Now before I launch into this post I must state a vested interest first, which is that I believe having a royal family is only a bad thing for the UK. They are expensive and the are part of the non-democratic political system that we have in this country. I do not see that happening to be the only available Protestant family in 1714 deemed fit enough to rule Britain qualifies you for being anything of use in 2008. That aside we come to more current issues. The British Royal Family have long had connections with the military. All of the mature members are colonels-in-chief of at least one regiment and they regularly visit naval and airforce units too. This is part of the military-nobility-Anglican clergy complex we have in the UK, because the Queen is also head of the Church of England and the senior noble in the country. Whilst monarchs have not led units to war for almost three hundred years, their children have seen action. One of the Queen's uncles died in an aircraft crash while in the RAF and her husband saw action in the Second World War; her second son, Prince Andrew was in the Falklands Conflict of 1982 where in fact given how badly things went for the British at some stages he could have been killed. One of her grandsons, second in line to the throne, Prince William was barred by the military from going to fight in Iraq as they apparently feared that he would make his unit a particular target, though given the regularity of death among British soldiers in Iraq they would still have faced a great risk with or without him. Now it turns out his younger brother, so third in line to the throne, Prince Harry had been serving for 10 weeks in Afghanistan but since the story broke was brought home.
Now there are so many things wrong with the whole incident. The first one is that the government gagged all British media to prevent it from reporting that the prince was serving in Afghanistan, naively believing that if the bulk of the British population did not know then somehow terrorists would not either; surely if they are as strong as we are told they have infiltrated every British newspaper, radio and television company. If al-Qaeda actually existed or were as sophisticated as the US government makes out, they would have known about Harry's destination before he left the UK let alone by the time he reached Afghanistan where Osama bin-Laden is supposed to be hiding and the Taleban that the British are fighting are supposed to be his ally. Anyone with minimal skill could get his picture from the internet and see him on patrol in Afghanistan. (Personally I think bin-Laden is tucked up safely in a nice discreet palace in Saudi Arabia protected by his wealthy family and friends). The gagging or probably more accurately, bribing as the media was promised exclusive coverage when he returned, was more about keeping it secret from the British public for fear of comment.
One reason why the British government does not want such attention is that they are receiving growing criticism. So, most of the British population accepted fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, though many did not, but there was an expectation from all that the British Army was professional and had the latest equipment. Yet at inquest after inquest we find that British vehicles have insufficient armour, British military police lack bullet-proof vests, that British soldiers are sent into night battles lacking even basic night vision equipment. We are trying to police the world on the cheap. I expect Prince Harry got all the equipment he needed, but if his mother had married some different man than the Prince of Wales, he or his equivalent could quite easily be killed by a poorly armed local guerilla just like scores of other British men and women.
The second problem is why was he brought back? Either he is a soldier and should serve as all other soldiers do or he is not and he should be kept for ceremonial activities like his grandmother. He cannot be a proper soldier and yet not be a proper soldier. It seems clear that he relishes the normality of service, but at the end of the day he is very different to his comrades just because of the bed he was born in. What would happen if you or I had a son or a daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan and I decided that it was a bit too dangerous for them, could I simply have them sent home? No. I would have to leave them there to get killed and maimed while serving in an ill-equipped force acting with no clear objectives. I do not wish any ill-will to Prince Harry or anyone in the Armed Forces, but what difference do you think it would make to British policy if he was killed or injured? It is sickening that the fate of one man could swing things in a way that the death of hundreds of 'ordinary' people cannot.
What this whole debate seems to have been around is the fate of a single man. What it should be about is what light that discussion throws on British involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq and why the British government feels it has the right to censor coverage of issues that are impacting on so many families both in Britain and the countries we have invaded.