History’s Most Notorious Traitors – 24/7 Wall St.
No historical figure is more reviled than traitors. Many of their betrayals had a significant impact on the history and destiny of nations. The depth of their betrayal is such that many of their names – Vidkun Quisling, Benedict Arnold, Mir Jafar and Judas Iscariot – are synonymous with disloyalty.
The first question asked about traitors is why would someone betray their own country? There are many motivations, but the most common is money. Andrew Daulton Lee, a drug trafficker from California, passed secrets to the Soviet Union in the 1970s for cash. A growing bank account of Aldrich Ames, a longtime CIA operative, has piqued the interest of US intelligence. When FBI agent Robert Hanssen was arrested for espionage, he said his only motivation was financial. (They are the most famous spies in history.)
Ideological reasons are another incentive for people to turn against their country. In the 1930s, Cambridge University students were recruited by the Soviet Union to spy on Britain. The so-called Cambridge Five were convinced that Marxism was the best counterweight to the rise of fascism and passed intelligence to Soviet Russia. In our time John Walker Lindh from California converted to Islam and ended up fighting for the extremist Islamist group the Taliban against the United States and its allies in 2001.
For others, sheer expediency was the justification for betrayal. Ephialtes showed Xerxes’ Persian army a way to circumvent the Spartan force at Thermopylae, hoping for an influential place in a Greece conquered by Persia. It was also the motivation of Pierre Laval, the French politician who collaborated with Nazi Germany, which he was convinced would win World War II. (The Nazis were defeated in part due to their loss in some of the greatest battles of the Second World War.)
Some of the traitors on the list had distinguished themselves in combat, such as Benedict Arnold, Andrey Vlasov and Philippe Pétain, only to then desert their country.
Click here to see the most famous traitors in history
Nearly half of the traitors on this list met a dark end, whether by execution, accident, or suicide. The one who died by her own hand was Stella Kubler, one of the most reprehensible people in history. Kubler, born to a Jewish family in Germany, was a “Jew catcher” – a Jew working for the Nazis to find other Jews in hiding. Kubler denounced his co-religionists, many of whom were former classmates and even relatives, for money.