Friday, February 29, 2008

Kings used to ride to war at the head of their army

LONDON, Feb. 28 -- Prince Harry has been fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan for 10 weeks, his presence there kept secret until Thursday in a remarkable deal between the British military and news media.

British military officials confirmed that Harry, 23, third in line to the British throne, deployed to Afghanistan on Dec. 14 and has been fighting Taliban forces from a forward operating base in southern Helmand province.

News of Harry's deployment immediately became sensational news here and rekindled an emotional debate about whether the red-haired second son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana should be risking his life in war.

When the news was posted Thursday on the Drudge Report Web site, British newspapers and television stations instantly rolled out extensive special reports on the first British royal to see combat since the Falklands War more than 25 years ago.

Those reports included lengthy taped interviews with Harry just before his deployment in December and last week at his Afghan base. Photos and video showed Harry firing a machine gun, patrolling on foot in full combat gear in an Afghan village and washing his socks in a camp sink.

"All my wishes have come true," Harry told reporters in last week's camp interview, wearing a brown military T-shirt and camouflage pants and noting that he had not showered in four days.

"It's very nice to be sort of a normal person for once; I think it's about as normal as I'm going to get," said Harry, now addressed with his rank as Cornet Wales. "It's much better being here experiencing it rather than hearing all the stories of people coming back."

"Prince Hal at last!" said Robert Lacey, a noted royal biographer, referring to Shakespeare's famous warrior prince.

Harry's military adventures have been tabloid fodder in Britain since last year, when military commanders decided to deploy him to Iraq, then changed their minds in the face of extensive publicity. Officials said Harry could too easily become an irresistible target for enemy forces, putting himself and his fellow soldiers at unnecessary risk.

In the December interview, one of the most extensive of his life, Harry said he considered leaving the army after being denied an Iraq deployment. The reason he didn't, he said, was "the possibility of this" mission to Afghanistan.

"I would never want to put someone else's life in danger when they have to sit next to the bullet magnet," he said. "But if I'm wanted, if I'm needed, then I will serve my country as I signed up to do."

Perhaps the most startling disclosure Thursday was not that Harry finally got his wish to see combat, but that Britain's famously feisty media agreed, en masse, to keep quiet about it.

Harry and his older brother, William, are tabloid favorites because of their youthful good looks, their status as sons of one of the world's most famous women and their appetite for late-night drinking sessions at London's most exclusive nightclubs.

The idea that Britain's diverse and highly competitive media outlets could keep a secret about anything struck many observers as remarkable -- particularly when that secret was England's favorite young hell-raising party boy.

"It makes me wonder what else is going on," said John Harmer, 30, a London office worker. "I don't think it can be the first time" that the media have agreed to keep information from the public.

Some wondered whether an agreement among leading media outlets to withhold information would damage the media's credibility. "One wonders whether viewers, readers and listeners will ever want to trust media bosses again," TV broadcaster Jon Snow wrote in his blog. "Or perhaps this was a courageous editorial decision to protect this fine young man?"

Prince Harry put on his country's uniform and served his nation in combat. He deserves the gratitude and respect of the British people. The British media did the right thing and they also deserve the gratitude and respect of the British people.

While the people certainly do have the right to know that a royal prince was sent to war they do not have the right to know it while he is still deployed and that knowledge would make him he entire focus of the enemies efforts, to either kill or better yet capture him.

While I wish no ill to his older brother William I believe that Harry would make a fine king one day.