of gratitude for his sacrifice was forthcoming and the war had no end in sight.

Why the split?

As near as I can tell, Washington and Arnold fought for the same thing—victory—but they wanted it for different reasons. Washington fought for an ideal; Arnold wanted results. Now.

We name bridges, states and monuments for Washington; we can’t even bring ourselves to attach Arnold’s name to his indisputable legacy in the battles of Saratoga, Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, Ridgefield, and all the hard-won ground between.

What is it that you want?

And what happens when you realize that the ones to whom you look for those things you want are incapable of providing them?

Maybe your mother or your daughter or your best friend or your spouse will never love you the way you think they should. Maybe when you walk into the room you are met with complaints or accusations or agonizing indifference, and maybe you think your only option is to turn away from the relationship completely.

And maybe it is. But be careful of where you turn for those things you have deemed so fundamental to your happiness and consider who it is you will become in the process.

In the early days of the war, Benedict Arnold received a letter from a high-ranking enemy officer, praising him for his skill and valor and inviting him over to the British side.  Benedict was initially offended, but he kept the letter.

And year after thankless, grueling year, Benedict Arnold unfolded the letter and read and reread it; at some point he made a decision.

So go ahead—do some deep thinking; figure out what it is that you really want for yourself and the course of your life. You may very well discover there are changes you need to make to get to where you want to be, but consider the possibility that there exist ideals of marriage and family and loyalty that are larger than your immediate needs for recognition or affection or apology.  Look under those things you think are missing and have the courage to identify the ideal that brought you to the relationship in the first place.

There may indeed be a cleansing in order, tables that need overturning; there might also be secret letters that need burning.

Do not shape the confines of your loyalty and your patience so small that at the end of your life you find yourself in as narrow a strait as the once-heroic Arnold. The one thing I have learned in my thirty some odd years is how large the mold must be if we do not desire to occupy its confines alone.

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One response to “An Open Letter on Benedict Arnold and Love

  • Mandy

    Thank you for this! It has helped me sort through some things that I have been trying to put together in my mind. I have a friend struggling right now…and I just haven't been able to find the right words to help or encourage her. This helped. Thank you.

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