PRINCE Harry is right.
As he said in an interview last week, not everything you read in the press is true: a fact which was immediately proven by the distortion of what he did say about his time working as an Apache pilot in Camp Bastion.
To put the record straight, "Captain Wales", as he is jokingly called, did not, as has been suggested in some articles, liken killing insurgents to playing on a video game. Nor did he, as the Taliban suggested in response, have "mental problems" in distinguishing the real from the virtual. But that doesn't mean there wasn't something disturbing in what he did say, nor that he didn't deserve the criticism he got.
What the prince did was describe how his skills at thrashing his mates on the PlayStation were highly transferrable to the thumb-work of operating the weapons controls of the Apache. This in itself is no big revelation. Games have long been used by the military as training. But by so casually mentioning these two things together – gaming and the real-world killing of insurgents – Harry struck upon a cultural worry.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama has called for research into the relationship between video games and real-world violence. For the American military, the computer game American Army has been by far its most persuasive recruiting device. Meanwhile, there is concern that the remote drone killing of insurgents makes war seem too much like a computer game, or creates too much emotional distance.
What bothered me about the Harry interview was the giddy way that he spoke. It was the fact that the prince mentioned the word "joy" in relation to being given the job of taking up the weapons controls, and being, therefore, a killer. To be precise, he said: "There was a couple of us who got pushed forward to the front seat [weapons control] instead of the back seat, which is a joy for me because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I'm quite useful."
Of course, he was probably just talking the Bastion talk, and speaking like the soldier he is. Harry admits being "too much army, and not enough prince" – and blames this for those scandal-provoking naked Las Vegas photos.
What his words say about the army mindset is chilling. Asked if he has ever killed anyone, he replies: "Yeah, take a life to save a life." But his smile, interjected between the words that follow, is the biggest giveaway. "If there's people out to do bad stuff to our guys," he says with a half-laugh, "then we'll take them out of the game." What does that smile mean? To me it speaks of a boy who has been given a gun and can't believe he has got to get involved in something so thrilling as the meting out of death, or saving of life.
But also, there's that jargon, "out of the game". That doesn't come from PlayStation; it comes from a wider world of game and sport, and it demonstrates an attitude that long precedes games such as Medal Of Honor or Call Of Duty.
What Harry actually did wrong was to, rather dim-wittedly, break the code of silence around the thrills and pleasures of war. He hinted at an enjoyment in an activity whose result is sanctioned slaughter. You rarely hear any commanders or military spokespeople voice this "joy". But without a doubt, for many in the military, it is the guilty secret, that their work may contain some element of pleasure.
That this is so is one of the subjects of historian Joanna Bourke's book, An Intimate History Of Killing. She quotes heavily from an essay published in Esquire magazine called Why Men Love War, by a former Marine, William Broyles.
In it he reflects on the words of a fellow Vietnam veteran who had expressed how much he had loved the war, but that he "could not tell anybody". Broyles writes that most former soldiers would admit "if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too". And how, he asks, do you explain that "to your wife, your children, your parents, your friends?"
The counter-insurgency in Afghanistan may seem a world away, technologically, from that Vietnam war, but I detected in Harry's smile an unguarded admission of that unspoken pleasure. I also heard in that word "game", the echo of many soldiers down the years who have seen war through the prism of sport, or who have come to fighting from a childhood of playing with plastic guns.
One of the reasons we fear the use of drones is that we think it will make war seem more of a game. But we, in the West, don't need drones to do that for us. For many decades we have had soldiers who already thought of it as a game, a thrill, a conquest.
Most of these soldiers don't speak up. However, when they do it is always shocking. In his book The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time And Fighting Wars, Patrick Hennessey writes of the "sheer exhilaration" of being at war. He compares fighting in Afghanistan with the "winning goal-scoring punch" and "the triumphant knicker-peeling moment".
Compared with this, Harry's "joy" at being in the front seat seems quite tame. It only matters because, unlike other soldiers, the whole world listens to Captain Wales. It only matters because it's all the more excruciating to see it voiced by the scion of an embarrassing and high-profile monarchy that still thinks it is the right and dutiful thing to send their men to play the game of war.
There are plenty of other ways Captain Wales could have served the people of this country, or found his path to joy. I, for one, am sad that he has chosen to do it with his thumbs.
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