Turncoats as Teachers
By Doug Motel
There is something fascinating about traitors to me. There seems to be a curiosity about people who make a choice to live a double life or to take a major “U” turn midstream. However, we know very little about what makes them tick. They seem to exist solely as an opportunity to exercise moral superiority. We seem to be satisfied with the simple answer of “they did it for the money”. Children are still taught that Judas Iscariot (Grand Poobah of the “traitor club”) sold out his four years as Jesus’ Apostle for 30 pieces of silver? One can only assume that he was in trouble with some serious loan sharks to have cashed in a possible eternity spent in heaven. This for a sum that wasn’t enough to buy a decent plot of desert land at the time.
At least Benedict Arnold (1st runner-up in the “Traitor Hall of Fame”) sold out for what would amount to a cool million in today’s currency. But still, here was a man who had spent more than that out of his own pocket to help keep the revolution afloat. Might there have been something more complex at stake than the simple stories of greed that immediately began to expend Colonial folklore after his dramatic escape to England?
Then there was Captain James Wormley Jones, a former WWI hero who returned to the U.S. to see that though he had helped to free Europeans from “The Hun”, his own land of “freedom” still offered barely more than a slavery style quality of life for his fellow African Americans. He chose to accept an assignment as “Agent 800”, the first black FBI operative whose mission it was to aid Herbert Hoover in collecting damaging information on black leaders fighting for civil rights.
People who make a choice to act in such a contrary fashion have much to teach us about ourselves, as creators of cultures, as architects of societies. I don’t think that we can ever extract all that their stories have to offer us, if we are unwilling to penetrate past the obvious or surface level of their deeds.
This play does not pretend to offer the answers, but the writing of it has brought me face to face with the repercussions of my own daily choices. Examining the root of what motivates my choices has taught me a lot about myself. For that, I owe these men a great deal in my attempt to portray fictionalized accounts of the most crucial day in their lives.