Whatever career HRH Prince Henry of Wales chooses, if any, when his fightin’ days are over, we can probably rule out public relations. The thriving business Harry couldn’t destroy with a one-line press release has yet to be built. When it comes to heartrendingly naive candour, he is a martial Gerald Ratner.
With the interview marking the end of his 20-week tour in Afghanistan, the question is not what Harry was thinking. The Prince was not thinking. The Prince seems incapable of thought. He makes the lovechild of Joey from Friends and Dibley’s Alice Tinker resemble the issue of a drunken coupling between Isaiah Berlin and Baroness Warnock.
No, the question is what was the Ministry of Defence thinking in allowing the interview to be shown in this form. Somebody must have approved it, though whether that somebody wanted a controversy to draw fire from objections to the newly announced 5,000 reduction in personnel, or was in fact a sleeper planted at the MoD by Taliban (naturally, the Taliban made hay by questioning Harry’s sanity) is anyone’s guess. Either way, it’s hard to see how anyone who heard Captain Wales describe gunning down Afghans from his Apache as “a joy for me, because I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful” without hearing alarm bells as well.
Call me Captain
There is nothing shocking about the admission itself, though those who enjoy being scandalised will affect a fit of the vapours at a man paid to kill without compunction speaking of his work with such relish (his sympathy that brother William is missing all the jolly japery was particularly touching). What shocks a bit is that the relevant official could not distinguish the blurting out of a brutal truth (that aspects of modern asymmetric warfare are a fun form of high stakes video gaming) from the propaganda (that soldiers do not kill easily and without regret). Propaganda exists to mask, distort or reverse the truth, not to illuminate it, and whoever approved the broadcast is trapped in a distorted reality.
So, we learned from an interview laden with paradox, is the pilot who prefers to be known simply as Captain Wales. Oddly endearing for one who regards aerial killing with the insouciance of a stiletto heel stamping on an ant, Harry seeks normality and security in conditions of ultimate abnormality and maximum danger. A reluctant interviewee who couldn’t wait to sprint away from a perilous chat with a reporter for the safety of his chopper, his one complaint about the privations of Camp Bastion, where he sleeps on a grubby mattress on the floor, was the surfeit of luxury. He’d rather be outside on foot patrol, he said, spared the star-struck glances in the food hall and right in the direct line of fire with his guys.
Traditionally, young men with no other prospects join the military to escape a bleak life on benefits. Harry’s version of state-funded dependency may be a touch more lavish than the Jobseeker’s Allowance, but psychologically his story is virtually identical to the squaddie from a rough council estate. Desperate for some purpose and to escape his upbringing – “it’s very easy to forget who I am in the Army” – all he wants is to feel useful and be “one of the guys”. He needs, as we all do, to belong.
All right, maybe very few lachrymals are erupting at the portrait of the third in line to the throne seeking sanctuary from the horrors of a Kensington Palace apartment and overexposure to the smell of fresh paint by picking off Talibani from 2,000ft in what he conveniently cites as prophylactic slaughter. “You take a life to save a life, that’s what we revolve around, I suppose...,” he explained, in the faux-macho US military cliché that seems his lingua franca (forgive the Blimpishness, but our army, like everything else, sounds ever more Americanised). “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.”
Again with the gaming. Not for two seconds, I suppose, has he ever contemplated this war in any perspective other than how it affects the guys of whom he is one. He could not be less interested, it seems, in any moral or geopolitical implications, or less aware of the futility. There is no XBox game called Mujahideen, in which the fathers of those he shoots from on high now destroy the Soviet empire with shoulder-held, ground-to-air missile launchers of the kind to which his Apache is immune. Sony has yet to release Anglo-Afghan War I for Playstation 3. If he has done any historical research, it probably begins and ends with Carry On Up The Khyber.
Scorn for the media
Infamy, infamy, he meanwhile feels about the tabloid press, they’ve all got it in for me... and while there is an irony in a man who kills so blithely scaling the moral high ground to look down on the callousness with which his Las Vegan revels were revealed, one understands the rage towards those he holds accountable for Diana’s death.
Product of a horrid passive-aggressive marriage and then a broken home, lifelong subject of paternity doubts (absurd as they are; in profile, he’s the spit of his grandfather Philip); lost his mum at 12, just about the most catastrophic age for such a bereavement; educational no-hoper and borderline dyslexic. Move the setting a few miles down the Thames from SW1 to Albert Square, and his life would read eerily like that of a stock character from old-time EastEnders. In which case, the stark career choice might be shooting up or joining up.
Blaming Prince Harry for being Prince Harry – 28 going on 18, with no shred of his father’s curiosity about the world or his mother’s emotional intelligence – is as futile as waging war in a country where war cannot be won. He is what he is – sensitive, good-natured, lost and bemused and flailing about for his place in the world, an emblem of an infantilised age and poster boy for video-game warfare, and really not all that bright – and as much a victim of fate, genetics and circumstance as anyone under his command.
To hold him to a higher standard for the wealth of his background and the power of his family is worse than inverted snobbery; it is a failure of the imagination worthy of the man-child himself. However gilded, a cage is still a cage.