Warrior Prince Harry Wants the Right to Fight
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
LONDON, April 24 -- If it's war Harry Wales wants, it's war he shall have.
British Defense Secretary John Reid on Monday, addressing noisy speculation in the British media, said he saw no problem sending 2nd Lt. Wales -- better known as Prince Harry -- to Iraq or Afghanistan.
"I believe that the young prince should be treated like any other member of the British armed forces," Reid told the BBC, speaking live on the radio from Afghanistan, where he was visiting hundreds of British soldiers whose mother was not Princess Diana. Reid pleaded with the British media, known to take more than a passing interest in the royal family, to "let him alone" so he can get on with being "a potentially very good young officer."
Harry himself is on record as saying he has no intention of staying home while his mates from Sandhurst, the elite military academy from which he graduated this month, put their lives on the line. "There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country," Harry, the redheaded younger son of Diana and Prince Charles, said in a rare interview last September, marking his 21st birthday. "That may sound very patriotic, but it's true."
In that interview, he said he could see himself spending a long career in the military. "I do enjoy running down a ditch full of mud, firing bullets," he said. "It's the way I am. I love it."
But he was quoted in the Mail on Sunday newspaper as telling his superiors, "If I am not allowed to join my unit in a war zone, I will hand in my uniform."
That set off a debate about whether Harry should or shouldn't go and if the military would let him. Could he really be just a soldier doing his duty? Or would he become a "trophy target" whose presence would recklessly endanger his fellow soldiers?
Commissioned in the Household Cavalry's Blues and Royals, the oldest and most senior regiment in the British Army, Prince Harry is about to begin a five-month training course to become a troop commander. His regiment has been deployed in most major military operations in recent decades, including the Falklands War, both Gulf wars, Bosnia and Kosovo. After his training, military officials have said, it is quite possible that Harry's regiment could be assigned to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Harry continues the royal family's long history of military service. His uncle, Prince Andrew, was a helicopter pilot in the Falklands, and his grandfather, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, served in World War II. His great-grandfather and great-great-grandfathers also wore the uniform.
Harry's father, Prince Charles, now better known for organic farming, spent five years in the Royal Navy in the 1970s, qualifying as a helicopter pilot but never seeing combat action. Harry's older brother, Prince William, started his training at Sandhurst in January -- and at least for the moment, while he finishes his 44-week military course, has to salute his little brother, who graduated before him. No word yet on how William, who will finish Sandhurst later this year, feels about serving in combat.
Reid, the defense chief, acknowledged that Harry could add a "threat dimension" that his commanding officers would have to consider. But, he said, that was a matter for army professionals, and he urged non-military critics not to "put obstacles in the way for him to do what I believe both he and his brother want to do, and that is be productive members of the British armed forces and British society.''
Still, the debate continues.
Amyas Godfrey, head of the U.K. armed forces program at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, said if Harry was able to be a "faceless soldier," there "would be no problem at all." Soldiers in tanks during the invasion were able to work that way, he noted. But currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, British troops frequently patrol on foot, mingling with people in dangerous areas. If Harry's famous face were recognized on the streets of Basra, Godfrey said, it could jeopardize him and his comrades.
Godfrey said the British public would be proud of Harry's willingness to serve. But "there would be a lack of support" were he to "draw dangers to others."
But William Wallace, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, noted, "There's not much point being in the army if you aren't able to take the same risks as your fellow soldier."