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Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in At TMV, Military, Society | 9 comments

‘Schadenfreude’ Over the Fall of General Petraeus?

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As someone who at one time championed for a fifth Star for Petraeus, it would be pusillanimous of me not to comment on the General’s fall from grace.

Of course I am disappointed and saddened by what the General is alleged to have done and by the fate that has befallen him, respectively. However, I still admire his military career and I am still grateful for what Petraeus has done for his country.

I just read Shaun Mullen’s excellent piece on “Plain Talk On The Criminal Justice System…” and I agree that our justice system needs fixing and that our laws are much skewed, especially when it comes to minor drug offenses and other minor crimes, in particular when committed by minorities.

Having said that — and I know I am going to be excoriated for this — I do also believe that someone’s service to his country, especially on the scale and merit of Petraeus’, should be considered — a little. Not knowing the extent and severity of Petraeus’ offenses, I don’t know if the sentence is way too lenient. Everyone will have his own opinion on this. However, I personally believe he has been punished sufficiently.

Benjamin Wittes writes a piece at “Lawfare,” agreeing with another writer that the deal “reveals [a] two-tiered justice system for leaks.” Wittes also refers to a piece at At Bloomberg View, where columnist Eli Lake argues, “while wrong, Petraeus’ sins are just not that big a deal…” and to another piece at Foreign Policy, where Rosa Brooks warns against shadenfreude.

Regardless of where one stands on Petraeus — now you know where I stand — all are worth reading.

Referring to the media’s reaction over this tragedy, Rosa Brooks writes, “If an excess of schadenfreude could kill, half the Washington press corps would be dead right now” and points out, “if [the existence of what looks like a double standard ] is the lesson schadenfreude tempts us to draw, we’re missing the more important point: Our legal framework for classifying information and dealing with its disclosure is all messed up.”

Brooks concludes:

“Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis, e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem,” wrote Lucretius. (Loosely: “It is pleasant to watch from the land the great struggle of someone else in a sea rendered great by turbulent winds.”) True, no doubt, but recall also Schopenhauer’s words: “To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish.”
And you never know: Your face might stick that way.

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  • JSpencer

    Well said Dorian. I’m not big on schadenfreude (excellent Lucretius quote). I’ll save mine for people who deserve it a lot more than Petraeus.

  • shaun

    I was a huge champion of Petraeus and was praised by Tom Ricks, who wrote the authoritative book on the Iraq war Surge for my analysis. I would be the first to agree that his long and (mostly) honorable service should have been taken into consideration, but what he did was a textbook example of treason, and for that reason a wrist slap was much too little.

    My 2009 valentine to Petraeus:

    • ShannonL

      Loved that book too.

      We over prosecute in the US, period.

      Petraeus did a lot of good and bad during his career. How many weapons were lost under his command? How many people had to be retrained?

      He supported a surge strategy that was developed by officers on the ground. He did it well and was very successful. Who knows how many lives he has saved…of course he also wrote columns in the NY Times supporting the war… how many lives did that cost?


  • hmmmm… everyone has the right to their point of view… that is to be honored as i do honor your way of seeing.. don’t feel schadenfreude for Petraeus yet he sure displayed some heightened foolishness…
    Should his service to the country count any more than the family that grew plants for medical mj? It is healing herb that some chose to use with well documented success… By growing their own they were not feeding into the State regulations to make money on that which should be as unregulated as turmeric, garlic, holy basil, or any other natural supplement that is supplied by nature.

    One’s such as Petraeus need to be held at a higher standard of right conduct? Here i am not even addressing the legality of the breech of information. Truly i don’t believe politicians, presidents, war leaders, should be held with less responsibility than any citizen of the the U.S. If anything they of all people need to strive impeccability…

    Just my point of view….

    • DdW

      Thanks for your viewpoints, Shaun and OS.

      I believe I said that those who “grow plants for medical mj” (I made it even broader: “minor drug offenses and other minor crimes,”) are getting a raw deal.

      I also believe — although I did not state so — that if those families who do get screwed for such minor offenses have served society or their country in some extraordinary way, such should be considered if and when brought “to justice.”

      Finally, I believe that using the word traitor to describe General Petraeus is a little bit harsh (just my opinion) and, yes, that he and others in high positions in government or the military should be held to a higher standard.

      Again, thank you for your views.

  • Markus

    We are all more attentive to the faults of others than our own, and when we see a high profile person take a tumble it is more common to point a finger than to say that there but for the grace of God go I. I agree with you, Mr. De Wind on this point.
    However, I don’t agree if your use of the term “alleged” and saying that you don’t know the extent of his wrongs. In his guilty plea, Petraeus tells us that on August 28, 2011, he gave eight folders of classified material to an unauthorized person. This is in the context of a plea bargain which certainly raises the question of what other trespasses might have come out if he were pursued by a activist prosecutor.
    The general had the means to engage effective legal representation. He did not need to call Saul. I don’t think he got a raw deal.
    There are very few flawless people, and we should look at the whole balance of a man’s life to assess his worth. However, success in one arena does not preclude tumbling in other areas. I guess this reminds me of Joe Paterno…lots and lots of success and good things with one very bad thing.

    • DdW

      You’re correct, Markus, in questioning my use of the word “alleged.”

      Perhaps my mind was thinking more of the allegations of “treason” than of the offenses the general was charged with.

      Good catch…

  • dduck12

    OK, let’s not throw in the kitchen sink along with plant material and sports figures.
    Don’t call Saul, cause it is about knowingly mishandling classified materials, which Petraeus and Clinton did. Period, simple.
    And, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (as long as we getting into psyche quotes).

    • Duck i do not know if i agree with you or not but find your point of view in the circle to be unique and enlivening..

      ” And, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”. Unless it is a Tiparillo….
      Maybe Petraeus and Clinton should of asked; ‘Should i offer a Tiparillo to a lady?’

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