Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 28 February 2008

And these 'folks' are our allies???

I have considerable respect for Matt Drudge and linked to his website soon after I began this blog almost six years ago. However, I think he has committed a serious misjudgement with his decision to break the story that Prince Harry is on active service with the British army in Afghanistan. I quote below, word for word, what he writes in his flash page devoted to this earth-shattering(*) news:

Thu Feb 28 2008 11:01:34 ET

They're calling him "Harry the Hero!"

British Royal Prince Harry has been fighting in Afghanistan since late December -- and has been directly involved in gun battle, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

The prince, a junior officer in the Blues and Royals, and third in line to the throne, has been a "magnificent soldier" and an "inspiration to all of Briton."

Prince Harry is taking part in a new offensive against the Taliban.

Ministry of Defense and Clarence House refuse all comment. Army chiefs have managed to keep the prince away from media and have encourage fellow soldiers in his squadron to stay quiet.


According to the 10pm BBC1 news, which I'm watching as I type (it's one hour later in Spain), the story was broken some time ago by an obscure Australian website (shame on it, too!), but it was not until the story was leaked by the much more widely-read Drudge Report that the news became so widespread that it had to be acknowledged.

OK, so it's a 'scoop'. But what does it achieve? A carefully-negotiated agreement made by the Ministry of Defence with the British and some important foreign media outlets (including the Associated Press, from which emanates this story in the International Herald Tribune in the wake of Drudge's action) not to publicise the fact that the 3rd in line to the British throne is on active duty in Afghanistan until after his deployment there was over, has been broken. The MoD has now made a statement about what has happened, which reads in part:

"I am very disappointed that foreign websites have decided to run this story without consulting us. This is in stark contrast to the highly responsible attitude that the whole of the UK print and broadcast media, along with a small number of overseas, who have entered into an understanding with us over the coverage of Prince Harry on operations.

"After a lengthy period of discussion between the MOD and the Editors of regional, national and international media, the Editors took the commendable attitude to restrain their coverage. I would like to thank them for that and I do appreciate that once the story was in the public domain, they had no choice but to follow suit.

"What the last two months have shown is that it is perfectly possible for Prince Harry to be employed just the same as other Army officers of his rank and experience. His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary. He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else in his Battlegroup.

"In common with all of his generation in the Army today, he is a credit to the nation. In deciding to deploy him to Afghanistan, it was my judgement that with an understanding with the media not to broadcast his whereabouts, the risk in doing was manageable.

"Now that the story is in the public domain, the Chief of Defence Staff and I will take advice from the operational commanders about whether his deployment can continue. I now appeal to the media to restrain from attempting to report Prince Harry’s every move and return to our understanding."

I'm now watching Question Time and 'Gorgeous George'. Predictably he is making the point that the British Army should not be there at all. Fair enough, it's a point of view.

However, the whole point of the 'embargo' on news of his presence there was both to protect him and, just as importantly, to protect the lives of all those other soldiers serving there with him who might, because of his presence there, be at increased risk. If he and they are now at increased risk because of this revelation by Matt Drudge and some harm does now fall on him or them then I hope the finger will be pointed at least partly at Matt Drudge!

Perhaps the title of this post is somewhat unfair to our allies the Americans. After all, citizens of the US are individuals with both rights and responsibilities - just as every individul citizen of the UK has rights and responsibilities. It is probably therefore unfair to heap blame on all Americans for the folly of one of their citizens who has revealed this information for reasons of professional and perhaps personal vanity, without understanding (or perhaps even caring) that by doing so he may well be placing the life of Prince Harry and those he serves with at increased danger. I stick with the title of this blog post.

(*) I had no idea that Prince Harry is serving in Afghanistan, but it does not suprise me. After all, we knew that that he had been prevented from going with his regiment to serve in Iraq and had expressed visceral disappointment at this turn of events. The fact that his regiment is now serving in Afghanistan, a fact which is I imagine not entirely a secret, might therefore have acted as a pretty good clue that he might be there too - particularly as we have not seen him falling out of a nightclub in London of late. (I expect there are many upper class, rich kids who fall out of nightclubs pretty drunk in the wee small hours - I've done the same in years gone by myself and I'm not 'upper class', nor am I specially rich, but this mostly went unnoticed because I don't happen to come from the family he does.)

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