Paula and Scott Broadwell. (Photo: Daniel Coston/Charlotte Observer)
The Petraeus scandal, which just keeps on giving, is bonkers and boggling and utterly compelling. But the more that emerges, the more I'm thinking, really? Two adults who had an affair? This was the subject of an FBI investigation? This has led to the resignation of one of America's most accomplished officials from one of its most important posts? As far as we know, no security interest was compromised, and no vital information leaked. Yet the state has been rocked because two people did what ordinary people sometimes, in fact rather often, do. It wasn't just that, of course: America's generals have also been sending flirtatious emails and attending parties. I mean, really, how dare they.
Having quietly announced his retirement from novel-writing, I'd be surprised if Philip Roth isn't itching to get back into the game. The whole episode reminds me of this passage from The Human Stain, which is set during the time of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal:
It was the summer in America when the nausea returned, when the joking didn't stop, when the speculation and the theorizing and the hyperbole didn't stop, when the moral obligation to explain to one's children about adult life was abrogated in favor of maintaining in them every illusion about adult life, when the smallness of people was simply crushing, when some kind of demon had been unleashed in the nation and, on both sides, people wondered "Why are we so crazy?", when men and women alike, upon awakening in the morning, discovered that during the night, in a state of sleep that transported them beyond envy or loathing, they had dreamed of a mammoth banner, draped dadaistically like a Christo wrapping from one end of the White House to the other and bearing a legend A HUMAN BEING LIVES HERE. It was the summer when - for the billionth time- the jumble, the mayhem, the mess proved itself more subtle than this one's ideology and that one's morality. It was the summer when a president's penis was on everyone's mind, and life, in all its shameless impurity, once again confounded America.
(I found the transcription here).
I'm not a particular fan of Petraeus but I have some sympathy for him, and for Broadwell. We are witnessing the public humiliation of two families, and the deep embarrassment of two more (the Kelleys and the Allens). And for what? For our own cheap satisfaction.
Oh, I've heard this high-minded stuff about how Petraeus and Allen shouldn't have allowed themselves to get distracted when they're commanding wars. Do we really think human beings function better when they are monomaniacally obsessed by one thing to the exclusion of all else? I'd have thought that distractions, and solace of one kind or another, are vital to the performance of any high-stress job. I'm not saying the U.S army should encourage affairs (oh by the way this really has opened up the whole question of straights in the military), but everyone needs time out, and not everyone plays Scrabble.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm all for cheap satisfaction, and I'm enjoying the juicy details too. But let's call it for what it is.
(P.s In case you need reminding that Paula Broadwell is not a two-dimensional femme fatale then read this.)