Let me share with you the following shocking piece of news: divorce does not bring out the best in people.
Furthermore, in the postpart'm war over love and money, the military is not necessarily more peace-loving than civilians.
I tell you this because I should have been braced for the response when I attempted to devise a treaty to resolve some of the hostilities.
Several weeks ago, I wrote in favor of making military pensions like all other pensions. They should be part of the family assets that could be divided in some way or other in case of divorce.
The letters I received had less to do with the legal division of property than the emotional division of marriage. In the mail came lengthy personal tales by ex-husbands and ex-wives, all innocent and all wronged.
Let me give you a sample. From a retired lieutenant colonel in New Mexico came this tale: "I have given my ex-wife over one-half of my total gross income. . . . I have custody of our two minor children, she has refused to help support our children. . . . It is my money and I did earn it. . . . I am the one who killed 217 people with whom I had very little quarrel while flying combat in Viet Nam. . . . In fact she asked for a separation just before I left. . . . I believe she was disappointed that I made it back. . . ."
From a 22-year military wife in New England came a different chronicle: "My former husband recently remarried and although this new wife has not spent one minute as a military wife, she is now entitled to my benefits."
The beat went on at more or less the same pace. An ex-wife from Texas described herself as a woman who had moved uncomplainingly hither and yon, only to find herself high, dry and jobless at 55. A military booster from Virginia preferred to remember the story of a wife who became "involved with another man while her husband was a prisoner of war. When he was finally released after many years, she divorced him and was awarded half of his retired pay as property"
The only letter I got that wasn't saturated with a sense of being done wrong came from a military wife in Philadelphia who had a post-nuptial agreement with her husband to divide their assets in half.
"I have suggested to several of my acquaintances . . . that they have agreements drawn up," she wrote. "None that I know has 'dared' suggest it. That says something to me about the quality of their marital relationship." She was still married.
Now I have no reason to doubt a single one of these stories. I have rarely met two halves of a long-married couple who leave divorce court feeling that justice was served. By now we all know the facts of life after separations: two spouses cannot live as cheaply as one couple; people who can't resolve the financial settlement are often arguing about more than nickels and dimes.
In fairness it should be noted that statistically, women, military or civilian, suffer a great deal more, financially, in case of divorce. Furthermore, the proposed legislation that provoked this deluge of letters wouldn't automatically divide pensions in half. It would put pensions in the pot for the courts to cut up.
But what I found most intriguing in my mail was people's desire to separate innocence (their own) from guilt (their spouse's). They also longed to have that judgment attested to in the divorce court and the divorce settlement. People should get what they "deserve."
A man from Connecticut went so far as to state that an ex-wife should only have access to a pension if she had been a good "wife," cooperative, cheerful, efficient. (His "ex" had, I am sure, not quite filled that bill.) Most of the others stopped just short of that, but each seemed to believe that their virtue should be rewarded. And their spouses' sins punished.
All this was eloquent testimony to what hasn't changed. Despite the rhetoric about the new divorce in which a partnership is dissolved civilly, people still long to turn it into a criminal procedure in which someone is declared guilty and has to pay for it. No-fault divorce? Not in my mail bag.