Hester and David—Separate but Equal

I don’t often agree with the National Review; in fact, I usually develop my opinions by taking the opposing point of view. But every once in a while….

We all remember General David Petraeus, but since you can peruse Wikipedia as easily as I can, let me provide a thumbnail sketch: He’s 64 years old and a retired four-star general, an honor he acquired through thirty-seven years of service. He also briefly served as CIA director, that term cut short by his decision to share classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The fact that she had similar clearance did not mitigate the offense; neither did the fact that she was his mistress. Some of the weirdest aspects came afterwards and, for what it’s worth, Petraeus was convicted of a misdemeanor, paid a fine of $100,000, and is serving two years of probation.

That could be the end of it, but now there is a move afoot to strip him of one of his stars. Now I personally have no stars other than the one atop our Christmas tree, so I can’t say I know what it’s like to lose one. But I’ll bet it’s a slap in the face and may involve some diminution of retirement income. I don’t know.

The National Review article cites many military men who had less than sterling personal lives: Patton, MacArthur, Eisenhower. It doesn’t even mention the granddaddy of them all, Ulysses S. Grant. In addition, John McCain—who ought to know—thinks that stripping away a star may actually be illegal. But I’m not going to justify or make excuses. I just wonder what our mania is with punishing people over and over…continuously…on and on…forever. I don’t know if this is a peculiarly American phenomenon, but I wonder if Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter plays everywhere else as well as it does here in the United States, or if foreigners read it and wonder just why in God’s name young Hester Prynne was forced to wear an “A” (for adultery) FOREVER. Wouldn’t a small fine and probation have accomplished just as much? After all, she did have a baby to tote around. She never claimed a virgin birth. The Puritans may not have wanted to use the word sex in polite conversation, but they knew what it was. That’s how we got more Puritans. That’s how Hester got that baby. That baby is her walking talking letter “A.”

But not for us.

Pete Rose gambled on baseball. A lifetime ban.

Donald Sterling shows his ignorance on race. A lifetime ban.

A young leukemia victim misbehaves at Disney World. A lifetime ban.

On the bright side, the 32-year-old ban against gay men donating blood has been lifted. But it started as a Lifetime ban, so I’m using it.

Murderers and rapists get parole, serve their time, manage to have themselves introduced back into society, yet we don’t grant the same favor to people whose crimes are of a lesser nature. We just like that public humiliation, and if we can make it last forever, all the better.

Maybe we haven’t come that far in the four-hundred years since the people of Boston put Hester Prynne up on that platform in the center of town and publicly castigated her. Our next three-star general may learn that firsthand.

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