David Petraeus, former commander of U.S Central Command, four star general, champion of the Afghan surge was the director of the CIA until last Friday, when he offered President Obama his resignation.
Petraeus is one of the most gifted military minds in the country and has served under Democratic and Republican administrations. He is widely respected as a man of honor and service.
But no more. The man sometimes referred to as “King David” for his sizeable ambition will spend the next few weeks being slowly eaten alive. When he resigned last Friday, it wasn’t to spend more time with family, or to retire. He resigned because news was about to break that Petraeus had an extramarital affair with his leggy, stunning, biographer Paula Broadwell.
Scheduled to testify before the Senate next week on the Benghazi attack, it took no time for the conservative media and, more importantly, the shameless gossip rags polluting our newsstands, to begin dismantling the public and private life of a man who has devoted his entire adulthood to protecting the nation he loved. Like so many before him — usually elected officials — Petraeus violated the bonds of marriage. And like them, the ugly process of repairing a 30-year marriage will now be shown in primetime, because we just can’t help ourselves.
The height of cannibalism is not found in some distant island off the coast of New Guinea. It does not thrive most in untouched tribes deep in some faraway jungle. Where cannibalism really thrives, where the tradition flourishes, is right here in our country. Perhaps no nation on the planet delights in eating the still-beating hearts of their leaders like America.
Now, like the gibbering monkeys we are, we will spit and show our fangs, and the fall of this Giant will be louder than ever, because we’ll have the whole tumble mic’d for Prime Time. It is schadenfreude at its worse, as we pretend to be concerned and horrified about an action all-too-common in this life. How many of us know someone betrayed by a husband or a wife? How many of us have betrayed ourselves, or been the victim of such betrayal? Too many. A nation of adulterers and cheaters — one that places the holy bond of marriage on Fox for our amusement — has no business acting holier-than-though to a man with far more courage and character than most of us. We will sit comfortably, screaming obscenities at sports programs and coveting the HELL out of the 19-year-old babysitter, all while we feign moral indignation at Petraeus, who led our sons and daughters into battle while the nation argued about steroids in baseball or Governor Romney’s tax returns.
I neither respect nor defend King David’s behavior. He might have earned divorce papers from the woman who devoted her life to a man whose career would swallow their shared life whole. But what King David did not earn, and what he does not deserve, is to be transformed into some perverse spectacle for the cackling, masturbating, masses.
But blame does not rest solely on the typical television and print villains exploiting this scandal. We, the consumers of such garbage, are to blame. Sure, we will all deny our interest in this torrid affair. But the rags and ragamuffins selling this story won’t know, because their ratings will be better and their circulations will go up.
Every little detail will be absorbed by the masses. There will doubtless be leaked emails or phone calls, scandalous text messages or suspicious credit card activity, and we will drink it all in like peasants wandering the desert that happen upon a filthy stream. Sure, it’s bad for you, but you’re thirsty, right? You haven’t seen a woman scream at her “best friend” on television tonight, and nobody visits Temptation Island anymore. You need your fix. Spectacle. That’s what King David is to us now, reduced to the stature of reality television stars instead of being honored by a grateful nation. We just can’t help ourselves.
It took many years and much slow, deliberative effort, but our descent into unnatural cannibalism is complete. Make no mistake. Americans do not honor one another; we feed. We use the shame and loss and failure of others as sustenance to keep us awake and stimulated in a world constantly upping the ante on what will pass as information worthy of mass consumption.
Edward R Murrow quoted Shakespeare once while summarizing the woes of the Red Scare. And as I shall never exceed the wisdom of either man, I shall the relay the quotation here.
“The Fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our Stars, but in ourselves.”