General Petraeus and the Effects of Extramarital Affairs
The General Petraeus scandal has loomed large in the news recently, as the celebrated general’s career dissolves in the wake of his extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. Which raises the question: should people’s personal lives affect their careers? Should the fallout of such a scandal be handled behind closed doors, or should it really be dragged into the light to affect the business of an entire country?
CNN offers a roundup of opinions about the affair:
Should David Petraeus have had to resign over an affair? We’ve all been reading about legendary CIA director Allen Dulles’ multiple flagrant affairs, so if you turn to history for an answer, no. But adultery matters more nowthan it did in Dulles’ day, and there’s more of a social need to rake people over the coals for it. Thus we have to keep developing amnesia about how common adultery is, and about the previous 10 adultery scandals, so that we can be outraged all over again. Society needs its scapegoats, and unfortunately Petraeus offered himself up for the role.
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This is an incredibly pleasurable scandal. First, it’s a classic downfall story, replete with powerful warriors and vengeful females — there’s something satisfying about familiar myths like this playing out in actual life. This scandal also has so much narrative complexity: It’s a cautionary tale about unintended consequences and people not foreseeing the effects of their actions (Paula Broadwell’s e-mails, Jill Kelley contacting her FBI pal, not to mention the affair itself, though these days that’s obviously not so newsworthy on its own).
You can’t help wondering what elements of your own life could unravel as quickly following some misguided impulse. At the same time, you get to feel superior about the terrible judgment and irrationality of supposedly rational people. And of course it confirms a lot of stereotypes we’re supposed to have put aside, about catfights, spurned destructive women, and the younger woman-aging wife problem, all of which runs counter to the various enlightened and progressive things we’re supposed to think and say about gender.
There’s been much hypocrisy on this.
What do you think—should Petraeus have been raked over the coals for his personal life?
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