"I saw young Harry with his beaver on,
His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed,
Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury,
And vaulted with such ease into his seat
As if an angel dropped down from the clouds
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,
And witch the world with noble horsemanship."
- William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, act 4, scene 1
The quote, above, is spoken by the character Vernon on seeing Prince Hal — the future King Henry V — prepare for battle in the Shakespearean play Henry IV, Part I. The modern interpretation of the play is of Prince Hal's coming of age, becoming the man who would eventually rule England.
If the current Prince Harry has his way, he too will soon be in battle. Unlike the prince in Shakespeare's work, our young Harry may not be allowed into combat, depending on the decision of the the British Ministry of Defence.
There's been a small, but vocal, argument in the United States that very few members of Congress have relatives serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. This lack of representatives in the military among the nation's elite politicians evokes a common complaint by Southern soldiers during the Civil War, that it was "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight". Right now, something of the exact opposite debate is happening in Britain.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales (and, presumably, future king depending on when Queen Liz kicks it) had two children by his late ex-wife Princess Diana. These are Prince William and Prince Harry. The almost twenty-five year old Prince William is the heir to the throne. He is in the military, but he is undergoing a rather unique career. He's currently in the The Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) regiment, part of the Household Cavalry. seeing as how the British army only uses horses for show, this is a mechanized regiment. After completing a stint in the army, William will go on to serve in the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy.
The younger brother is Prince Henry, commonly known as Harry. He's twenty-two, yet he preceded his older brother into the same unit. Harry has said that he wants to pursue as normal a military career as his status as a royal will allow. He's a 2nd lieutenant (pronounced left-tenant) and a troop leader. A troop is a unit bigger than a squad, but smaller than a platoon, consisting of about 15 soldiers and up to about four vehicles. 2nd Lt. Harry Wales (his adopted surname) leads a troop of scimitar armoured reconnaissance vehicles.
Late last year it was announced that Harry's unit would be deployed to Iraq in May or June of 2007. The prince had apparently threatened to quit the army in the past if he was given a desk job and prevented from going to a combat zone because of his status as a royal. At the time, the Ministry of Defence said he would be deployed.
Now the Ministry is rethinking that position.
The press mention a Challenger tank that was damaged in Basra on April 9. The Challenger 2 is the rough British equivalent to the Abrams. Like American tanks, and the German Leopard 2 tanks Canada is purchasing, the Challenger 2 was designed to fight a conventional war against Soviet/Warsaw Pact/Russian-made tanks. To save weight, the front armour is the thickest, with thinner sides, and much thinner rear and bottom armour. The U.S. has lost a fair number of Abrams tanks in Baghdad, but this is the first Challenger lost. The Scimitar recon vehicle is much more lightly armoured.
Reports also suggest that insurgents will target Harry and his unit once they get to Iraq. They are due to patrol an area of southern Iraq that's a mecca for Iranian weapon smuggling, and an area that's seen a lot of sectarian violence. The British Army is now worried that the prince would become a "bomb magnet", putting the lives of his fellow troops in danger simply by his presence.
Some have suggested that the controversy is whether or not a royal should be allowed in a combat zone. His fellow soldiers, and many families of British servicemen, believe he should be allowed to serve, that he shouldn't be given preferential treatment. Harry, himself, doesn't want to be treated special.
The primary worry seems to be whether his presence would bring undue attention to his unit and spur insurgents into a higher level of activity in order to wound or kill the prince. Some civilians oppose Harry from going for that very reason. The flip side is that the insurgents have a limited number of resources. They may try to target Harry, but they are limited in what they can do. Yes, Harry may receive more attention, but that only means that other servicemen and women, and Iraqi civilians, would be spared a bomb blast that was used in an effort to hunt Harry.
It's a decision that the British Army is not taking lightly, as there is much at stake. If the prince does become a "bomb magnet", his presence will be severely criticized if British soldiers are hurt in the attempt. There's also the effect the death of the prince could have on the morale of the British people. Army morale is something to watch for, too. If someone of privilege is allowed to join the army but get out of the dangerous missions because of a quirk of birth, it could demoralize the army and hurt recruitment (which is already hurting in Britain). It would also impede Harry's career, unless of course he rises through the ranks based on his family, something Harry does not want.
There are precedent's for the prince fighting in battle. Shakespeare's quote post date's the first appearance of princes on the battlefield by millennia. More recently, Harry's uncle — Prince Andrew — flew helicopters during the Falklands War in 1982. At the time Andrew was second in line to the throne, but dropped a level when Harry's brother was born a day after the official end of hostilities.
It's an interesting problem. Harry must be commended for his bravery and his intent to serve his country in a time of war, regardless of whether or not he is allowed to serve in Iraq. At least someone from the privileged class in Britain is fighting in what has become a very unpopular war in the mids of Britons. It stands in sharp contrast to an administration and senior Congressional officials who do not have children in Iraq. It stands in even sharper contrast to the military service of the President (who managed to spend the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard, and — briefly, and to work on a Republican senate campaign — in the Alabama Air National Guard) and the Vice President (who received four student deferments and a hardship exemption to stay out of Vietnam).
The story of Harry's potential combat assignment can be found at these two links: