I just read Michelle Boorstein's Op-Ed in the Washington Post that claimed "Military Spouses Stay Mum on the Subject of Infidelity." That's news to me -- my friends and I can't seem to shut up about it. I'll blather my mil spouse opinions to anyone that asks (NPR's "The TakeAway," "CBS This Morning"). And I'm not even one of the mil spouse authors who immediately weighed in -- take, for example, Jacey Eckharts' Op-Ed for the New York Times (she was also a guest on "CBS This Morning"), or Alison Buckholtz's piece on Slate, or the two blogs by Terri Barnes that address the issue on Spouse Calls and Stars and Stripes (and she was interviewed by CNN).
As it stands, no one has proven that David Petraeus, retired four star general of the United States Army, has committed a security breach. But he has owned up to a deed that many great men in American history have tried to duck. He has resigned from his position as the director of the CIA. He and his family have been dragged and pilloried across every front page and news program in a way that Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his wildest Puritan dreams, could not have imagined. Petraeus has given thirty-seven years of impeccable and distinguished service to our country, many of those years spent in the most dangerous places in the word at the behest of the Army and our Commander and Chief: Haiti, Bosnia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also spent thirty-seven years married to his college sweetheart, Holly, who has stood by him through multiple deployments, life-threatening injuries and whatever other dark days that can beset even the best of marriages. Call me an optimist, but I think this has now become a private matter for the Petraeus family to deal with, and hopefully survive intact.
Regarding the misbehavior of our military generals also getting their share of the limelight -- I don't think this is in any way an 'epidemic.' There are 230 general officers in the United States Army, 280 in the Air Force and the list goes on for each military service. Right now there are five generals that the media is focusing on. When you tally up the percentages, well, I can list a heck of a lot more politicians who have been the subject of similar investigations.
As the Washington Post Op-Ed pointed out: "The (military) divorce line goes straight up since 2000 and is believed to now be comparable to that of the general public" -- so even now, with over a decade of deployments, husbands and wives separated for up to a year at a time over and over again, children reaching milestones and soccer tournaments and graduations while their soldier-parent is thousands of miles away, our military divorce rates are only as high as our civilian counterparts.
To be honest, I think the military community is a little surprised that this 'Petraeus scandal' has been such a hot topic. As Alison Buckholtz pointed out so poignantly in her Slate article: "Ten years of combat, and this is what grabs America's attention?"
Michelle Boorstein, please know that military spouses are absolutely talking about infidelity, about the behavior of our generals, about the toll of deployments on our marriages. We also talk about many topics that don't make the front page, like the casualties in Afghanistan, the young men and women who return home missing limbs or with traumatic brain injuries, the way our children are handling the absences/deployments of their mothers and fathers and the rising veteran suicide rate. Part of why we aren't talking about infidelity and the 'scandal' to the degree you'd like is because these other topics are more important to us, as Kristina Kaufman, a colonel's wife interviewed in your Op-Ed piece, implied.
Military families deal with infidelity just like everyone else. Sometimes the Army may even be handling it better. When I volunteered as a Family Readiness Group leader in Fort Hood in 2008-9, infidelity was a common enough topic. Who isn't afraid that the distance may have become too much for their marriage, that the unreliable communications (scratchy satellite phones, iffy email connections, intermittent Skype) might not be enough to tell each other everything you need to say? Spouses talked about it with each other, but more importantly we talked about it with Military Family Life Consultants (a growing nationwide program of licensed counselors, social workers and psychologists who meet with military families, anonymously, confidentially and absolutely free), and we can now talk about it with the Army's Strong Bonds (who just donated $100 million to fund more than 4,000 marriage support events at Army bases).
Adultery has been a threat since the Ten Commandments. Generals are just as human as the rest of us; they don't need any sort of sense of entitlement to break their marriage vows. Everyone from presidents down to bus boys have managed to stray. Google the word 'adultery' and you will get 24,400,000 hits in 0.16 seconds. I talk about infidelity with my civilian friends in the same way I talk about it with my military friends -- either with jokes about going Lorena Bobbit on the potentially sinning spouse, or more heartfelt queries like My God, what would you do?
Civilian or military, we can talk and talk, but I don't think anyone has come up with one perfect answer yet.