Peyton Place is the name of the North Dakota bar where First Lieutenant Kelly Flinn went to relax, and the name sums up her case very well. It has been a soap opera all through. And as often happens in the soaps, the worst characters prove to be the most popular. Thanks to her healthy good looks, her position as a female ground-breaker, her well-connected attorney, and an effective p.r. campaign which garnered her friends in Congress and supportive mail from a half-informed public, Flinn has retained her freedom if not her Air Force career.

Court-martialed for disobedience, lying, adultery, and fraternization (the last for a brief tryst with a Senior Airman), Flinn was given the relatively light punishment of a genera] discharge. Her career as the first woman B-52 pilot is over. Denied the honorable discharge she sought, she will probably not be allowed to fly for the Reserves, and she will have to pay back one-year’s worth of Academy tuition, about $18,000. But considering that all the charges made against her seem to be true, and that she faced a possible prison term of nine and a half years, she has been fortunate.

In an effort to deflect criticism for prosecuting Flinn for her private life, Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald Fogleman said the case was really about lying and insubordination, not “the adultery thing.” Yet adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice because it is a destructive and dishonorable action that can undermine an officer’s ability to command and certainly reflects badly on the service he or she represents. It can make a serviceman or woman vulnerable to blackmail. And it can lead to the very behavior Flinn showed: lying to superiors and disobedience to direct orders.

Flinn’s supporters do not see it that way. Demonstrating beautifully just how the Republican Party supports family values. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We have just got to account for the fact that men and women are going to have relationships that lead to marriage and perfectly wholesome relationships, and we should not wind up punishing them by dragging them through courts-martial in every instance.”

The fact that Flinn and Marc Zigo were sexually involved within a week of their meeting; that Flinn knew Zigo and his then wife were living together, whatever he told her of being separated; that Flinn was frequently in their home in the guise of a friend; that Zigo has in the past been charged with beating his wife; that he is every way a phony, right down to his suicide attempt—surely this is a wholesome couple only in the eyes of a United States Senator, the colleague of Kennedy and Hatfield and any number of other men who long ago left their first wives behind. (As we go to press, another family-values Republican, former Maine Senator and now Defense Secretary William Cohen, is defending the appointment of four-star Air Force General Joseph Ralston to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, even though Ralston had an adulterous affair several years ago. “I am satisfied General Ralston’s conduct was neither prejudicial to good order and discipline nor discrediting to the armed forces,” Cohen said. What’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.)

Sadly, not just to senators but to a large number of regular Americans, Flinn is a martyr of the heart. Some of them believe that “love” (defined as the need to sleep with somebody) outweighs honor and duty. Others contend that because one man gets away with murder, all murderers should go unpunished—an argument that has never made a lick of sense. Surely the injustice of selective prosecution is not that some people are punished too heavily, but that others are punished too lightly. Those who are crying still that Flinn’s punishment was not light enough should remember that while Airman Gayla Zigo has had the mortification of seeing her bad marriage on the national news, and Marc Zigo has been exposed from coast to coast as a cad, civilian Kelly Flinn is fielding job and book and no doubt movie offers.

Nominally independent, the Armed Services are highly political places, and great pressure was brought to bear on Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall and General Fogleman to let Flinn off. They deserve credit for holding what ground they could, in refusing an honorary discharge. Here’s hoping that there is a serviceman or two sitting tonight in a bar called Peyton Place, raising a glass to their decision.