November 18, 2012

Sex and the Modern Soldier

The scandal unfolding at the top of America's most trusted institution sparks suspicion of problems beyond overactive libido.

By ROSA BROOKS Foreign Policy

WASHINGTON - As I write this, the Petraeus saga, which morphed first into the Petraeus-Broadwell saga, and then into the Petraeus-Broadwell-Kelley saga, followed closely by the Petraeus-Broadwell-Kelley-Allen saga, is morphing into Phase 5, or maybe it's Phase 6. Who can keep track.

click image to enlarge

Paula Broadwell and Gen. David Petraeus.

Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

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Gen. John Allen and Jill Kelley.

Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

By now, I believe, it's the Petraeus-Broadwell-Kelley-Allen-Evil Twin Natalie-Shirtless FBI Agent-Eric Cantor-Classified Documents story.

By the time you read this, the saga will have morphed into Phase 11 or 12, and it will no doubt have been revealed that Anthony Weiner was Jill Kelley's college roommate before a series of harassing phone calls from a Lockheed Martin executive led him to take up residence instead in one of those fancy hotel rooms favored by disgraced Gen. Kip Ward. Prince Harry and the Waffle House guy will probably also turn out to be involved.

But let's put schadenfreude briefly aside -- who can possibly keep up with these high-society types, anyway? -- and focus instead on the important question my mother asked me this week, in a breathless early-morning call: What is up with these generals?

More specifically: Does the U.S. military have an adultery problem? A woman problem? A generic, all-purpose craziness, sleaze and corruption problem? A public-image problem?

Answering these questions in order, I can offer a definitive "sort of," "kind of, "maybe" and "very possibly."

FIRST, ADULTERY AND RELATED PECCADILLOES

Officially, military culture tends to smile upon marriage and frown upon singleness.

The military provides married personnel with benefits not available to single personnel, and even today, officers often feel that remaining unmarried is regarded as professionally suspect (not just because it may raise suspicions of homosexuality; for senior male officers in particular, a wife has historically been considered a must-have accessory, needed in her hostess role as much as in her role as companion).

But ironically, the military's very "pro-marriage" culture may lead to a higher incidence of divorce and marital problems.

A recent Rand Corp. study found that compared with demographically matched civilians, military personnel are more likely to get married -- but after leaving the military, veterans are more likely than non-veterans to get divorced. "(T)hese findings," the study concluded, "suggest that the military provides incentives to marry but that once the service members return to civilian life and these incentives are absent, they suffer higher rates of marital dissolution than comparable civilians.

This suggests that the military may encourage unions that would not normally be formalized into marriage in a civilian context, and are consequently more fragile upon exit from the military."

If some service members marry because it's expected or rewarded rather than because they've found a compatible partner, those marriages are presumably more fragile before exit from the military as well as after. There's no way to know for sure whether infidelity is more common in the military than in the civilian world, of course.

Needless to say, adultery is one of those things people generally -- no pun intended -- lie about. But even if we leave aside the question of military marriages that should probably never have been entered into, it seems reasonable to suppose that adultery might be more common in the military than in the civilian world.

Military careers can place great strain on marriages. Military families are frequently uprooted, and deployments can separate spouses by thousands of miles, year after year.

Consider David and Holly Petraeus, who reportedly moved 23 times over the course of their marriage and were frequently separated by lengthy training periods and deployments. That would test any marriage.

Military personnel have -- literally -- a societally granted license to kill, at least in wartime, and it's reasonable to expect those entrusted with such power to adhere to unusually high standards of behavior. Thus, adultery is still punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) -- and people still lose their jobs over it. "Mere" adultery is generally not sufficient to get a service member in legal trouble, though.

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