The press and the public have already passed judgement on the episode of General Petraeus and his affair. There was never any real speculation about it. His own admission that “it was a stupid mistake” would seem to preclude any conclusion other than that it was simply a case of a prominent man undone by his lust for an attractive woman. But I can’t help but wonder if there was more than that.
Here was a very intelligent man with all the other attributes needed to take him to the top of his profession after which he is given the post of director of the CIA. I have not read his biography but by all generally known accounts he was a man of great self control. Is this the profile of a man who sacrifices everything for sexual gratification?
My real question is, why is it so easily accepted that it was lust that undid him? Why is it so hard to believe that it might have been love? And if it was love, why do we find the excuse of lust so much easier to accept? Or is it that love would raise too many uncomfortable questions, not about the General, but about ourselves and our ethics.
A pragmatist would just say that he is a married man and the most expedient way to preserve his marriage and get on with his life is to say ‘Mea Culpa’ and ask for forgiveness for his sexual infidelity. Would you really expect his wife to forgive him for falling in love with another woman? Society’s answer is ” of course not” , but what I would like us to do is to confront the contradictions in this scenario.
Consider this: We have come to believe that it is more acceptable to yield to lust than to fall in love, that lust can be forgiven but love can not. What kind of mental judo got us to accept that?