Right now, Facebook and the internet are rife with jokes about the Petreus/Broadwell affair with most of the satire and puns directed toward the General.
And you can imagine the guffaws the title of her book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, have drawn. (By the way, I'll bet this book is flying off the shelves right now. People love a good sex scandal, now don't they?)
However, General Petraeus' fall from such a lofty place is the archetypical story that a Greek tragedian such as Sophocles or Euripides would have loved to have written. .
A man in a position of power falls from his place in society to that of being scorned and a buffoon because of his hubris, or pride. These men often become so convinced that they are invincible that they cannot comprehend they could be human and subject to the same frailties of the remainder of us mortals. Remember Oedipus Rex, the ancient king who fell in love with his own mother.
The General has lamented of recent that this is "terrible, just terrible," and that he is entirely to blame for what happened, much in the same vein as Oedipus Rex, who took the blame and blinded himself because he realized he had not seen what was obviously right before his eyes.
However, the General may not be totally at fault. For instance, what role did his wife play, what role did Paula Broadwell play, and what role did frequent and long separations play?
THE FRUMP FACTOR:
This is the General's wife, Holly Petraeus. One commentator stated that she looked like a warden at a women's prison. Others condemned him for that, stating that it was a "sexist" attitude; and we certainly know that men cheat on their beautiful wives the same as they cheat on their wives who may not have had an interest in coloring their hair, getting contacts, or watching their weight.
We do know that Holly Petraeus has been a long-time advocate for military families and was appointed to a $187,000 a year job by President Obama last year and is now assistant director of a group helping families uprooted by the military. .
Considering that he married the debutante daughter of a general who was the superintendent of West Point when he was a cadet, in the back of his mind SOMEWHERE, he might have felt she reneged along the way at least partially on the deal.
THE GLAMOUR FACTOR:
Then, in 2010, Paula Broadwell reenters his life while he is serving as the allied commander in Afghanistan. He first had met her in 2005 when she expressed an interest in writing about him at some future date. He had promised her then to let him know if he could help. Broadwell, an over-achiever much like Petraeus, is herself a West Point graduate, a fitness fanatic, and a lieutenant colonel specializing in intelligence in the army reserve.
In high school in Bismarck, North Dakota, she had been valedictorian of her graduating class, homecoming queen, and an all-state basketball player.
Following active duty in the intelligence corps in Germany where she met her husband, she garnered two master's degrees, one in Colorado and one from Harvard. In 2010, she was admitted to the doctoral program at King's College, London. It was then that she decided to write her doctoral thesis on Petraeus and received permission to be embedded with him for a year in Afghanistan.
There, they instantly bonded over their common interests, running together nearly every day at the compound. She was 39; he was 59.
THE SEPARATION FACTOR:
Career men and women in the military probably spend as much time separated as they do together. Especially in times of conflict, when the men cannot bring their wives and families, infidelity is extremely common, by both the military spouse and the spouse left behind. I know! I saw it first hand when my husband was in the military. It's the little dirty secret no one really talks about, but it exists. The Petraeus family supposedly was the exception to that rule that other military families held up as the example of how to have a successful marriage, raise two well-balanced kids and still rise through the ranks.
So, to place all the blame on any one of these three people seems to me totally unfair. I see the three of them caught up in a web of circumstance that probably could not have prevented this scenario from playing out any way other than it did. Lives have been impacted terribly, but I cannot honestly blame any one of the three to the exclusion of the other two. In fact, I can't blame anyone.
It's life; it happened; and now these families will have to determine how or where to take themselves from here. All of them deserve our understanding whatever they decide--not derision, sanctimony or judgement.