(BPT) - Benedict Arnold is arguably the most successful and talented general in the Revolution. He was also America’s greatest traitor. However, if his treason had succeeded it could have changed the course of history forever.
In the new book, “Becoming Benedict Arnold,” author Stephen Yoch reveals how close Arnold came to turning West Point over to the British and cutting the American colonies in half. These efforts could have led to the capture of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette.
What if? An expert’s take
In a recent interview, Yoch discussed the impact on history if Arnold had succeeded. He explained there were peace overtures as the war continued to drag on in 1780. The Carlisle Commission sent by England was ready to offer the Americans virtually everything they had requested prior to the Revolution, except for complete independence from England.
If Arnold succeeded, the British would have divided the colonies by controlling the crucial Hudson River corridor all the way up to Canada. Meanwhile Washington would have been sentenced to death, and the war-weary colonies may have accepted the offered compromise.
America would have returned to the protection of the British fleet and been welcomed back into the Empire. As was generally the case for British colonies, the mother country would have sought to slow industrial development, therefore keeping factories humming in England while using the Commonwealth as sources for raw materials.
Over time, the inevitable fracture in America between slave and free states would have continued to grow. More likely than not, the British would have separated the South from the North, further slowing American growth.
While it may still have been America’s manifest destiny to expand to the West Coast, the British would have slowed that process. With the partition of North and South, industrial growth after the Civil War would not have occurred at the same rate. Texas may have remained independent. Similarly, the Transcontinental Railroad would not have been completed as early as May 29, 1869. The result would be a divided and weaker continent.
The Napoleonic Wars would still have occurred, but with increased support of Britain’s American colonies, the English may have defeated Napoleon earlier. In any event, the result would have been the same: English dominance until the rise of Germany as an industrial giant and dominant force on the European continent.
World War I would still have happened and Germany would have been defeated, perhaps earlier because of American involvement from the outset (as loyal members of the Commonwealth), albeit less industrially powerful and divided into two separate states, North and South.
Where history diverges
World War II is where history truly could have taken a separate path. Assuming the British and French would once again take a punitive approach following World War I, German resentment and economic distress would again lead to radical national fascism and the rise of Hitler or a similar figure.
Likewise, the lack of a powerful American fleet in the Pacific would allow the rise of Japanese nationalism and imperial ambitions to go unchecked in China and the South Pacific. While the Royal Navy would no doubt be larger, it may or may not have been in a position to thwart Japanese expansion.
The Second World War would inevitably begin in Europe and the South Pacific. However, this time, there would be no “arsenal of democracy” to support and defeat the Germans and Japanese. The Americans would supply troops and substantial material, but the lack of unequaled expansion of American industry between the beginning of the Civil War and World War II would have been limited by the British.
As a result, there would be no armadas of liberty ships bringing supplies to Europe. England would fall in an invasion (Operation Sea Lion). Germany, following the Schleiffen Plan, would control Western Europe and turn its armies to the East. This time, with its western border secure, Germany would defeat Russia and obtain “Lebensraum,” land for expansion and development. Germany would also move south and control the oil fields in Caucasus and the Middle East.
Caught between the Japanese in Asia and complete German control in Europe, the Americans would find themselves likely partitioned between the Japanese and German empires. Or, more likely, given the surrender of the British and the anglophile nature of the German aristocracy, the Americans would likely be incorporated into the Reich.
What if Arnold had succeeded and the American Revolution failed? Yoch concludes America would be weaker and unable to defeat the Japanese or support the British in their fight against the Nazis. World War II would have been won by the fascists and Americans would all be speaking German.
To order “Becoming Benedict Arnold,” or to explore Yoch’s earlier work, visit Amazon.com.