It is ironical that it is in the United States of America, rather than in, say, the Commonwealth realms such as Australia, that there is an acknowledgement of the fact that there is something very special about Prince Harry. Perhaps we are used to and rather blasé about a Royal Family which puts duty first. Or perhaps the long campaign by many in the media against the Royal Family has had some effect. Or is it that Americans still feel an inner need for monarchy, and appreciate ours?
Much criticized by journalists for a certain boisterous and youthful joie de vie not unknown among healthy young men, Prince Harry was even set up for a downfall by one London tabloid. As we reported on 13 August 2006 (“Republican media score own goal”) The London Sun had used old photographs as if they were new to suggest that Prince Harry was deceiving his current girl friend. The Australian media joined the rest of the world’s media in relaying that disgraceful and blatant lie, but hardly bothered to correct it when the truth came out. One example of an American sense of fair play and of an ability to recognise quality is by the Washington Post correspondent, Marie Cocco. Her piece in ContraCostaTimes on 1 March 2007 was published under this telling headline: “U.S. upper class more stuck up than Britain’s royalty.”
She writes that a royal tale, even “more uplifting” than Dame Helen Mirren’s superb portrayal of The Queen in the film of the same name, had begun to unfold in London “just as the red carpets were being rolled out in preparation for the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. This was that Prince Harry is marching off to war in Iraq”. “Having graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the equivalent of West Point, the son of Diana and Prince Charles is fulfilling, at his own insistence, a duty to serve on the battlefront with the troops he was trained to command. "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", the young prince said in a 2005 interview that has been circulated widely.”
Ms.Cocco writes that it takes no nostalgia for the Crown to hear the honour in Prince Harry’s vow — and to wince at the contrast with the US much larger force in Iraq, from which, she declares, the sons and daughters of the American well-heeled and the well-known are largely absent. “Like the United States, Britain has a volunteer military. Unlike the United States, Britain has some vestige of an elite that believes in the notion of noblesse oblige.” Writing in the official student newspaper of Wayne State University, The South End, on 21 February 2007, a young contributing writer, Jason Caswell, felt obliged to respond to an earlier piece. In this another student had written that she was "distraught" about Prince Henry going to Iraq. Rather than being distraught, Mr Caswell says he is “humbled”. Unlike Ms. Cocco, who compares the Prince with the US upper classes, Mr Caswell compares him with other young men. “The Prince’s adolescent antics aside, he should be elevated as an example of selfless service. He doesn’t need nor have to serve in the military, but decided to. Whether it is family pressure or pure devotion that made him choose his route, it is nice to see a young, wealthy person decide to do something other than drink, vomit and rally for the fourteenth party of the night.”
But let us return to Ms. Cocco, who is impressed by the fact that “England sends its prince into battle.” This sense of duty in the Royal Family is no new thing. Older generations remember it in the Second World War, when The King and The Queen, as well as the Royal Family, stayed with the people. Prince Harry’s grandfather, and his father saw distinguished service. More recently, in the Falklands war, Prince Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, also rode, or perhaps more correctly, flew into battle. The Argentinean media, once they were freed as a result of the United Kingdom’s refusal to accept the invasion of the Falklands, lamented that while conscripts were sent into battle, the officer class tended to stay in Buenos Aires.
Ms.Cocco also contrasts the way US veterans are treated with that offered by the UK authorities to theirs. While they send their princes to war,“…we are making paupers of our military families.” “By what turn of history”, she demands, “did a nation founded in rebellion against absolute power wielded by a coddled elite become less concerned with equal treatment and shared sacrifice than the monarchy it overthrew? If the American upper class were sent to battle — or expected, by tradition, to serve — would soldiers have shipped out to Iraq without proper body armour? Would the Senate now be tied in a political straitjacket, with members agreeing that something must be done to change course in Iraq, but with lawmakers incapable of passing any measure to alter it?” Comparing Iraq and Vietnam, she says one overriding truth separates the two conflicts: the draft. As a consequence, only a tiny slice of American society today bears the republic’s military burden. “Because of this, our ruling class is proving itself to be more aloof than royalty”.
The heroic sense of duty our Queen has shown all her life, just as her mother and father did in theirs, is also alive and well in the younger generation of the Royal Family. Rather than an emphasis on rights and self esteem, this principle of putting service and duty first, a principle which remains a hallmark of the monarchy, was once central to the teaching and upbringing of successive generations of all Australians. Every town, every suburb and all of our great cities have monuments on which the names of those who followed this principle and served the nation beyond our shores. And with their names, we also find those words which capture that sense of national and personal duty: “For God, King and Country.” It is this emphasis on the primacy of duty, this expectation that the Sovereign and the princes too will serve, which ensures that in the nation, the Crown alone can provide leadership beyond politics.