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The General’s Fodder

Nelson DeMille’s 1992 novel The General’s Daughter declares, “The American dream was not supposed to look like this, and when the men went off to the war, too often other men came in the night to the bedroom at the back of the long, narrow trailers. In fact, I had lived here then and had gone off to war, and someone took my place in the bed and took my young wife. But that was a few wars ago, and so much has happened since, that the only lingering bitterness left is that the bastard also took my dog.”


Sound familiar?


We begin the latest American obsession with military scandal that explodes onto the scene most notably on Friday, November 9th, two ironic days before Veterans Day 2012 when President Obama “suddenly” calls Four Star Army General and then C.I.A. Director David Howell Petraeus and accepts his resignation after serving as Director since September 6, 2011.


Maureen Dowd points out that Washington ‘s psyche is “suffused with schadenfreude” which, in part, has poured more gasoline on the all-too-human General’s extramarital escapade  than its due.  I dare say this vicarious sense of pleasure doesn’t stop at the bounds of the slow lane of Interstate Route 495.


And that’s precisely my point.  Our lust for illicit rendevous that reveal human beings as somehow disappointingly human is actually a bit more perverted than the actual subject of our interest.


Now I don’t condone a breach in fidelity.  And I don’t support behavior that will bring threats to national security, my belief in democratic transparency and contempt for jingoism aside.   What apparently began as an extramarital affair stemming from biographical interviews during six mile long runs between a general and a young reporter has since spun into an ever growing web of greater intrigue among a cast of several other characters including a Tampa “event planner”, an F.B.I. agent who has apparently had trouble keeping his shirt on over it all, Patraeus’ successor in Afghanistan and Congressman Eric Cantor.


The smoking “gun” in this armed dispatch has been the internet, beginning with emails between Patraeus and Broadwell and then among several others.  To be fair, much of the now official concern of the F.B.I. in this electronic communication has been the unauthorized passing of classified and other sensitive information.


But let’s put this into its proper perspective, shall we?   The real scandal has been and continues to be war crimes, not crimes of passion.   Randall Amster has articulated the point well: “The real transgressions here are not crimes of passion, but crimes of war: massive civilian casualties, destruction of nations, bankrupting the domestic economy, torture and rendition, drones raining extrajudicial death from above.”   Can you imagine a press corps, much less a society as engaged over the atrocity of war as they are over the top brass’s ass?   I can’t, and I’m a pretty imaginative guy.   We love to gloat over other’s apprehension for getting away with what we sometimes wish we could also get away with, concealing it with a phony sense of Puritanism that died at Plymouth Rock with the first interracial Anglo-Native American affair behind the tent.


As a Major General, Patraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division during V-Corps’s drive to Baghdad in 2003, a war based on a lie that ultimately destroyed a Middle Eastern nation and has likely fueled contempt for the United States among Islamic and Arab people to a far greater degree than before September 11, 2001.


There’s been virtually no mention of Petraeus’s spouse, Holly, during this debacle of “debauchery”.   During those extended days and nights while the General was “deployed” it was Holly who was perhaps the real soldier.  She’s now very likely trudging through a new set of hardships brought on by our misplaced but national focus on what began with her husband’s sexual encounters that did not include her.


Let’s be clear:  there’s a difference between hypocritical Puritanism and fidelity.  To the extent that fidelity has been compromised, whether based on a pledge between two people or an agent and his charge.   There’s also a difference between a legitimate concern over true threats to our society’s or that of other society’s health and a preoccupation with lusty scandals at the expense of others.    Gossip at any level is never productive.


Much of this entire story in simply fodder.  The Left is gloating over a shirtless military exposé.   The right feigns a sense of shock over the military’s sudden loss of virtue.


It’s time to determine where the true transgression is in this thing.  Where have our society, Mrs. Petraeus and perhaps even the Iraqis paid a price for a crime?   Will a healthy sense of American perception ever come of age?  An exceptionalism that hides its love of lust, gossip and war behind false Puritanism will never allow its citizens or any others their right to be garden variety members of humanity.



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Thomas P. Davis

Thomas P. Davis

I'm a freelance writer based in New Jersey. I've been writing about public issues for 10 years.