Monday, November 12, 2012

Bonfire of the Peaches

Before femme fatale Paula Broadwell sends me one of her anonymous Glenn Close-y emails, let me hastily confess that my relationship with David Petraeus is purely of the six degrees of separation type.

David grew up in the same little New York backwater where I spent most of my adult life. My kids went to the same schools he did, even had some of the same long-lived teachers, went to nursery school at the same Presbyterian church where he had once worshipped. My parents owned a house right around the corner from his parents'. (Scarily, the name of our street was Homeland Avenue!)

David's high school sweetheart was the daughter of the realtor who sold me and my husband our house. The same year David graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, I'd gotten got my first newspaper job, with West Point being part of my shared beat. Just missed him, before he went on to his storied career of doing 1000 pushups an hour after being shot. I exaggerate, but not by much. The legend was already beginning.

(I hated doing stories at West Point. I couldn't stand, as a 20-something, being called "Ma'am" by 20-something cadets. Besides, I was still a hippie just coming off a college career of Vietnam protests. Don't get me started on having to cover William Westmoreland giving a speech. I cringe whenever I think of it.)  

I never flirted with Peaches, as he was called in high school. If I ever crossed paths with him, I don't remember him. I didn't go to school there, since my family didn't set down new roots in a smaller house till my sister and I were already in college.(But I ended up staying, long after my family had departed.) In a town of only 3,000 people, it seems likely that I must have passed him on the street.

High School Peaches

 I did end up flirting quite a bit with his father, though. The late Sixtus Petraeus used to make weekly visits to the local newspaper where I worked, to buy the paper and shoot the breeze. He was a nice man who never talked about his kid, at least not to me. Of course, I never asked! My son later worked for the same utility company that Petraeus Sr. had before his retirement. 

One of Peaches' elementary school teachers, Miss Janet Dempsey, became a regular volunteer at the local library used book store when she retired. She took a shine to my son, and used to set aside all the old National Geographics for him. Miss Janet Dempsey was quite impressed with my son's passion for National Geographics! But when the New York Times tracked her down as part of their Hometown Boy Makes Good hagiography, she was blithely unaware of the burgeoning Petraeus Cult of Personality. She went off script, telling them she hadn't been all that impressed with young David. His sister, she said, had been much smarter in class.

So, that made me feel good. She was more impressed with my kid than she was with King David. 

David first became a hometown hero when Bush appointed him the chief general of the Iraq war, and his national reputation soared. He had not always been thus regarded by the locals. As a matter of fact, when Cornwall Central High School decided to start recognizing its famous alumni back in the 90s, Petraeus was overlooked in the first round of honorees. Back then, the most famous grad was actor Armand Assante, who at the time was starring in a whole slew of  made-for-TV movies. Among his many character roles were Odysseus and Jack the Ripper. But poor Armand soon faded from the limelight, going through a bankruptcy and foreclosure even as the Petraeus star rose higher and higher in the skies above Cornwall.

Ellen Kelly, his high school girlfriend, took over her daddy's real estate biz and sold a ton of overpriced houses just by bragging that she used to date David Petraeus. It was really getting weird in my little town. It seemed that Cornwall was morphing into Petraeusville.

Anyway, he certainly made a whole series of Hail the Conquering Hero visits back home in the past couple of years. When I read that he included a publicity stunt of himself visiting Miss Dempsey in the library, presenting her with four custom-upholstered Petraeus memorial chairs, I cackled inwardly. By this time, my kids had grown up and I'd moved further north. I resisted the temptation to join the thundering hordes of P-worshippers for these staged events. The townsfolk basked the glow of national attention, soaking up the second-hand Petraeusosity with each succeeding visit. This was definitely a man on a mission to establish some good old fashioned civilian political cred.

They even renamed a street after him last year. No, it was not the obvious choice -- Homeland Avenue! It was much, much worse. The town fathers took a stretch of Quaker Avenue, named after the town's historic early 18th century meeting house, and christened it David Petraeus Drive! What rich and nauseating irony. There is no word yet on whether they'll un-rename it, so as to finally stop the anti-war Society of Friends from turning in their graves, right next door. One of my old Cornwall neighbors, a Quaker activist who'd  been arrested a few times for protesting the Stealth fighter and other military adventurous hardware at Stewart Airbase, was quite upset about the renaming. In tastelessness, it ranks right up there with awarding Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.

Before the David Downfall, Paetriotic fervor had gone so far that some residents had even been calling for the removal of the plaque honoring Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair from the town park, and replacing it with a Petraeus shrine. After all, Bonnie was only born in Cornwall and had left when she was two. When she came back to speak after winning her five gold medals, she admitted she didn't even remember the place. Still, I think her plaque may be safe now.

The Cornwallians are still apparently in a state of stunned disbelief over the scandal. There have been only terse announcements of his resignation in the local newspaper and online news sites. If they feel they have been the victims of a massive scam perpetrated upon them by David Petraeus, they're not saying.

Michael Hastings, one of the great journalists of our generation, has always had Petraeus pegged. He writes in Buzzfeed: 
More so than any other leading military figure, Petraeus’ entire philosophy has been based on hiding the truth, on deception, on building a false image. “Perception” is key, he wrote in his 1987 Princeton dissertation: "What policymakers believe to have taken place in any particular case is what matters — more than what actually occurred."
Yes, it’s not what actually happens that matters — it’s what you can convince the public it thinks happened.
Until this weekend, Petraeus had been incredibly successful in making the public think he was a man of great integrity and honor, among other things. Most of the stories written about him fall under what we hacks in the media like to call “a blow job." Vanity Fair. The New Yorker. The New York Times. The Washington Post. Time. Newsweek. In total, all the profiles, stage-managed and controlled by the Pentagon’s multimillion dollar public relations apparatus, built up an unrealistic and superhuman myth around the general that, in the end, did not do Petraeus or the public any favors. Ironically, despite all the media fellating, our esteemed and sex-obsessed press somehow missed the actual blow job.


Pearl said...

"Even before Mr. Petraeus's arrival at the intelligence agency, where he
redecorated the director's suite with guns and other memorabilia from his
days in Iraq and Afghanistan, the C.I.A.'s influence in Washington was
growing considerably".

This is an excerpt from an article in the N.Y.Times today, Amid Upheaval, Obama Loses 'Source of Stability' by David Sanger under the larger report
officials Say F.B.I. Knew of Petraeus Affair in the Summer on the front page that should send chills up one's spine. The emphasis on the Petraeus scandal distracts from what his role might have been as well as what those being considered for the CIA head job will bring to the table.

The CIA is becoming more and more open about the role it plays in presidential decisions, believing this is what the public wants their role to be in protecting our country. We are moving more and more in the direction of the path Fascism has taken elsewhere in the past and will certainly continue for the next four years under President Obama's reign with no one the wiser. One of the people being considered for the head post was criticized for his approval of torture methods used by the CIA among other things.

Their role in calling the shots during the McCarthy years has been forgotten, but not by me.

4Runner said...

Thanx for the excellent background hometown news on Gen. P. Being an Army vet on this VetDay, let me tell a brief story that touches on blowjobs. Unlike the General, I had not 4 stars but rather 2 stripes, a true grunt. By some stroke of luck I was attached to a small NATO-related detachment outside Paris, where we were involved in some very Top Secret duties. NOT!! (Most of our offduty time was spent drinking and whoring.). Among the many prostitutes visiting the caserne were our 2 faves: Bicycle Betty (who arrived nightly on her bike--we joked that she was pedaling her ass (GI humor)--and Blowjob Betty. Yes, it was sexploitation--favors could be had for a carton of cigarettes-- and it was rumored that Blowjob Betty owned a warehouse full of tobacco. She ended up marrying a USAF colonel and is happily ensconced today in Hawaii. So when you observe Veterans Day (I don't) remember that most of us who "served" rarely earned that Good Conduct Medal we all got. BTW, will Gen. P now be awarded a Bad Conduct Medal?

James F Traynor said...

I think this whole thing is pretty damn silly.

Richard Ohio said...

Ah, but despite all the journalistic blow job articles, 100x more americans are more facinated by the new blow job story
These are the same people who felt Roseanne was a more viable candidate than some very good third paty people
Despite all the resourses at our disposal, we are not much smarter than pre-enlightenment sheep who were led by Kings and church dictators. The media is the new church and we are still pandered to in childish ways.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Good grief! Did you see the article in this morning's Times? Now, there's another four-star general, John R. Allen, the marine in charge of just about everything military in Afghanistan, who may be in the same pickle as Peaches. And this foursome is somehow connected, according to the FBI combing through their emails. Thousands of pages of emails, at that.

How does it go? Semper fi!

What a gift for HBO. Their scriptwriters have all they need for a new hit series: "Desperate Generals." Especially now, as "Downton Abbey" is bowing out. I suggest Larry David (the guy who brought us "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm") as the lead producer. He's super at mixing irony and comedy over nothings.

Pearl said...

An interesting report about Petraeus from Rolling Stone

Will said...

This whole thing IS pretty damn silly, James. And very, very funny!

Glenn Greenwald on the sweet justice of watching the Security and Surveillance State devour itself:

The latest meme to hit the Internet just happens to involve the dynamic duo of Generals Petraeus and Allen:

Anne Lavoie said...

I'm enjoying every episode of the Betrayus' soap opera and the ever increasing cast of characters. No wonder Obama is shedding tears lately.

One cheating chick anonymously warns another cheating chick to keep her head down, so to speak, because she is drawing too much attention and might blow (so to speak) their cover and reveal that the generals are seeing a lot of action in the field.

Then curiosity kills the cat when one of the cheaters just HAS to know who is telling her to keep her head down. Despite no threat made, the FBI takes the case anyway because some FBI dude wants to impress her, then sends her pix of himself half-naked, hoping to get some action himself.

Whoops! Cat is out of the bag, or make that 4 cats so far. Stay tuned.

The kicker is that Betrayus and his partner used the same techniques that terrorists do, writing emails but saving them in the draft folder instead of sending them, then sharing passwords so they could access each others account and read the unsent emails surreptitiously. With the powers of the Patriot Act, all was revealed, thanks to the FBI. How rich is that!

Jay - Ottawa said...

Glenn Greenwald gets deep into the weeds of the e-males[sic] of the alpha males this morning.

Seems like the FBI, another one of the guard dogs of Homeland Security, has just bitten one – make that two – of the caretakers, plus a couple of their off-limits lady friends. What went wrong? The FBI ignored the Fourth Amendment.

Greenwald sees a silver lining in all of this, even though (after enormous cost) the FBI investigation ends up as no more than a career-ending tut-tut for infractions of the sixth commandment. As for the homeland, we are safe tonight. But now, maybe now, the elite in charge of the Surveillance State will feel our civil liberties pain.

Here’s the takeaway from Greenwald’s essay:

“But, as unwarranted and invasive as this all is, there is some sweet justice in having the stars of America's national security state destroyed by the very surveillance system which they implemented and over which they preside. As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this morning: ‘Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just wait until it got so big that it ate itself?’

“It is usually the case that abuses of state power become a source for concern and opposition only when they begin to subsume the elites who are responsible for those abuses. Recall how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman - one of the most outspoken defenders of the illegal Bush National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless eavesdropping program - suddenly began sounding like an irate, life-long ACLU privacy activist when it was revealed that the NSA had eavesdropped on her private communications with a suspected Israeli agent over alleged attempts to intervene on behalf of AIPAC officials accused of espionage. Overnight, one of the Surveillance State's chief assets, the former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, transformed into a vocal privacy proponent because now it was her activities, rather than those of powerless citizens, which were invaded.”

Denis Neville said...

Richard Ohio said...“The media is the new church and we are still pandered to in childish ways.”

“Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.” - Allen Ginsberg

"Bonfire of the Peaches!”

“Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.” - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

As Richard Ohio said, “Despite all the resources at our disposal, we are not much smarter than pre-enlightenment sheep who were led by Kings and church dictators.”

Pearl said...

Petraeus, Allen sided with Jill Kelley's sister in child custody battle

Anonymous said...

Karen, this is an absolutely fascinating bit of your personal history which is once again, so perfectly presented. It rises well above the level of gossip or name-dropping that such a story usually falls into, and offers some illumination I don’t think we will see anywhere else!

Many thanks for a rousing good read.

Valerie said...

While it is always gratifying to see some arrogant jerk get his come-uppance, I always wonder - while the media is side-lined on some drawn out, titillating story, what is the Congress trying to sneak through below the radar while the country has their attention focussed elsewhere? Think of the damage that was done during the Clinton Administration while all the hoopla around Monica dominated the front page of the papers.

doublewide said...

Thank you for another well-written piece, this one lifting the lid on the Petrae dish that is the life David Petraeus and the all-volunteer armed forces.