The recent revelation of adultery by retired four-star General David Petraeus is tragic. Confessing to the betrayal of his wife of 40 years General Petraeus submitted his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He not only tarnished his family, career and reputation, but he could potentially — because of his sensitive role — have placed our nation in a vulnerable position.
Here in the South we love our military heroes, from “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion through Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. And that adulation carries with it the expectation of high moral virtue.
General Petraeus’ circumstances remind one of professional golfer Tiger Woods’ fall from grace, though the circumstances are different. We follow a hero’s successes and identify with his or her victories. Ask University of Arkansas Razorbacks’ fans how they felt after discredited Arkansas (and former Falcons) head football coach Bobby Petrino was discovered in an inappropriate relationship with a woman half his age, trying to cover up this woman’s presence to law enforcement officials at a motorcycle wreck and lying to the university and press.
It is not only in the sphere of athletics or war that we have high expectations. We want our corporate leaders, political leaders and religious leaders to display faithfulness — if they are married — in their relationship. The memory of the tawdry days of the Clinton White House or the belated reports of the Kennedy White House remind us that powerful people sometimes let the power get the best of them. No matter how one feels after our recent presidential election, one has the sense from what is evident that both President Obama and Governor Romney are good and faithful husbands and family men.
An article in the New York Times (Nov. 13, 2012, Page 1) by Thom Shanker cites Paul V. Kane, a Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant, Iraq war veteran and former fellow of Harvard University’s International Security Program: “The country is suffering a crisis of leadership — in politics, in business and in the church, as well as in the military. We have lots of leaders, but we have a national deficit in true leadership.”
Mr. Kane’s analysis gives one pause. I hope he is wrong. In communities where I’ve lived, I have met true leaders in all of these callings. Not every community has the same level of leadership, but Mr. Kane is overly pessimistic about both the current leaders we have and the leadership potential and possibilities in our nation. But leadership has an ethical and moral dilemma that cannot be overemphasized.
Petraeus’ resignation was necessary because his office required of him impeccable character, a quality he would no longer be able to demonstrate in public service.
Nevertheless, the ethical, marital or moral failure of any military leader, politician, athlete, coach or clergyperson does not sully the reputation of an entire profession. There are thousands of people doing the right thing for each person who fails.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.