Thursday, January 31, 2013

"A Warrior King might be just the thing . . ."

Ending January with another political post, here is a piece from today's Toronto Star in which columnist Rosie DiManno considers whether the one who is currently (though probably not for much longer) the third in line to the throne of this constitutional monarchy may have something positive to offer the Commonwealth thanks to his recent military experience in Afghanistan. After decrying "sensitivy-trained war-making," in which soldiers "are taught to tread carefully lest their swagger offend either the host populace or the vigilantly reproachful domestic audience back home," DiManno has this to say:
One hopes and is fairly confident that Prince Harry rejected this lesson in mealy-mouthed quote clips arising from comments made to reporters during a stopover in Cyprus as he headed home following his latest four-month front-line deployment in southern Helmand. A co-pilot gunner on an Apache attack helicopter, Captain Wales, as he’s known in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces — which would be his grandmother — acknowledged killing Taliban insurgents on this mission and was entirely pragmatic about it: "Take a life to save a life, that’s what we revolve around. If there’s bad people who try to do bad stuff to your guys, then we’ll take them out of the game."

Innocuous content, really, of potential grievance only to the most sententious big-girl blouses, except there’s never any shortage of those. Hence Harry has been chastised in various quarters — even by an academic in the op-ed pages of the Toronto Star last weekend — for his “casual, emotional detachment’’ in speaking about killing the Taliban. Perhaps the third in line to the British throne should touchy-feely sniffle for the combatants he took off the grid in a country where nearly 440 of his compatriots have been killed since 2001. Further, there is a particular strand of anti-war sentiment that keenly resents Harry as the Happy Warrior Prince, the dimwit face — and a handsome face — of neo-imperial adventure in Central Asia.

I look at Harry and see a 28-year-old man who clearly loves soldiering, who’s made something useful of his royally cosseted life, and who is arguably better suited to rule the realm some day than his older brother, because strong stuff will be required to hold together both monarchy and Commonwealth. A Warrior King might be just the thing to put some lead back in the sovereign pencil.
To read the rest, click here. I am intrigued by DiManno's suggestion that a potential monarch could benefit from the "strong stuff" that serving in combat provides. As one of my Jesuit confreres quipped today as we discussed this article at lunchtime, one wonders whether DiManno could conceivably make a similar argument about a potential Prime Minister - who, of course, has much more to say about the use of force than any modern monarch does.

Turning to the not-unrelated American context, it is worth noting that the military service (or lack of it) of potential commanders-in-chief still becomes a topic of political discussion during every presidential election season, even though it has been twenty years since the United States has had a president who served in combat. Some think that the view that possible presidents should have served in the armed forces is motivated by nothing more than flag-waving patriotism, but in fact there is a deep and genuine moral concern embedded here: a leader who has experienced the harsh reality of war firsthand may reflect on the implications of military action differently than one for whom the effects of drone warfare and the like are mere abstractions. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once put it, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." In a world as dangerous and divided as ours, could we not benefit from the particular perspective that only a combat veteran can bring? AMDG.


At 2/01/2013 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a crucial distinction in weighing such deployments is whether the war in question meets - or comes reasonably close to meeting - the conditions of a just war. I believe the Falklands War, in which one of Harry's uncles fought, did so, but that War in Afghanistan doesn't even come close. Some aspects of it, such as - but not only - the large-scale herbal exports are extremely murky and dubious; the stated goal of bringing Feminism to an archaic society futile, and in any event something for the Afghan people to decide.

Harry, by his own admission, "isn't good at school", and when I look at him I believe I see an decent but not exceptionally astute man whose family is keen to stay in the favour of circles that answer to Merchants of Death, even if it means gratuitously smiting Mohammedans and Sand-Negroes.

In my opinion the saddest element in all this is that the sleazy Prime Minister who lied his country into these unnecessary orgies of blood-letting - the present government is notoriously dragging its feet on the enquiry into the lies which would be war crimes - is not challenged when he presents himself as an exemplary and exceptionally ardent Roman Catholic, and even gets to hobnob with the Pontiff to discuss "faith."

Francis of Assisi was willing to give his life to try to stop the bloodshed between Muslims and Christians; some in the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic hierarchy would appear to be inverted in their philosophy on such topics, to the detriment of their credibility.


At 2/01/2013 11:17 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Good points, particularly regarding Blair - if he was in fact on the road to Rome, figuratively speaking, during his time as prime minister, it does not seem to have had any influence on his policies.

As for Harry's role in all this, I would make a distinction betwee what policymakers do and what ordinary soldiers on the frontlines do. I don't fault Harry for following orders and going to a place where his country has soldiers, even if one could argue that the conflict itself is unjust. There are plenty of soldiers there who went for many reasons (patriotism, surely, but also because they enlisted because they needed a job or wanted the stability and discipline of military life) and I don't hold them responsible for the war, though I do hold them responsible for acting ethically (e.g. by not committing atrocities) during their deployment.

At 2/01/2013 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Koczera,

Catholic moral theology holds that procuring or helping to procure an abortion results in a latae sententiae i.e. automatic excommunication, because Catholics are forbidden to kill, except as a just defense.

I, for my part, even with my myriad flaws, cannot but believe that Christians are morally obliged to do all that they reasonably can to ensure that they do not wind up in situations where they are obliged to murder in unjust wars.


At 2/02/2013 12:24 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I don't think we disagree on the fundamental principles here. I'm with you on the obligation to avoid killing except in self-defense, though I think the situations where the principle is applied have to be considered individually, i.e. I would not fault soldiers who find themselves on the frontlines simply for being there, even if the war itself is unjust, but I would still expect soldiers in that situation to respect the same principles - proportionality, etc. - that I would want them to observe in a per se just war.


Post a Comment

<< Home