The British Royal Family had been having a good year: the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had been picture-book perfect, the new duchess seemed ideal.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had won the admiration of millions, standing for hours, despite their ages, on a cold rocking boat in the rain to review diamond jubilee pageant on the Thames. There had been the Olympic Games, with, despite their cost and excessive eccentricities, a fillip to British spirits.
And now, just when the Royal Family seemed to be recovering its public dignity, we have Prince Harry cavorting naked with strangers at a five-star Las Vegas hotel for the benefit of the world's paparazzi.
One question this raises is, of course: Why should anyone want to see him naked? Another is: Should he feel an overwhelming urge to disrobe, he must know many millionaires with private islands who could offer him secluded beaches for such activities.
The real point, however, is that this in not the sort of thing princes ought to do, at least not if they want to stay princes. The monarchy has built up a great deal of public respect in recent years, not least because of the Queen's unfailing dignity. Now this is on danger of being squandered.
Prince Harry is not a child. He is just short of his 28th birthday. He is a serving officer, an officially recognized leader of men, responsible not only for lives but also for highly-costly machinery (and apparently perfectly competent at his job). But what on Earth has gone wrong with him, that he does not seem to know or care that a most important part of his job -- his job in particular -- is setting a good example? Not just to the men under him, but to the people on general. Even poor old mad George III knew that much. With Britain having one of the highest rates of juvenile drunkenness and crime in the developed world, a good example is needed. .
A survey of European children a few years ago by various government authorities reported that British children had the highest rate for drunkenness except for Denmark. Russia, a byword for dangerous, drunken chaos, had a rate of teenage drunkenness just over a third of that of Britain, and France, where children were frequently given wine from childhood, a rate of just under one seventh. The survey looked at 15 and 16 year-olds who had been drunk more than 20 times in their lives. The percentages were Britain: 29%, Russia, 10%, France 4%.
Is it his pigeon-brained mother's genes coming through? Do the younger members of the House of Windsor have a death-wish for the dynasty? Or has British culture become so decadent that such behavior by a prince only a few places from the throne has come to be regarded as normal?
Why so test the loyalty of his own supporters and give fresh ammunition to those sad cases who want the monarchy abolished? It simply makes no sense. Memories are being revived of not-so-old pictures of Harry dressed as a Nazi or staggering drunk out of a London night-club with vomit running down his shirt. How many more Royal scandals is it thought the monarchy can take?
It is no excuse to say his bodyguards or protection officers should have warned him off. Of course they should, but that only seems to prove a lack of judgment, duty, and common sense among those responsible.
As it happens, last night immediately before seeing the Royal antics on television, I watched on U-tube the 1958 film Dunkirk, a masterpiece that has never had the recognition it deserves. Leadership and setting a good example are its themes: an unenthusiastic, middle-aged corporal (John Mills), plainly unused to command, leads a handful of men to safety through France in the Allied rout of 1940. In the general collapse he, largely by his bearing, holds together the tiny fragment of the British Army that he is entrusted with.
The film has vignettes of heroism along the way: the officers and men of an artillery battery await annihilation by Stukas without a thought of retreating or abandoning the guns without orders. When the artillery major steadies his men, or the corporal gets his exhausted men up and on the road again, one realizes what being a leader is all about. Elderly yachtsmen steer their boats under a rain of bombs to lift a few troops from the beaches…
In part an indictment of Britain's military unpreparedness, the values of the film are about duty, fortitude, and setting an example. One soldier at the end acknowledges to the corporal that they would never have made it without the example he provided. Prince Harry ought to see it.
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