February 22, 2007

A Handsome Magnet

In a few months, a young man is going off to war. As a teenager, he got into the sorts of trouble that middle- and upper-class boys get in to, but he seems to have overcame his earlier troubles Pperhaps with some help from his family, he earned a spot in an military academy, from which he has recently graduated. All around, he seems like a pretty good guy. He's managed to become a junior officer in the military and has earned the respect of his superiors, if not necessary the men under his command yet -- they will likely wait and see how he does in the field before they form an opinion about him. Chances are, he'll do fine.

This is not an unusual story at all. But this young man is named Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor, and he is third in line to the throne of Great Britain. As a result, Prince Harry gets a good deal more publicity than the average junior officer or footsoldier and has lived nearly his entire life in the public eye. In either May or June of this year, he will be given command of a set of light reconnisance vehicles, what the U.S. military would call a Second Lieutenant in command of a cavalry unit. He will be stationed within the British zone of control, the southern provinces of Iraq, likely serving in and around the city of Basra.

Mostly but perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Prime Minister Blair is expected to soon announce a withdrawal timetable for the bulk of British troops in Iraq. Prince Harry will still rotate into service as the British draw down their presence, and I think that most Britons, including the Royals themselves, would agree that decisions about the deployment of the military should be made without regard to whether a member of the Royal family is slated to serve.

Unfortunately for him, Harry Windsor is a prominent and very publicly-visible symbol of his country, and that makes him a target. The British military will likely try to avoid putting him in a position where he might be, say, taken hostage. So that means he will get special treatment and probably kept out of harm's way to a greater degree than he would have been had he come from a less elite family back home. That's likely the last thing he wants and if so, that would be a sign of his good character. A soldier's job is to go where the bullets are, and while no one sane relishes the idea of being in combat, I've little doubt that if Sandhurst Academy made him into a real soldier, Prince Harry would want an opportunity to prove himself as well as to be treated just like any other grunt even though he is an officer and a Royal.

Can he really be like any other grunt, though? Of course not. All of the UK will feel like they are going to war along with him -- the uncertainty and fear, the pain of separation from his family and friends, the camraderie of his troops and fellow officers, and the relief at staying alive in a war zone. America felt similar things about Pat Tillman, the NFL player who became a Green Beret and was killed in Afghanistan. (Where there is still a pretty nasty war going on, it's surprisingly easy to forget.) One wonders how this will affect the already war-weary British population.

So good luck to you, Lieutenant Windsor, as we all would wish good luck to any other young man or woman headed off to war. In your case, though, the whole world is watching you and that's got to be some kind of pressure that hopefully you've learned to handle with some measure of grace. Serve your Queen and country well; the fact that the Queen in question is your own grandmother really isn't what it's all about.


Anonymous said...

Hi.. That's a photo of William.
Harry is also known as Lieutenant Wales.

Good post though.

Burt Likko said...


I'll find a picture of Harry later this evening and post it in that same place. I found the photo on the website of the Prince of Wales; the gallery of family photos was somewhat difficult to navigate.

I'll leave up the picture of William, though; he's a soldier deserving of respect for his service, too.

Burt Likko said...

Okay, that's fixed. Seems to me that William looks a lot like his father; Harry looks more like his mother. Just my $0.02. Er, I mean, 2p.