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June 27, 2017

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Reality, myth and why Petraeus matters to Taiwan

David Petraeus and his extramarital affair truly, deeply matter to very few people. There are the five central figures, and there are their spouses and children. That's it. U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday that the FBI has uncovered no data indicating a security breach from the affair. If and until that data surfaces, the Petraeus case is only an embarrassing and career-costing personal scandal.

Nevertheless, it's a personal scandal that's transfixing and utterly transformative, as some of the most liberal U.S. publications at times take up a surprisingly hard moral line.

"The fallout from this episode may finally push the Pentagon to enforce the military's standards of sexual conduct more consistently, especially against male commanders of senior rank," remarked a New York Times editorial.

In "Why Petraeus's Affair Matters (but Bill Clinton's Didn't)," one Atlantic contributor remarked that unlike Clinton, the general violated the sanctity of military code. "What is happening? The military is America's most respected institution," said Kathleen McInnis.

Here, McInnis provides clues on why the Petraeus affair seems so personal to so many when it really is not. Petraeus violated a social construct that's bigger than marriage and bigger than family. He violated a powerful mainstream narrative about the military. To wit: Officers live with honor. Officers meet their duty. Want to consort with many ladies? Then the life of an officer is not for you — become a civilian spy instead, like James Bond. Or like former CIA Director Allen Dulles, who had upwards of a hundred affairs with impunity.

Like all narratives, the U.S. narrative about the military is sometimes not true. Veterans are some of the country's worst offenders of marital infidelity, according to a 2011 study at the American Sociological Association Meeting. But in any case, Americans embrace that national narrative, which prompts youth to enlist, in spite of the extreme loss of personal freedom and big, life-threatening risks that come with it.

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