But not when it comes to the topic of cheating.
The rest of America may be fixated on retired Gen. David H. Petraeus and Paula Broadwell — what they did or didn’t do and when, what it means about military culture and power and whether it’s inevitable that two people will have an affair if they spend enough time together jogging and talking about counterintelligence — but in military circles the subject appears to be largely taboo.
Military Spouse magazine put a statement on its Web site soon after the Petraeus-Broadwell news broke, saying it would not be writing about the subject, not even generally. (The statement got hundreds of Facebook “Likes” and cheers of “Bravo!”) On the multiple Facebook pages where enlisted people and their loved ones meet virtually, the scandal is either unmentioned or referred to in the briefest shorthand, like elevator chitchat you might make about the weather.
Part of the reason for this is a relatively small community (active military and their families comprise only about 1 percent of Americans) hesitant to be seen as gossiping about Petraeus and his wife, Holly, who is beloved for her advocacy of military families. But it goes to a much more raw, sensitive issue in a culture where cheating on your spouse is a crime that can be held against your career and yet relationships are struggling after a decade of separations.
“I can’t think of a single example of a family readiness group or a spouse group meeting or anywhere even quasi-public where it would be discussed,” even before the Petraeus affair came out, said Alison Buckholtz, a Navy wife and author who led a group of spouses from 2006 to 2009 while her husband was deployed. “Even this week, a lot of military spouses I know said, they don’t want to talk about it, it’s just too close to home.”
Sara Horn, founder of the Web site wivesoffaith.org, which connects Christian military spouses to support their marriages, said she returned a few weeks ago from a conference for women connected with the military and of the 52 sessions, there were none on fidelity. In recent days, even in her leadership team, no one has mentioned the Petraeuses.
“As a military spouse you have a lot on you . . . I think a lot of women are just focused on trying to do right by their marriages and families and are focused on that,” she said.
Yet the absence of the topic seems glaring in a community where the many challenges to fidelity are obvious: Spouses are apart for months on end, sometimes repeatedly, far from home in life-and-death situations with comrades who are often sworn to secrecy on who did what, when, where.