We’ve long understood the male libido as a fact of life, but its power over the powerful still fascinates us. Add Generals Petraeus and Allen to the list of men who had it all and screwed it up. You can blame their downfall on their libido, but in fact their libido is what drove them to accomplish great things and serve their country with such distinction.
As George Gilder writes in Men and Marriage, the male sex drive is the most powerful compulsion in his life. His sexual identity is bound up in his accomplishments. He knows, to attract women, he must accomplish something. He “has to perform…has to offer something beyond himself and beyond her reach—if she is to receive him.” The urge to philander is a natural consequence of that. It doesn’t die with marriage, but gets channeled to purposes approved of and sanctioned by society, including especially vocation and fatherhood.
Reading an article about the whole scandal, what I noticed first in the pictures of Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley is their sexual vitality. Married with children or not, they can drive a man to distraction. Due primarily to social exchanges with admiring men did they reach positions in high society. Broadwell’s claim to fame is being Petraeus’ biographer. How could she not admire him for his greatness, and how could he not find her admiration stimulating? Who else but to a beautiful woman would a rock-star general open up to most willingly?
Kelley married a prominent Tampa surgeon, and hosted parties for officers in her home. No doubt her intoxicating femininity served the crucical role of social lubricant, which is usually the case at mixers. In General Allen she sparked an obsession. That may be putting it mildly. Kelley’s attentions validated and affirmed Allen’s deepest motivation for success, giving him a huge testosterone boost. If he was addicted to anything, it was that, not her.
Finally, it’s worth asking whether integration of women into service on the front lines is really the best thing for our troops, when our highest-ranking officers can’t seem to control themselves. The emotional and physical intimacy of the war theater is bound to translate into more frequent sexual incidents in mixed units, putting unit cohesion and troops’ lives at risk. These effects will be compounded now that servicemen and -women can openly admit their attraction to the same sex, an announcement of sexual availability that the stress of war would push some to take advantage of. As history and current events show, without discipline, sexual urges usually find an outlet.