25 January 2013

Harry's 'Game'

Much has been made in the news in recent days of Prince Harry's remarks about his time in Afghanistan as a gunner in an Army helicopter.  He has admitted to killing Taliban fighters, and you could hear raised eyebrows in the news reader's tone even if the actual facial expression was successfully suppressed.

Some of Harry's remarks have been seen as glib, if not actually offensive; 'Take a life to save a life,' for example, or '...taking [the enemy] out of the game.'  I really wonder what's wrong with people.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of our troops being deployed in Afghanistan, the fact is they are there.  Not only are they there, they are being attacked by the Taliban with the unmitigated intent to kill as many of them as possible.  What are our troops supposed to do, if not defend themselves?

My grandfather fought in the First World War.  On one of the rare occasions he talked about it, I asked if he had killed any Germans.  He admitted (not confessed) he had in hand-to-hand combat, not just with his Lewis gun from a safe distance.  His explanation was that if he and his comrades had not killed the Germans, the Germans would have killed them; 'It was them or us.'

So, Prince Harry has killed Taliban fighters.  I am sure this young man does not take pleasure in the taking of life.  I deplore war and its consequences but the equation is an easy one to understand: if he did not fire his machine gun at the enemy and 'take them out of the game', you can be sure that the Taliban would be taking the Prince's comrades out of the game.  The killing of the Prince himself would be seen by them as an illustrious triumph.  It is either British troops who die or Taliban fighters; it is British mothers who must grieve or those of the Taliban.  Would it were neither but fanatics such as the Taliban are not in the least offended by the death of their enemies.

Nor should we take offence at the expression 'taking them out of the game.'  This is not a sign that our Prince is a jingoistic warmonger.  I think of World War Two fighter pilots who talked of fallen comrades as having 'Gone for a Burton' (Burton's being a brewery).  These men were not being facetious in the face of tragedy, they were putting a psychological distance between themselves and the horror of their losses and what must have seemed, for some of them at least, their own inevitable demise.  I wonder how closely those who are critical of Harry would hold the realities of war were they in his shoes . . .

Prince Harry is a soldier.  He is doing a dangerous job in a dangerous place.  Many of our front line troops have killed Taliban fighters; in that respect, Harry is but one of the many.  How many people would complain if Harry had not done his job and allowed British troops to be killed?

Prince Harry is a soldier.  What do you expect him to do?  Really?

'Harry's Game', by the way, is the title of a Gerald Seymour novel: an excellent read — but then, most of his novels are.

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