‘Hero’ Harry’s homecoming courts controversy

War games: Harry’s Afghan duties included operating a deadly Apache helicopter © Getty Images

Prince Harry has admitted to ‘joy’ at firing on the Afghan Taliban. Should the soldier prince, often in hot water, be applauded for honesty or condemned for glamorising war?

A single image dominated British newsstands yesterday. In sunglasses and khakis, a fair-haired young man was pictured sprinting towards a helicopter. Next to him appeared a striking headline: ‘Harry: I killed Taliban’.

After a four month tour of duty in Afghanistan, the third in line to the British throne has returned. Prince Harry may be royal, but on the British army’s Afghan base he lived like any soldier. Sleeping in a converted shipping container, he spent his free time watching DVDs, working out and playing video games with fellow troops.

But with military service came a darker duty: taking life. In an interview filmed in Afghanistan, Harry explains that firing at Taliban insurgents was part of his job: on the battlefield, he says, ‘you have to take a life to save a life’.

His homecoming has been met with dizzy praise. But a few comments make unnerving reading. Harry says firing deadly weapons was a ‘joy’, ‘because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox so with my thumbs I like to think that I’m probably quite useful’. Many pundits thought the ‘battle games’ comparison deeply disrespectful.

Such criticism may be an unwelcome reminder of previous controversies. A notorious party-goer, Harry has previously caused scandal in the press after dressing up as a Nazi at a party and smoking marijuana. Most recently, he was photographed naked at a debauched Las Vegas bash.

But he is hardly the wildest international royal. Prince Azim, son of the Sultan of Brunei, is famous for spending millions hiring celebrities to appear at his luxurious parties. He dropped out of Sandhurst, the elite British military college where Harry trained, after just one week.

Harry Wales is keen to avoid comparisons with such characters. His Las Vegas antics, he said, let both himself and his family down: ‘it was probably a classic example of me being too much army and not enough prince,’ he said.

Once more into the breach

But it is this army persona, some say, that makes Harry such a good, modern royal. He is loved both for disciplined service and for being ‘one of the boys’, with laddish banter and a habit of occasionally getting into trouble. A military royal’s ‘courage and sense of duty (as much as his vivacity)’, as The Times says, make him an adored and invaluable morale-booster for the nation.

Is it a problem that the Prince might glorify the violence of armed conflict? Absolutely, say some: Harry’s staged interview puts a tasteless gloss on war’s regrettable tragedies and dark ambiguities. Rather than sounding a fanfare for battle, national figureheads should use their privilege and publicity to promote the serious business of peace.

You Decide

  1. Should the royal family keep out of military affairs?
  2. What makes a good prince?

Activities

  1. Research royals who have played a crucial military role in history. Write a short story about the responsibility and fear of serving one’s country.
  2. Write a job description for a prince in the modern world.

Some People Say...

“A prince’s greatest weapon is his banter.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Harry’s just one soldier in thousands. What does this matter?
Harry is a popular public figure, and his involvement in the Afghan conflict has brought it back into the public eye. For members of the military and their families, this gives a welcome fillip – a reminder that they are appreciated by the UK establishment and public. But others think the publicity could have a more malign effect.
Why?
Harry’s comments, particularly those about video games, have provoked threats of retaliation from hostile forces, and could stoke resentment among ordinary locals, too. Already, the Taliban has branded Harry a ‘coward’: in a region where they are struggling to promote themselves as a benevolent force, displays that might seem arrogant or insensitive are the last thing the British forces need.

Word Watch

Tour of duty
A period of time that servicemen and women (in the navy, army or air force) spend on the front line in a time of war. For today’s British soldiers, a tour of duty lasts six months and the majority are deployed in Afghanistan.
Filmed in Afghanistan
Media interest in Harry’s military career is intense. But concerns that enemies would target the Prince mean information about him is carefully protected when he is on the front line. In 2007, Harry had to return in the middle of a tour when a story about him appeared in the international press. This time, coverage was strictly embargoed: an interview was filmed during his time away and released on his return.
Taliban insurgents
In 2001 Western forces invaded Afghanistan to establish democracy and oust the Taliban, a hardline Islamist group which ruled the country and harboured terrorist threats. The government was toppled, but the influence of the Taliban remains and groups of fighters from the organisation continue to put up stiff resistance to their internal enemies and Western forces in the country, using terrorist tactics, guerrilla warfare and targeted killings.
Sultan of Brunei
Hassanal Bolkiah is the current head of state and monarch of Brunei. An absolute monarch, who can exercise full control over the government and legislature of Brunei, he was for many years the world’s richest man.

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