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6 January

Harry’s talk of Taliban kills shows he wants to have it both ways

He presents himself as the progressive beacon for emotional literacy in his family, while seeming to speak callously and insensitively of the brutality of war.

By Martin Fletcher

Amid the long list of perceived slights, wrongs and injustices that Prince Harry complains about in his memoir, Spare, one revelation is especially jarring: his assertion that as an Apache helicopter pilot on tour in Afghanistan in 2012-13 he killed 25 Taliban fighters.

Throughout the rest of the book, and in his seemingly endless stream of media appearances, this privileged young émigré to one of California’s most elite enclaves portrays himself as the emotionally literate victim of an emotionally repressed and repressive family. He professes to be deeply upset by a bout of ill-tempered fisticuffs with his brother; or by his father jokingly calling him the “spare”; or by an unnamed royal speculating on the colour of his and Meghan’s children; or by someone suggesting (God forbid) that his wife was “difficult”.

And yet Harry (or his ghostwriter) states coldly of killing more than two dozen of his fellow human beings: “It’s not a number that fills me with satisfaction, but nor does it embarrass me.” He regards those he killed not as people but as “chess pieces”. He sees them as “bad guys eliminated before they could kill good guys”. The army had “trained me to ‘other’ them and they had trained me well”.

Leave aside the stupidity of discussing your “kills” in Afghanistan when you are already so concerned about your security that you have launched legal action against the Home Office for cutting your police protection. The dangers of Islamic fundamentalists targeting Harry and his family have just increased exponentially.

Leave aside the breach of the unspoken rule that soldiers never reveal how many enemies they killed. Leave aside, moreover, the indisputable fact that the Taliban are evil fanatics who have inflicted deep suffering on the Afghan people, especially its women.

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The point is that Harry cannot have it both ways. He cannot present himself as one who has rejected the formal, old-fashioned, deeply conservative stiff-upper-lippery of the royal family in favour of a much more progressive, liberal, unbuttoned lifestyle – yet simultaneously seem to speak so coldly, callously and insensitively of the tragedy and brutality of war.

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[See also: Prince Harry’s Spare is a deeply uncomfortable read]

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