Nov. 28, 2012
There’s been a buzz amidst DC’s commenting community about why we still should (or shouldn’t) care about General Petraeus’s now un-secret extracurricular activities with Mrs. Paula Broadwell. People with stronger opinions, more information, and bigger microphones have already discussed and dissected the matter.
Some writers call to greater responsibility and higher standards, others to greater flexibility and understanding. Some are a bit more nuanced, like the Walter Russell Mead’s blog post, “America’s Addled Puritanism.” My goal is not to parse the entire discussion, but to suggest that it is appropriate and at least slightly refreshing that our highest intelligence officers still be held accountable for a breach of trust and integrity in their personal relationships.
But West Point graduate-turned-comedian Laura Cannon seems to disagree. In last week’s Washington Post op-ed, “No sex? Permission to speak freely, Sir.” Ms. Cannon notes the following:
West Pointers are human beings, even those with names such as David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. I think I have the standing to make this declaration, because I’m a fellow graduate. West Point is long on molding military officers, but a bit short on humanity. Its mission statement stresses the intent to commit every graduate to a career of professional excellence and service, embodying the values of “duty, honor and country.” How does West Point do that?
Here’s how: Rules! Hundreds upon hundreds of rules that govern every facet of human conduct imaginable, including my favorite: no sex in the barracks.
The problem, as Ms. Cannon sees it, is that David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell have been persecuted primarily for being human. Since leaving military service Ms. Cannon has, according to her website www.warvirgin.com, left her Jesus-addiction behind and stepped where no veteran has before, by offering “a candid, irreverent look at the comically naughty, sexually-charged underbelly of the military…”
As a proud sister of a U.S. military-service academy graduate, I concede that Ms. Cannon’s angst regarding military academy life is worth engaging. Over the years, my brother has (much more respectfully) shared stories of the ways that he and other cadets would attempt to stay afloat amidst a sea of rules—rules that often seem irrelevant or even counter-productive to the stated goal of building up the next generation of leaders. For a more intellectual discussion of modern military academies (and a rousing disagreement in the comments section), I recommend Professor Bruce Fleming’s article in The Chronicle Review, “The Few, the Proud, the Infantilized.”
But one thing Prof. Fleming and Ms. Cannon both recommend is to lift the no-sex-on-campus ban. Ms. Cannon does so with a comic and irreverent tone. Mr. Fleming does so in a more academic and detached manner, suggesting the academy should have ‘no opinion’ on matters of sexuality.
But would such a ban-repeal, as Ms. Cannon suggests, allow cadets to be “more human”? It does, of course, depend on what we mean by human. Is it truly human to pursue any sexual impulse, whenever one wishes, with whomever one wishes?
This, it would seem, is premise of sexual revolution. In The Atlantic‘s thorough and engaging essay on the topic, Hanna Rosin explores the following:
The hookup culture that has largely replaced dating on college campuses has been viewed, in many quarters, as socially corrosive and ultimately toxic to women, who seemingly have little choice but to participate. Actually, it is an engine of female progress—one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.
So where has all this gotten us? Ms. Rosin seems a bit more optimistic than I, about the empowering nature of sexual license… especially for young women. But logically, if indiscriminate, few-feelings-attached hookups are normal to the human (American) college experience, it would make sense to extend such license, even to military academies and combat zones.
But what if sexual license is not the definition of authentic humanity? Failed contraception, broken hearts, and lingering pang of the morning-after all whisper that authentic humanity is not finally found in sexual liberty. And the social science—illustrated in unforeseen pregnancies and grueling divorce proceedings—loudly suggests that sexual license hasn’t delivered.
So if General Petraeus or Ms. Cannon (or anyone else, for that matter) begins to find that pleasure isn’t keeping its promise, I suggest that they meet a famous warrior king who learned a very difficult version of the same lesson (the story can be found in 2 Sam 11-12). King David made a “human” decision by chasing the lovely, married Bathsheba. The king faced devastating consequences. But he also knew great restoration. I suggest that, in confession and restoration (Ps. 51), King David rediscovered what it meant to be “truly human.”