Petraeus the Messiah!

Petraeus with Broadwell
A scarlet letter hasn’t prevented Petraeus’s rise after retirement

W.J. Astore

One of the more disturbing aspects of American militarism today has been the elevation of generals to the pantheon of heroes.  Since 9/11, one U.S. general has excelled all others in hype: David Petraeus, the “Surge” savior of Iraq.

Today, Nick Turse has an outstanding article at on Petraeus and his charmed career. Despite his very public marital infidelity, and despite leaking highly classified secrets to his mistress, Petraeus has emerged from scandal as if reborn.

As Turse notes with telling humor, the retired general is more in demand than ever, so busy making money and giving advice to the high and mighty that he has no time to talk to (critical) journalists. Shepherded in style from event to event, looked up to as a sage on nearly every topic facing America today, Petraeus has somehow maintained a Messiah-like aura despite his past sins.

And I truly mean Messiah-like. Turse cites a story about Petraeus that I’d never heard that casts a whole new celestial light on Petraeus and his hype machine.  Visiting a wounded soldier in the hospital, a soldier apparently in an irreversible coma, Petraeus reportedly awakened this man by shouting “Currihee,” a Cherokee word and unit battle cry that became famous after HBO’s popular “Band of Brothers” series.

And what immediately popped into my head?  Lazarus, come forth!

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ awakened the dead Lazarus. Petraeus awakened a comatose soldier. Petraeus is not just a genius general — He’s the freakin’ Messiah!

America’s continued embrace of Petraeus says much about the American moment. Despite the fact that his “surges,” whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, were not miracles but rather, in their lack of staying power, essentially mistakes, Petraeus is still celebrated as warrior, sage, even saint (despite that obvious scarlet letter).

Is it possible that “saint” Petraeus might be “born again” to become a serious presidential contender in 2020? Heck, if thrice-married Donald Trump can break all the rules of civility to win his party’s nomination, why not the “honorable” Petraeus?

I’m not a prophet, but I’ll issue a warning anyway: Beware of false messiahs in 2020, especially those who wore general’s stars with miracle stories following in their wake.

7 thoughts on “Petraeus the Messiah!

  1. Like most of our generals and admirals since WWII, General Patraeus is riding a losing streak. If one faces the facts, the only generals to have earned a winning record since 1945 are Generals Colin Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. for the victory in the Gulf War of 1990-91, although that was a little like the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos playing your local high school team. As noted in the article, neither of Patraeus’ surges worked and it can be argued they made things worse. Right now our military leaders, like Patraeus, are mostly riding a long losing streak, one which often results in the needless loss of young lives. Frankly, I don’t think we need a loser as a president.


  2. Hero worship of soldiers, particularly those holding the highest ranks, is one of the inevitable consequences of the American people separating themselves from military service.

    By the way, post-Hillary and the FBI, Petraeus is clearly qualified to be president since he surely did not “intend” to mishandle top secret information.


  3. Good points, Walt. This separation leads to both hero-worship and lip-service/indifference. Yes, some Americans raise Petraeus to exalted ranks and praise him to the stars. But so many other Americans are almost entirely ignorant of the military, and indifferent to it.

    And, as you know, these are not mutually exclusive responses. You can be ignorant of the military, even largely indifferent to it, while still speaking of the troops and their top generals as “heroes.” This may even be a way of assuaging guilt for some — I won’t serve, I couldn’t care less about those wars, but I’ll praise those who do serve. See what a patriot I am?


    1. William.

      Exactly. Lip service and empty praise. Petraeus had not a day in a war zone until the rank of Major General, yet he went into that war zone with a chest full of ribbons unknowing civilians had a right to equate with heroism. Our system is sick, and those of us who have functioned within it know it.

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  4. Heck, if thrice unconvicted Hillary can break all the rules and laws with impunity to win her party’s nomination, why not “honorable” Petraus? Does this mean the U.S. Justice Department joins the TV networks and mainstream print media in doing everything to prevent a Trump presidency? Does this mean laws do not apply to the highest level political “leaders”? Is the system so corrupt now that those who enforce the laws do it with favoritism to their political overlords? Democracies fail because the leaders are more loyal to political overlords, status quo and paychecks than to the nation and its laws. The stench of political group think has infected the justice system because it does not apply to political overlords.


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