Quite a lot of opprobrium is being heaped on the head of General David Petraeus -- yes, it's still proper to call him "General;" the rank stays with the man -- for his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. Officially, Petraeus's resignation was mandatory; marital fidelity is actually part of the agreement to serve in the Cabinet. But the amount of vitriol being showered on him for his dalliance is mind-boggling; it amounts to something like a public flogging.
General Petraeus has just celebrated his 60th birthday: November 7 of this year. Apparently he's been married to his wife Holly for about 38 years. By contemporary standards, he married young and has stayed married to the same woman for a very long time.
Those among us who think little of the sin of adultery, or who dismiss the potential for blackmail to which it exposes the adulterer, might count General Petraeus lucky. Most sixty-year-old men, whatever their marital status, inclinations, or potency, could only dream of an affair with a younger woman as attractive as Paula Broadwell. But General Petraeus is handsome, dynamic, and until his resignation was one of the most powerful men in the country. That's a heady combination in many women's eyes. It also tends to undermine the judgment of the man so blessed...especially under certain unfortunate circumstances to which even less handsome, dynamic, well-placed men are prone.
I can't condone the violation of the marriage vow, regardless of the temptation. But I'd like to remind my Gentle Readers that there are things we do not know: among them might just be the sort of things that would have impelled many among us to do what General Petraeus has done.
Imagine that you're a sixty-year-old career soldier of high rank. Your duties and responsibilities have weighed ever more heavily on you as time has passed. They've kept you away from home, family, and friends, to such an extent that some ten or fifteen years ago, your wife, weary of always being alone, declared that "I don't know you any more," and announced a sub rosa end to the marriage. That is: the two of you would continue as husband and wife in the eyes of the world, but in private, you would have no further connection except for the roof under which you sleep.
Military wives have reacted that way in the past. It's not infrequent, especially for careerists who've ascended to a colonel's or brigadier general's rank and hope yet to enter the military's uppermost elite.
You're in a pickle now. Your sex drive is still strong, but the woman you've loved all those years is no longer interested. Indeed, her coldness toward you is more than merely physical. The solidity and reassurance your marriage once afforded you has been ripped away. You're a man alone, without the foundation a reliable home life and the support of a loving spouse once provided.
You struggle to dampen the ache with work, with the sense of absorption your high position offers, and with the sense of accomplishment arising from your talents and your dedication.
An admirer has approached you: a beautiful younger woman. For whatever initially non-romantic reasons, the time you spend with her is considerable. Over that time, she makes it plain that she would happily become more than merely a friend. That yearning ache breaks containment and surges back into your heart.
A fork lies before you. Which branch will you choose?
Perhaps you would prove stronger than the temptation. Perhaps you would resolve, despite your spouse's disavowal of her marital obligation to love, honor, and cherish you, to remain faithful to your vows. Perhaps you would even find the strength to turn the importuning young admirer away gently, with soft words of appreciation and regret that it could not be otherwise.
And perhaps you would break.
No, I don't know that that's the sort of home situation David Petraeus faced or faces. I have absolutely no inside information about the matter. I'm merely spinning a tale -- one grounded in the unpleasant reality many a career military man has faced in the past. I doubt that, even if that were a close approximation to General Petraeus's situation, we would ever be allowed to learn of it.
The flesh is weak. Temptation gets the better of many of us, especially those whom fate or questionable decisions have "softened up." In a case such as this, the Christian thing to do is to remind oneself that "but for one or two turns of fortune, that could have been me" -- to deplore the sin and pray that the sinner seek forgiveness, but refrain from condemning the man.
Judge not, for as you judge others, you also shall be judged.