Should flags drop to half-staff in the wake of the latest sex scandal, or is full-staff more appropriate? A flagpole might not be the most apt symbol of reproach for the infidelity of a top military leader who obviously suffers from PTSD (prone to stupid decisions).
David Petraeus, the latest public "victim" of lust, desire, ego and power, now wears the distinguished scarlet letter along with a chest full of colorful bars and decorous medallions.
Like Ozymandias in the famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Petraeus looms as a broken visage decayed by the ravages of corruption. Oh, how nobly he once paraded before the world, a Caesar on a Humvee, only to fall to a moral indiscretion. The demigods banished from Mount Olympus have become legion.
"Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," Proverbs 16:18 warns anyone who conjures their biography. But what are warnings to those who cannot resist touching the hot flame of desire only to be burned by its searing scorch? Petraeus climbed to the top of the ladder because he seemed lofty, levelheaded and above such dalliances, so it's a national disappointment to find him in the gutter of media contempt.
It's easy to understand how it happened: Powerful man works intimately with bright, attractive writer, sharing his personal life and vulnerability. To draw him out for the book she comforts, consoles, soothes. He melts under her touch and topples off his high horse. She catches him and holds him. He is a man, after all, with needs she can warmly fill.
But this paramour cannot contain her excitement, her new identity, her great power. The secret is exploding within her like a nuclear reaction, the heat gushing from every pore. One email is sent and then another and another until her burning passion becomes a China syndrome that melts out into the atmosphere and irradiates every media outlet hungry for scandal.
National security is breached by the breeches-less breach of the lover who received the general with breathless, youthful abandon. Suddenly their worlds come crashing down, shattered against the bedrock of American Puritanism. The lovers are buried in an avalanche of remorse and regret as moral outrage seethes.
Only the French find it amusing and parochial. "How staid zees Americans are to make a religion of monogamy when zay know eet ees not in man's true nature." It was, I believe, a French philosopher who said, "Monogamy is the most odious of monopolies." Such sentiment is a wry subtext to liberte, egalite and fraternite, to which might be added promiscuite.
But French mores don't sell in America, where purity, or at least the appearance of it, is a national hoax. Petraeus is disgraced, and the media swoons over the femme fatale who got way too close to her subject for the now-tainted biography, the written legacy of his greatness. As he resigns in shame, another top general gets dragged into the mire, successors both to a long line of fallen heroes for whom there ought to be a monument.
Lesson to revolutionaries: If you want to take down the top leadership of the United States, recruit an army of special-ops bimbos expert in deep penetration. That kind of revolution would at least be nonviolent.
I leave you with Shelley's poem for its stark imagery and as a forewarning to the power elite: Don't let them publish your heroic biography until you're safely in the tomb.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.