Friday, February 29, 2008

The Budgie Formerly Known As Prince

The media agreement (or conspiracy, if you prefer) not to report that Harry was in Afghanistan is nothing new. Indeed, it's remarkable how little has changed in 70 years where the royal family are concerned.

When the Duke of Windsor was getting jiggy with Mrs Simpson, the British press chose to keep their readers in ignorance but it was big news in America. In a less connected world, they got away with it for a long time.
My father was aware of this affair, which was to threaten the monarchy and lead to abdication, because he was making transaltlantic crossings at the time and able to read the American press. No doubt many seafarers came home with tales of what Edward was up to but in those days nobody could rush to their blogs and spread it round the world.

More recently, the identity of the official with whom Prince Charles was alleged to have performed a sexual act was withheld in the British media but published in an Italian newspaper and also on its website. Crown Equerry to the Royal Wanking Chamber sounded so much more mellifluous in Italian.

Of course, a media blackout to save lives seems perfectly sensible although it's right to point out, as Jon Snow has done, that in no other liberal democracy would it be possible. It's also not an argument that inhibits the media in other contexts - for example the sensational reporting of the recent spate of teenage suicides in Bridgend.

Last night, News at Ten flew Mark Austin to Kabul so that he could interview by satellite link a retired army officer in Salisbury. What madness was that? Anyway, the said frigging Brigadier, or whatever he was, claimed that the preceding report about the extreme dangers of the front line in Afghanistan - being shot at and blown up by suicide bombers or roadside bombs - would do wonders for recruitment to the army.
Who, in the name of the piss artist formerly known as Prince, are these people who think 'that sounds great! I want some of that!'?
Are they fucking crazy?
Or do you suppose that they can't distinguish the awful reality of war from a computer game?
Actually, from last night's TV footage it seemed that Harry spends most of his time hunched over a computer screen, joshing with Harrier pilots, all of them using whacky nicknames (Harry's nickname is 'Budgie') like kids in a chat room.
It was a reminder of how technology has de-personalised the slaughter of human beings in warfare.
It's a de-personalisation that was exemplified by the legend on Harry's baseball cap: 'We Do Bad Things To Bad People'. That one was straight out of George Bush's Principles of Political Philosophy. It would be a fitting inscription on the gates of the prison camps where British and American troops have tortured and murdered prisoners of war.

But it wasn't ever thus. The history of more ancient conflicts is full of tales that show how many soldiers never lost sight of the humanity of the enemy and never forgot that they too had mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
The armies of the two World Wars, of course, consisted largely of conscripts whereas today's volunteer army consists of careerists, those on an adrenalin kick and a small percentage of delinquents and psychopaths.
Plus the odd Prince who is probably a fundamentally decent bloke who, thanks to the absurdity of monarchy, finds shitting in a hole in the ground (as he put it) in the killing fields of Afghanistan is the only way to experience anonymity and ordinariness.

Now the media blackout has gone pear-shaped, here's my advice to Harry. Don't walk out of the army. Walk out of the monarchy. You've got millions from your mother's will. You could go anywhere in the world. Keep your head down and the media will eventually lose interest. If people say you're being irresponsible and damaging the monarchy, quote the Human Rights Act: the right to privacy and family life. They're universal rights, you know. They should apply equally to those unfortunate enough to be born into the anachronism of hereditary monarchy.


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