As the entire world soon knew, in January 2005 Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, was photographed dressed as a Nazi officer at a costume party. The photo appeared on the front page of The Sun, sparking a worldwide controversy and the British royal family’s biggest public relations crisis since the Paul Burrell trial. Politicians, journalists, and Jewish leaders throughout the world, unsatisfied by a terse apology from Clarence House, rushed to condemn the prince’s behavior in the unique flurry of indignation reserved in modern times for public figures who violate the unwritten laws of sensitivity.
It is not my intention to deny that Prince Harry showed poor judgment. At 20, he ought to be able to accept by now that he is a public figure whose behavior, even when he thinks he is away from the camera, will always be subject to more scrutiny and held to higher standards than that of others. While it is a disgrace that a guest at the party secretly photographed the prince and sold the picture to the press, this is hardly surprising in light of the way previous royal scandals have been exposed, and Prince Harry ought to have been aware that this was a possibility. While this should not be necessary to say, as a person of partially Jewish ancestry myself whose monarchist and pro-Catholic views would have hardly endeared me to the Third Reich, I must also make it clear that I do not intend to deny or downplay the horrific atrocities of the Nazi regime or the suffering that it inflicted on the British people, for whom Prince Harry’s great-grandparents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were a heroic emblem of defiance and hope.
Nevertheless, I do contend that the hysterical worldwide reaction to Prince Harry’s costume was excessive, demonstrated a lack of perspective and proportion, and ultimately says more about the prejudices and motives of some of his critics than it does about the prince himself.
There is no need to reiterate here the sensible points along these lines already made by commentators such as Simon Jenkins and Magnus Linklater; these articles deserve to be read in their entirety. It is refreshing to encounter the calm wisdom of those who point out that what a prince wore to a private party is hardly suitable material for a leading story for several days in a row not only in Britain but throughout the world.
As a side note, from a royalist perspective, the media’s exhaustive coverage of the Prince Harry story was particularly galling in light of the almost total blackout in the English-language media on a more substantial royal event that coincidentally occurred the same week: the death at age 77 of Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte of Luxembourg. The popular consort of former Grand Duke Jean had dutifully served her adopted country with grace and dignity for over fifty years. Yet only the Daily Telegraph carried an obituary; Britain’s other national newspapers, the BBC, and (less surprisingly) the American media completely ignored the event. While superficially unrelated, I believe that the juxtaposition of these two extremes in coverage reveals a lot about the media’s priorities when covering royalty: any scandal is prominently trumpeted for days, but the death of an admirable and hard-working princess is not even worth mentioning.
The furor over Prince Harry’s costume suggests a pathetic lack of irony. Those appalled by the prince’s swastika armband apparently missed the point of a costume party, which is that one dresses as something which has little or nothing to do with one's real life and may even be diametrically opposed to what one believes in. Widespread failure to understand this, and the inability of many to laugh at a rather poor-quality costume which was not even an accurate representation of the Afrika Korps (who did not wear swastika armbands), is perhaps especially surprising in light of the current popularity of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers. Avoiding any hint of solemn condemnation, this hit show unapologetically mocks Nazism and is applauded for doing so. One wonders why Prince Harry’s costume must be treated with so much more seriousness than that of the singing and dancing Hitler enjoyed on the stages of London and Broadway.
Much ink has been spilled recently bemoaning the lack of Holocaust knowledge among Prince Harry’s generation, though this is hardly surprising since earlier articles and studies have documented that modern Western young people know very little of any history. The prince has been attacked for trivializing the evil of Nazism. But as Gerard Henderson pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald, hyperbolic political discourse has been trivializing totalitarianism since long before Prince Harry walked into that costume shop. Rhetorically irresponsible American leftists have equated George W. Bush (who I myself regard as a disastrous president) with Hitler; Australian leftists have made the same kind of attacks on Prime Minister John Howard. Prince Harry has met Mr. Howard, who presumably did not strike him as a genocidal maniac. If flawed but hardly monstrous leaders such as Bush and Howard are routinely denounced as “Nazis,” is it really so surprising that some people might get the idea that Nazism is not such a big deal? Similarly, the term “fascist” has been even more recklessly thrown around as a generic term of abuse, with the result that it has practically lost its meaning.
To anyone concerned about the way the modern world treats any remarks or behavior which might offend certain minority groups as offenses of the highest order, the way this incident was blown out of all proportion is symptomatic of today’s hypersensitivity. Given that all of Britain suffered under the Nazi bombardment, and that British people of all classes and religions were united in the war against Germany, it was odd that initially the only reactions sought by the media were from Jewish groups. Comments from veterans eventually appeared, but the emphasis was always on Jewish reaction.
Personally, I am a lot more concerned about the suffocating political correctness which afflicts the entire Western world and stifles debate about real issues like immigration than I am about what a 20-year-old prince wore to a private party. Freedom of speech has been effectively abolished in Britain, as shown most recently by the frightening arrest of British National Party leader Nick Griffin (no, I do not support the BNP, but let's hold the supposedly pro-free-speech Left to its own standards) for making negative comments about Islam in a private conversation. Where was the worldwide outcry about that?
Today's elite, far too many of whom have a mindset approaching totalitarianism themselves, would rather queue up to denounce Prince Harry than address real issues. Who are mostly responsible for the real acts of anti-Semitic violence and vandalism in Europe? Muslim immigrants, as the European Union concluded in its own suppressed report. But Prince Harry is white, Christian, male, and royal, and therefore a much easier target than those who, unlike the prince, actually do intend harm towards Jews.
If offensive symbols are to be condemned, why are Che Guevara T-shirts and other relics of Communism still tolerated or even considered chic? The Communists killed millions more than the Nazis, but you'd never guess that from the unique horror reserved for the swastika. For that matter, from a Catholic and/or monarchist point of view, the French Tricolore and the annual celebration of the evil French Revolution are clearly deeply offensive to the memory of the thousands of innocent royals, aristocrats, clergy, and peasants murdered by the Jacobins. Where's our apology? Where's the outrage? Sadly, given the abysmal state of contemporary popular historical knowledge, most people today would be simply baffled by any such complaint.
One of the most interesting developments that emerged in the wake of the scandal was widespread handwringing over the sort of people Prince Harry with whom chooses to associate. The Independent on Sunday breathlessly reported that an aide had urged the Prince of Wales to separate his sons from a "social scene that thinks racism and bigotry quite funny." In other words, William and Harry’s young aristocratic friends have been insufficiently conditioned and assimilated by modern egalitarianism. While there has been no proof of the existence among these friends of any actual animus towards persons of other races, it has not escaped notice that among the guests at the infamous party were some of the pro-hunting advocates who broke into Parliament in protest at Labour’s tyrannical ban on the country sport. An unintentionally revealing article in the Observer offered as proof of the alleged isolation from reality of the princes’ friends the fact that one of them was heard to worry that New Labour is “dangerously radical.”
Doubtless it is difficult for leftists frustrated by Tony Blair’s bizarre blend of constitutional and cultural radicalism, support for the Iraq war, economic centrism, and supportive but occasionally and deceptively hesitant approach to the European Union to understand how anyone could regard his government as “radical,” let alone “dangerously” so. They apparently are not impressed by the fact that since New Labour came to power in 1997, the government has expelled most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, attempted to abolish the ancient constitutional post of Lord Chancellor, chipped away at the role of the Crown with underhanded measures such as establishing new agencies owing it no allegiance, and passed a controversial ban on foxhunting, a sport associated with the aristocracy but integral to the way of life of rural people of all classes. Honest supporters of the hunting ban have openly admitted that it has more to do with class hatred than genuine concern for animal welfare.
While Prince Harry himself does not seem to be a very politically minded person, it obviously has not escaped the attention of some of his friends that since 1997 their country has been ruled by people who hate them, not for anything they have done but simply for who they are, every bit as much as the Jacobins hated the French aristocracy. Today’s revolutionaries may prefer more subtle measures than the guillotine, but the underlying agenda is the same: a world in which such people are not allowed to exist. New Labour despises Britain’s old establishment as symbolized by fox-hunting aristocrats, and there is little that that establishment can do about it, being handicapped not only by the realities of modern democracy but also by its own natural conservatism which tends to reinforce the status quo even when that status quo is no longer defensible.
The same people who relentlessly promote the ideology of “tolerance” and “inclusion” are profoundly intolerant of polo-playing, fox-hunting people like Prince Harry. Unable to resist Blair’s soft totalitarianism effectively, the princes’ friends fight back in the only ways they can think of: holding anachronistic parties whose themes suggest a benign view of the Empire, or storming into the House of Commons. Even the apolitical Prince Harry must sense this conflict at some level. And so, while I would not argue for a second that he planned his unfortunate costume choice as anything other than a thoughtless joke, it is not impossible to see the prince’s swastika armband as a manifestation of subconscious resistance to the politically correct agenda which if unchecked will ultimately destroy the Britain of his friends, family, and ancestors.
For in a society like modern Britain in which virtually nothing is sacred, where few of nominally Christian background pay any heed to Christianity, where traditional symbols such as the Crown are routinely mocked, and where pornography and vulgarity are widespread, it often seems like opposition to Nazism is the only moral absolute, the only aspect of pre-1997 Britain that cannot be ridiculed. Right-wingers can fulminate against double standards as much as we like, but the fact is that no matter how many statistics of Communism’s vastly greater atrocities are produced, the swastika retains a horror and a fascination unattached to any other symbol and in all likelihood will continue to do so. Ironically, it is precisely this history-distorting special status which has been irresponsibly and myopically attached to Nazism that attracts to its symbols, as no other topic could, anyone wishing to violate for a thrill some sort of boundary. If Prince Harry in buying a Nazi costume irresponsibly and recklessly sought to amuse his friends by “daringly” flouting the last frontier of outrage, it is the world’s lack of perspective that made his recklessness so radioactive.
January 17, 2005