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Soldier of The Queen: Prince Harry’s Top-Secret (and Very Bloody Dangerous) Tour of Duty

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It wasn't so much the blowing of his cover that was the problem, but the prospect that it might actually have led to the blowing up of Prince Harry and his mates or at the least marked them out as prime targets for the Taliban.

That was the thinking behind the tacit agreement between the British Ministry of Defence and various UK and US media organisations to keep the three-month Afghanistan deployment of Prince Harry, Prince Charles' and Princess Diana's second son and Britain's third in line to the throne, a well-kept secret.

This week, the Drudge Report, following two earlier stories that appeared in an Australian women's gossip magazine and a German newspaper, released details of the royal tour of duty with the result that Harry has either now been pulled out of the combat zone and flown home to London, or soon will be.

The story is big news, but as some astute commentators have noted, why didn't everyone realise something was afoot when the British tabloids suddenly stopped running front-page photos of the Queen's grandson (yes, he calls her "grandma") staggering out of London pubs and clubs in the middle of the night where the paparazzi invariably waited in a disorganised scrum on the footpath?

Be that as it may, this story is probably less about a young Royal determined to do his duty than it is about a young man who has been hounded by the tabloid press and who wants to have at least a modicum of normality in his life.

There will be some (me included) who think that a posting to Helmand province, one of the most dangerous areas of southern Afghanistan, as an army forward air controller operating out of a frontline firebase with the Gurkhas, might not quite rank up there as a normal, everyday life experience.

But as Harry (known in the British Army simply as Cornet – or Second-Lieutenant – Harry Wales and in training initially a reluctant soldier, by all reports) himself has put it, he wasn't going to go through the trouble of graduating from The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Britain's equivalent of West Point, just to sit around in England while his cavalry soldiers went off to war without him.

Good on him. At least he wasn't content to sit at home behaving like a prat and enjoying the kind of lifestyle most of us can only dream of while other Britons were out there putting their lives at risk in a war his government has decided is worth fighting.

And cleverly, he wasn't allowed to go to Iraq. Probably a very good move, as it would have put the people he was serving with at even greater risk – and can you imagine the drama over the capture and/or internet beheading of a British prince should that grim scenario have arisen? The other problem: As it is in the US, Britain's inolvement in the Iraq conflict could be described as controversial, at best.

Americans may wonder why the royals would allow one of their own to risk everything like this, but Britons know why: the royals and the aristocracy have traditionally served in the armed forces, and not at the rear either, going back to at least, well, 1066.

The sons of the nobility and upper classes were virtually wiped out in World War I, and many more gave their lives in World War II. In terms of shouldering their terrible burden in defence of the freedoms we all enjoy today, especially in the Great War, they probably sacrificed as much, if not more, than anyone.

There's a precedent in the modern era: Prince Andrew, Harry's uncle, was a Royal Navy helicopter pilot during the Falklands War in 1982. He flew helicopter picket duty in the South Atlantic and one of his jobs was to use his helicopter as a diversionary target to draw Argentine missiles away from the British fleet. So Harry is not the first of the modern Royals to stick his head above the parapet for Queen and Country.

I for one don't believe this is a publicity stunt designed to boost flagging recruiting numbers for the British Army, or a bit of PR guff orchestrated by the British Government to encourage Britons and their allies to stay the course.

It's more about a young man who didn't want to let his down his mates (who call him the "bullet magnet") by not going, which is where the normal bit of this comes in.

He'd only have had to whisper the word and he could have stayed behind. Instead, he swapped unimaginable splendour and a very privileged life for the dirt, dust and Taliban bullets of Afghanistan.

At least the headlines have him portrayed as a hero come of age this week, instead of a clueless young twerp with a penchant for foolish behaviour. Which might at least convince many sceptical Britons and those of us in what's left of the empire that there IS still a place for the monarchy in a robust constitutional democracy, provided the royals can at least give the appearance of leading, even if only as figureheads.

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  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Great article, Surfo de Plata*.

    I think the one thing Princess Diana was most passionate about, and considered to be her greatest achievement, was that she had raised a pair of exceptional young men.

    Harry did go a bit wobbly there for a while, but seems to have found a sense of purpose in his Army career. I’m glad that he was able to do his job properly, at least for a while. But his bosses, I think, knew perfectly well that the secret would come out sooner or later, which is why he was scheduled to come home in a few weeks anyway.

    As for William, well, I really like him and by all accounts he’s a great bloke, very down-to-earth in spite of his ultra-nobby upbringing in the midst of Britain’s most dysfunctional family. He’ll make a fantastic King when his time comes, if the monarchy lasts that long.

    * Clav – sorry about the pig Spanish!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/diana_hartman Diana Hartman

    If the children of the president of the United States felt morally compelled to (and did) serve, I wonder what kind of president we’d have now and what kind of candidates we would be seeing.

  • http://pointlessannointed.blogspot.com Colin

    I am of a ‘bring forth the guillotine’ type mindset. A PR coup for the monarchists though.

  • Clavos

    Ego te absolvo, Doc.

    Our Aussie mate is El Surfista Plateado en español.

    However, mate ( El Surfista, no El Doctor): given their relative ages, I think Sandhurst would be more appropriately described as the model for West Point, rather than Britain’s equivalent of that fine American institution.

    A nice tribute to Harry, Stan, and a nifty “inside” look for some of us further removed from the Mother country.

  • http://pointlessannointed.blogspot.com Colin

    Ello Clavos. You must remember that Sandhurst, and the British military have been responsible for appalling acts of violence against the British people… “Send the rats back to their holes,” Said Winston Churchill after authorising the shooting of Welsh miners (who may have been minors). The “Officer Class” are, and have always been filth.

  • Clavos

    Colin,

    I don’t know if the same applies to West Point itself, but the US military (mostly the National Guard) has certainly been known to use force on Americans as well.

    That’s the principal reason why I think we shouldn’t scrap the Second Amendment.

  • http://pointlessannointed.blogspot.com Colin

    Hey Clav (you have no idea how thrilled I am to be actually in some sort of dialogue with someone so far away!)

    And, I have to admit I dunno what the 2nd ammendment is and you must be mindful of the fact that the British (English) ruling class have not remained so powerful for so long because they are so nice. They are not.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    If the children of the president of the United States felt morally compelled to (and did) serve, I wonder what kind of president we’d have now and what kind of candidates we would be seeing.

    John McCain has two kids in the service right now. One in the navy in the gulf and the other in the marines in Iraq.

    Dave

  • Irene Wagner

    STM – I saw royalty in the title and I came running out of force of habit. I hate to admit this, but I was one of those American women who would’ve bought any periodical — Golf Digest, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, Popular Mechanics, ANYTHING–so long as Princess Di’s picture was on the cover. I don’t want a King of America, but I still think it would be nice to have a national Princess–as long as her name isn’t Chelsea.

    The ideal American Princess would be a figurehead, but a useful figurehead. She would distribute copies of the U.S Constitution including the Bill of Rights throughout the land, wher’er she rode her Palomino pony. She’d probably, as a woman traveling alone wisely exercising her second amendment rights, be packing heat, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, maybe encrusted with a diamond or two. She wouldn’t be a burden to taxpayers either. Companies would be paying her all kinds of money just to have their logos stamped on her saddle or cowgirl hat…

  • Irene Wagner

    I don’t know what the Bush twins are up to these days. They’re probably not doing it in Iraq, though.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Actually, a couple of weeks ago somebody – I’m afraid it may have been REMF – raised the very good question of whether Mitt Romney’s five strapping sons had now enlisted, given that they’re no longer needed to help with their father’s presidential campaign.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Romney’s sons ARE adults, and it’s up to them whether they choose to enlist and doesn’t actually involve Romney in any way. Same for the Bush twins. Plus, would you really want those two ditzes in a position of responsibility for troops in combat?

    Has Chelsea Clinton enlisted? Hillary supported the war, after all.

    Dave

  • Bennett

    “those two ditzes”

    I caught part of an interview with one of ‘em, hawking some book about her time in South America.

    I had to turn it off, y’know. The clichés were, oh my gawd, thick and, like, smarmy.

    Ack!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Romney’s sons ARE adults, and it’s up to them whether they choose to enlist and doesn’t actually involve Romney in any way.

    True, but the question is pertinent in this case as Romney had previously cited his campaign as the reason why his sons weren’t serving in the military.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    The two reports in Lady’s magazines were somehow ignored, thankfully for the Prince. However Drudge knew he had a huge audience and until he opened his big mouth it wasn’t news.

    Drudge knew the dire possible consequences of reporting Harry’s deployment, and he went ahead a spread it all over the world.

    I call that blatant and reckless irresponsibility

  • STM

    Hey guys. First up, I’m not sure we should be compelling anyone – or making them compelled – to put their lives at risk.

    Isn’t one of the freedoms we love the freedom of choice? Wasn’t the reason for our collective sacrifice in the first place over the past century?

    But I do agree with Jet up to a point. When security is at issue, perhaps journalists should weigh up the issues.

    For isntance:

    Abu Ghraib … a story that had to be told, despite the negative ramifications and the potential for the drams it ultimately caused.

    Prince Harry going to war and a blackout in place for security reasons because without it it put him and his mates at (more) risk … probably didn’t need to be told until the end of the 14-week tour. He’s probably lucky he got 11 weeks out of it.

    On the other hand, as a journo I can’t say I blame Drudge, particularly as he probably had no understanding of the blackout. Whatever else this is, it’s also a very good story.

    And I’ll put it this way: I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that they go to Iraq. In my view, that’s a been a total clusterf..k from the moment the invasion stopped and the “peace” began.

    Afghanistan I feel differently about.

    As this country (Australia) and Britain have also been on the receiving end of islamic terror attacks, I’ll subscribe anytime to the notion that we shouldn’t be standing around waving flowers and yelling “Peace” while lunatics plot our untimely deaths. Stopping them from having a safe haven is a worthwhile exercise, even though it would be better if it didn’t have to happen at all.

    And like I say, I’m not sure Harry’s overriding concern is to stick his head over the parapet simply for Queen and Country, although undoubtedly there will be an element of that.

    As he tells it, he thought it unfair that his mates should go off to war while he sat at home.

  • STM

    Typo

    Make that: making them FEEL compelled …

  • STM

    And Colin,

    Much as I love ya old boy (especially after your description of the Twickenham HQ of English rugby as World Headquarters of Evil), I can’t agree. From where I stand, the monarchy are as relevant today as they were 300 years ago.

    They might seem like an anachronism, but they aren’t. If they are an anachronism, they are only as much so as the President of the United States.

    One of the things I love about Australia is that it’s a constitutional monarchy. Simply, as it does in the UK, that means that we can have a systme of government where the Monarch is NOT the head of government but a figurehead who fulfils the same role of the US president on the executive branch of government but – and this is the important bit – WITHOUT the power.

    For all their (understandable) chest beating about revolutions, liberty and constitutions, Americans probably don’t realise that Britain has been a representative parliamentary democracy that restricted the power of the monarch and has had a government guaranteeing the freedom of its citizens and ruled by constitution since the 1600s (see Glorious Revolution).

    My view on this: if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it.

    If my country can operate under the same system of government that has guaranteed personal liberties and freedoms to its citizens for over 300 years, and has passed such rule of law onto all the English-speaking democracies including the US, why get rid of it.

    It is the monarchy that allows us to have this system, and is bound in the type of tradition that makes it very difficult to undo – which is what is good about. The royals are simply the vehicles that allow this, and for that reason are worth keeping. Despite being a Labor voter in Australia, I will never support this country becoming a republic – and I’ll never support getting rid of the Union Jack from our flag.

    I’m also a great believer in strength through unity. Once the UK starts to break up, its strength is gone, and who knows where that leads? Rather than breaking up, perhaps the UK could look to some kind of genuine federal system of government like in Australia, and with the monarchy still as head of state but not of government. Perhaps it’s good to remember why collectively we don’t have coups and tin-pot generals taking away our freedoms and rights.

    I agree there have been some hiccoughs, but it’s not that bad mate. I’ll concede that perhaps it’s only possible to see that clearly ina country like Australia, where the old hatreds that go back centuries upon centuries don’t apply, as everyone (thankfully) left them at the doorstep before they came in.

    Today, that even includes our Irish cousins – who make up about 40 per cent of our genes! True, they make us rowdy, but even many of the Irish among us recognise the safety of our system.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    as a journo I can’t say I blame Drudge, particularly as he probably had no understanding of the blackout.

    Drudge doesn’t have an understanding of anything much.

  • STM

    I agree it appears that way, but to give him his due, it’s unlikely he had any inkling of any ban.

    I suspect, however, that had he known he would have published anyway.

    He’s in the business of information after all. I don’t agree with it in terms of leaking it, but that’s the way it is … it’s a good story.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    If he knew, then he’s even more stupid than I gave him credit for. Drudge is supposedly in the news business, and I’m quite sure he didn’t miss the story a few months back about Harry’s deployment to Iraq being cancelled for the exact same reason that he’s now having to be pulled from Afghanistan.

    When I was in England before Christmas I visited the Cabinet War Rooms and picked up a fascinating little book from the gift shop. It’s a facsimile of the pamphlet given to American servicemen being stationed in Britain during World War II – telling them some basic facts about the country and how to behave. Despite the fact that it’s now over sixty years old, I think it should be required reading for every American.

    One piece of advice in particular sticks in my mind. It says something along these lines:

    To criticize your hosts is just rude. To criticize your allies is militarily stupid.

    I know Drudge wasn’t criticizing exactly, but you get the idea. It doesn’t take a genius to know that splashing Harry’s whereabouts all over the web endangers not only him, but every other soldier in his vicinity.

  • STM

    Doc, my old man was in the British Army, not the Australian.

    He served in Europe and was in the British Army of the Rhine after the war, where he encountered heaps of Americans in the course of his work.

    He said they were great, and really good workers and he loved getting some of their ice-cream ration!

    But what he always said to me was that Americans were always really polite and pretty much mostly well-behaved and that I should take a leaf out of their book (he was comparing me to some American schoolfriends).

    Even though they’re still big-heads :), that’s also mostly still the case.

    It really is a polite society for the most part, and the bit I like … the customer is always right.

  • Clavos

    Careful!

    The Seppos are listening!

    (So’s the Mexican)

  • STM

    See, Seppos ARE polite …

    Lol. I Love the idea of an icelandic Mexican with an Irish background.

    “Now, Harald, ve turnink left hier, und should vashink up in County Wexford about NOW. Damn, vat is thiss? Wrong turnink. There iss no Guadalajara on mine mapp!”

    Not much bloody snow in your neck of the woods is there Clav?

    At least you can get a pint of Guiness though.

  • Clavos

    “At least you can get a pint of Guiness though.”

    No snow, but there ARE some pretty good Brit pubs and grocery stores in the area (or so I’m told), because we have a fairly sizable colony of Pom expats here.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    That pamphlet must’ve worked, then, Stan!

    Funny story on the subject of politeness. When I first visited America my (then) wife-to-be was excited to show me how good American customer service really was. So on the drive back from the airport we stopped at a Taco Bell in Oakland. The kid behind the counter had the most horrendous attitude problem I ever saw. His face wore an expression of utter contempt and loathing and his body language radiated resentment with every slouch.

    My wife was mortified.

    And the little shit probably did something nasty with our food as well, because we both got sick a couple of days later.

    On the flip side of the coin, on that same visit we were invited to dinner at my wife’s best friend’s parents’. My wife had to work and couldn’t make it, but they said I should come anyway. Even though they didn’t know me from Adam, they welcomed me like a member of the family. It was as if I’d known them for years.

    I have to say that the only other place I’ve ever encountered hospitality of that calibre was Australia.

  • STM

    That’d be the reason why all those lunatics have set up that Dominion of British West Florida movement.

    Wouldn’t it be a hoot if they succeeded. They reckon they don’t have to secede from the United States for it to happen. What, just a matter of calling Buck House and asking Her Maj to put them back on the books??

    You can just imagine how Americans might take to that notion, especially with a Union Jack in the corner of the West Florida flag.

    No such luck .. oh hang on, the Hawaiian state flag has a Union Jack in the corner (and ain’t it just the prettiest of all the state flags??) :)

  • STM

    Doc, hospitality is great down under. People ARE nice here, but service can be something else sometimes.

    Too often: it’s like they’re doing you a favour just serving you.

    Unfortunately, the customer isn’t always right in Australia.

    I have even heard a restaurateur tell a customer over a pretty innocuous and not unreasonable complaint, and I quote: “Well if you don’t like it, p.ss off and don’t come back!”

  • Clavos

    Sounds like the soivice in Noo Yawk…

  • STM

    Clav, I reckon the service is better in New York mostly than it is in Australia.

    There is one little trap for unsuspecting Australians in America.

    While we do tip here in restaurants and bars etc if we like the service (usually about 10 per cent of the bill, although sometimes more), Aussies working in the hospitality industry are on pretty good award wages, including penalty rates and weekend rates etc, and get at least four weeks a year holiday. Which means they don’t depend on tips, but count them instead just as a bonus.

    What many Aussies (and Brits too) don’t realise when they go to the US for the first time is that people tending bars and working as waiters/waitresses are on a very, very low wage that is supplemented by good tips.

    So often they will leave no tip or a smaller tip than would normally be expected from an American.

    I have copped a bollocking in the US for not tipping when I first went there. There was also some misunderstanding about how it’s done.

    If I went to a bar, I might drink all night and then leave some money on the bar when I go, rather than tip with every drink.

    Tips are also shared by the staff in Oz (and in the UK too, I think), so it’s all counted up at the end of the night then divvied up evenly.

    So misunderstandings and cultural differences can be a prime source of problems in such situations.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but when I was in New York I was pleasantly surprised. Service was at worst neutral and for the most part the attitude of New Yorkers was very friendly.

    Either they’ve had a very bad press, project the ‘rude’ image themselves, or 9/11 caused a major shift in their perspective.

    I did spot a sign on 5th Avenue that said, “Don’t even THINK about parking here”.

    As for Australian waiters… damn, those French international restaurant trainers are good!

  • STM

    Doc: “As for Australian waiters… damn, those French international restaurant trainers are good!”

    Yep, almost every single one ‘em in Oz has passed “Surly #101″.

    It’s a problem, it really is.

  • Marcia L. Neil

    He’s not royalty if he hasn’t invented something; he can be nobility resulting from inheritance and training. Are those types the ones with whom ‘our guy’ are experiencing so-called “friendly fire” — ‘our guys’ are usually carrying a number of potential new projects in the back of their minds. Some northeastern North Americans grew up with McVays.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Marcia: Huh????

    Me English.

  • Silver Surfer

    Marcia … what have you been smoking, and where can I get some??