During World War I anyone not siding with his/her country was a traitor. Among such traitors sentenced to death one finds the Irish patriot Roger Casement (hanged by the British), Mata Hari (the most famous dancer of her time, shot for being a spy), and the Italian patriot (but Austrian citizen) Cesare Battisti . Fascism, Nazism and Communism considered traitors all those who fought against them: thousands, perhaps millions of people. In World War II spies were the primary targets of accusations of betrayal. During the Cold War the climate of fear and suspicion made a traitor of anyone not swearing loyalty to one’s government. Collaborationists (Petain in France, Quisling in Norway, the writers Brasillach, Celine, Pound and Hamsun), authentic or alleged “atom spies” (Sorge, Fuchs, the Rosenbergs), South African rebels (Mandela) and the internecine struggles plaguing liberation movements also point to how the concept of betrayal has changed and expanded, becoming synonymous with spying and being used to stigmatize those who fight for transparency and information-sharing, as shown by the recent Assange and Snowden affairs.
Marcello Flores teaches Human Rights History and History of Culture at the University of Siena.