Last Friday afternoon General David Petraeus, director of the CIA and former commander in both Afghanistan and Iraq, announced that he was resigning his position in the wake of an extramarital affair in which he had engaged. This was shocking news, at least it was to me, about a man who is a West Point graduate and had served 37 highly distinguished years in the U.S. military.
I first became aware of General Petraeus in the opening days of the war on terror, in the early 2000s. He was the architect of the surge in Iraq, which transformed a losing situation, into one which saw the U.S. and its allies gaining a major victory. His strategy was later implemented in Afghanistan, although much less competently so under the current administration than it had been under the previous one. I remember the decorum, grace and class he brought to bear when he was called a liar by then Senator Hillary Clinton, during a Senate hearing in which he was testifying. I also remember his many media briefings, in which he was subjected to barrages of ignorant artillery fire from empty-headed "journalists". He successfully illuminated the foolishness and complete lack of intelligence that passed for media fact-finding, while still maintaining his decency and honor.
General David Petraeus was, in every sense of the term, a great American hero. But now a lifetime of dedication to a concept of service to a cause greater than self, has been marred by a selfish act. Forever more, the rather hefty record of service to a grateful nation has been mitigated by one single act that is so undisciplined and selfish, it's hard to imagine that it was committed by the same man who served his country with such honor and distinction. I think it is illustrative of the frailty of the human character, and educative of the absolute necessity for constant vigilance of decency and honor and an ever-present awareness of the ability of selfish acts to affect the lives of others.
I have questioned why General Petraeus was such a hero to me, and why his downfall, in some small way, became my own. The answer is that I saw in him the qualities and characteristics that were in such short supply within my own character. I think this is one of the driving forces behind hero worship, the embrace of those qualities in someone else that we wish we had in ourselves. I choose to look at David Petraeus as an inspiration, to emulate the qualities that brought him such distinction throughout his years of service. But I am also more keenly aware now more than ever that no one is immune from the forces of deprivation that destroy the decency within us, and we must all engage in the daily pursuit of becoming our own heroes.
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