Wednesday, September 24, 2014

General confusion

(Published in Business Standard on November 17, 2012)

As s a teenager, I secretly yearned to be an army officer. Maybe ‘secretly’ is a bit of a stretch, since I made my army officer uncle take me to his tailor and got myself kitted out in a full set of fatigues, complete with name tag embroidered across the breast, and walked around like this in broad daylight without a shred of irony. I would go far, I reckoned, barring such technical hitches as my poor physical fitness and total inability to take orders. I would be a raving success.

Boy, was that stupid. I just wasn’t thinking it through. What if I had risen meteorically to become a celebrated general who had an extramarital affair, some of it on email, with some really fit woman who had then gotten jealous of some other really pushy socialite woman I was friends with, and had hassled her as well as sent vaguely threatening emails to another general colleague, who had sent it back to his socialite friend, and they sent it to me, so that I could tell my woman to lay off his woman, and then some government terrorist-foiler hero without a shirt had opened an investigation into my email affair with the first woman, possibly because he was or was not kind of sweet on the second woman, and this had cost me my job since, besides a couple of non-public items on my schedule, I may or may not have told my woman anything that may or may not have compromised national security, and then a television channel had tried to make a flow chart of the whole incomprehensible soup, and this flow chart looked like a drunken ant with radioactive pee?

No sir, I’m glad I didn’t go into the army. It’s much less of a drag to be a freelance writer—nobody gives a rat’s ass whether your pulse is still going, let alone who you’re sleeping with, and your only uniform is pyjamas (which don’t look as good, but dispense with the need to change, ever).

In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’m referring to l’affaire Petraeus, which has gotten not just the protagonists’, but everyone’s knickers in a twist. Rumbles about honey traps and conspiracy theories and the suspicion that it’s all a way to bring down a guy who may or may not have screwed up in Benghazi, have served as an excellent way for President Obama to strictly ration his re-election gloating.

But what’s really annoying is that all the intrusive media telephoto lenses are focussed on the cars and kitchen windows of the women in question, while General Petraeus retains a vaguely martyred invisibility and a—presumably repentant—silence. He’s the one who screwed up, so the lenses should be on him. If his pillow talk included classified information, he’s the one who compromised his country. Whether the man should be publicly vilified depends on what the rest of the investigation turns up, but certainly the women involved don’t deserve the opprobrium, no matter how jealous or pushy they might be.

Public embarrassment is one thing; sacking someone for what goes down in their personal life is another. Should a sexual peccadillo that does not compromise work (if it doesn’t) really be enough to take down an honourable career? I’m not a fan of our politicians, but having watched the alleged sex tapes of various senior Indian partymen, I still don’t care what they’re up to in their personal lives. All I’d say is, a pushup or two once in a while wouldn’t hurt, you know?

David Petraeus may merely have breached his marriage vows, not national security. If that’s the case, leave him alone. And in either case, leave the ladies alone.

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