in WorldAffairs

Noise about Nazis

There has been a huge uproar about recent images of the English royal, Prince Harry. Third in the throne queue, Prince Harry appeared at a friend’s costume shindig dressed as a Third Reich Afrika Korp desert uniform, complete with the reviled Swastika armband.

Now, the Afrika Korp were not strictly Nazis, that is members of the National Socialist Party, nor particularly institutionally racist or anti Semitic. By all accounts they were regular army soldiers, whose duty was the defence of their country. Of course, General Rommel was suspected of conspiring to assassinate Hitler. All this is beside the point.

Since this picture was published, no doubt entirely for sensationalist gain, there have been calls for a personal public apology to be made by Prince Harry. Others have called for the re-education of Harry in the horrors the Nazis wrought upon 10 million innocents (6 million Jews and 4 million other ethnic minority groups – labelled as ‘undesirables’ by the Reich) – presuming of course the Harry was educated about anything of the Holocaust or the atrocities of WWII.

It seems to me that there are two views anyone interested in this news piece could take.

One, it was simply a case of bad judgement on Harry’s part. After all he is only 20, youthful exuberance and an unquestioned behaviour make troublesome bedfellows. He is unfathomably wealthy, with great wealth comes great responsibility – he is only 20, he cannot be expected to be responsible. Whether he and his friends have any understanding of the significance of their behaviour is open to question.

Or two, all his wealth and privilege has only compounded the arrogance and historical elitism of the class from which he comes, this view of empire and of being rulers of the world has seen British imperial rule in a third of the world. Whilst colonial control has dwindled, that mindset has remained alive and well in the British aristocracy and it seems, in the new generation. After all, his great uncle was a Nazi sympathiser. So Harry behaviour simply makes him the most visible aspect of a very entrenched feeling. The theme of the party was ‘Natives and Colonials’ – a society that still thinks such language is acceptable is quite obviously not yet ready to accept the damage that type of language represents. So much for multicultural Britain.

If I know anything about the media it is that every issue has its clichéd ‘fifteen minutes’. It will be made to grip the public for finite period of time and then become old news. Harry will undeniably fade from the headlines for this story, his life will continue unhindered and he will get into Sandhurst, if it is still something he wants to do.

I’m a firm believer that everything will eventually turn to comedy, no matter how tragic. It seems to me a fundamental part of moving on. Monty Python for example, parodied the Spanish inquisition to great applause. In time, the World’s slave past and colonial era shame will also move into the comedy mainstream. As will Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust. But for now, deep wounds exist on these and other issues which should be respected.

What do you think?