Harry’s Family, The Press, The Taliban, And His Mission To Preach, No Matter What

Despite Prince Harry’s confession that he cut his book’s manuscript from eight hundred pages to four hundred, it’s still fair to say that the world’s wayward prince might have ‘overshared’ in Spare. By that is not meant that trope about getting frostbite down in his nether regions, or that time he played strip billiards out in Vegas, or even that of losing his virginity out in back of a village pub. Bottom line, Harry can post any of that Huck-Finn-as-a-British-royal stuff any old time — they form a sort of picaresque valediction that he did somehow manage a real growing-up outside palace walls, even (or especially) as a member of one of the most privileged families on earth.

All good on the extremities of youth, then. In Spare, Harry rounds every base with gusto. It showcases him with appetite for life that, however we may read or judge his actions, was ever on display by Harry in public and in private. That was the key to his immense (former) popularity among the British.

Spare’s narrative is considerably stiffened by Prince Harry’s attendance at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMA Sandhurst) and his two combat deployments to Afghanistan. We can consider Sandhurst and his decade of military service an anchor point at which the prince becomes understandably less heedless and headlong, both more charitable and tougher. There are other battles to come for him, but his military years mark a step up into the real world on his own.

In the largest sense, Spare establishes four such narrative turning points, or more crucial life experiences, that require Harry to step up and buckle down. Harry makes it his business in Spare to illuminate some, if not exactly all, of the more subtle ways in which the events are connected. Spare is a book of bridges to and between these turning-points.

As we know, then: The first event is the death of his mother Diana as Harry was on the cusp of adolescence; the second is his experience of combat as a young forwardly-placed soldier and pilot; the third is his marriage and the establishment of his own identity as a father and husband; and the fourth is his recent, tumultuous exit from his family.

Whether it’s an as-told-to like Spare or actually written by its own main actor, by definition every autobiography comes to us through a lens cast backward. That lens can color its storytelling in many different ways, be it exacting, ironic, foggy, unflinching, comedic, deadpan, wise, angry, forgiving. Harry’s voice in Spare bears several of those qualities, and sometimes several at once, but especially forgiving he is not. He’s preachy. He likes his opinions, and he’s not shy of handing them out, especially when they concern certain of his more recently developed theories alleging the deeper workings of certain courtiers or administrative sections of the palaces.

It’s also fair to say that Spare’s narrative structure and the voice of the book as channeled by the Harry’s talented writer, JR Moehringer, is selling. After the predicted leaks of the book in the week prior to its January 10 publication date, and two long-form interviews on CBS’ 60 Minutes and on Britain’s ITV, Spare sold 3.2 million copies in its first week out. Over time, it seems poised to become one of the most sold memoirs. At home — meaning, in Harry’s birthplace of Britain — on the will-they-ever-stop scale, the answer is no, the British have not had their fill of “earth-shattering” “revelations” from Prince Harry in any of his royal, military, former or current romantic incarnations.

Nor will the baying packs of coursing hounds flowing from Fleet Street onto the royal be stopped from running Harry to ground for trying to — in the hyperbolic words of veteran Harry-and-Meghan naysayer and popular Talk TV host Piers Morgan — “dismantle the monarchy.”

Spare won’t dismantle the monarchy. The British monarchy and its two major actors, Charles and William, seem too sturdy for that. But there is an equation, or a kind of creative imbalance, a wellspring of the strife and disagreement of the last three years, between the two supposedly-warring camps, the Windsors of Windsor and the Windsors of Montecito. It’s that wellspring that Prince Harry, through the publication of Spare, is trying to address.

King Charles seems to have realized this, or at least, as a father he seems to have realized that the part Harry’s invective — in the book and in his media appearances — in which Harry takes the gloves off regarding his brother are fuel for future as well as current fires, and the new king wants to see those potential dangers to the monarchy neutralized. His coronation, scheduled for May 6, is now heaving into view. On cue, Charles is reportedly roping in the Archbishop of Canterbury to help broker a deal between the feuding brothers. If that sounds like the plot to a Restoration comedy, it’s because it could well be one.

But whether Harry’s subject is his long-simmering feud with William and Kate, and/or his feud with Charles, and/or their now brand-new feud with the newly-christened (by Harry) “villian” of the Queen Consort, the book has taken somewhat of a back seat to its own publicity.

Spare does remain the go-to base text of “the Harry narrative” (however we define that), but we are, definitely, sailing briskly to the point that we know too much about the prince, his lady love, and their like and dislikes. Many, many truckloads too much. In a slightly removed way, in the structure of the British version of a constitutional monarchy, the British vox populi does matter in the running of things, is a factor in the debate, and thus the royals’ popularity is something that matters very much to the royals themselves.

But in the teeth of the current free-for-all over and about Spare, it’s useful to take a step back from the occasionally hilarious, occasionally chaotic in-country reactions to the book to recall, first, that parenting is difficult, that no set of parents — whether together or apart — are perfect, and that all children are, no matter their circumstance, in the rocky process of becoming the people they will be. “Special” as Harry’s upbringing was, and it was by nearly every metric quite special, that absolutely unavoidable process of growing up did happen to him. In his book, and in the act of telling it, he’s rebelling against some of that upbringing now.

A surprise entry to the pre-publication Harry-bashing mockery has been the Taliban. Since the first leak to the Guardian prior to January 5 and subsequently to the Telegraph, in London, assorted broadcasters such as Piers Morgan, the editors and royal-beat reporters of the Daily Mail, Murdoch’s Sun reporters as well as those of the Mirror and the Standard, large numbers of the self-styled corps of royal historians and pretty much the whole Tory party have weighed in heavily on Spare’s (more or less) “sensational” revelations with a negative slant.

It’s more difficult to imagine the Taliban caring much about any product of royal froth such as Spare, or, for that matter, any debate about the British monarchy or its core members.

Their entry into the almost entirely Western debate about the book found the Taliban dutifully lining up alongside British military men, conservative members of Parliament and various other grandees in outright derisive opinions of Harry, unexpected bedfellows with virtually the whole of the British establishment. On the surface, that juxtaposition can be seen as amusing. Underneath, in its anatomy, the Taliban’s appearance in the gauntlet of the man’s critics is everything but that.

It worked like this: In Spare’s bare-knuckled confessional mode, which pretty much is the entire volume, Harry found a way to offend the Taliban above and beyond the ordinarily hostile stance that they, the historically tetchy Taliban, might take toward any former enemy. Prince Harry cites the actual number of kills of Taliban fighters for which he thinks he’s responsible — a platoon-like number, 25, according to what he terms computer-based exactness the book.

According to the Spare account, which presumably went through the publisher’s usual rigorous fact-checking and legal read prior to publication, these kills were spread over six of the of the dozens of sorties Harry flew as a co-pilot/gunner aboard an Apache attack helicopter during his second, 2012-3, 20-week deployment.

Unfortunately for Harry, in describing the backdrop and nuance of that, Harry’s (and JR Moehringer’s), Harry described the fighters he took out as being like “chess pieces.” It sounds like a Sandhurst man, which Harry is. It’s a tactician’s view (of an enemy) not uncommon on the battlefield, and it sounds like the words of a military academy man, which Prince Harry is. There is a kind of math to military forms of destruction, in which the Taliban — or any combatant force anywhere, for millennia — engage.

It’s also a fact that kill ratios and kill numbers are a delicate thing. Soldiers of all ranks and stripes talk about them, of course — note Chris Kyle’s best-selling American Sniper, whose book and movie (starring Bradley Cooper) catalogued Kyle’s approximately 150 kills in Iraq before he, Kyle, was shot point-blank by an unstable fellow US veteran at a gun range in Texas.

But. Despite the fact that kill ratios are thoroughly analyzed and routinely used in all sorts of battlefield calculations, actual kill numbers are not often bandied or boasted about by individual soldiers, serving or former. However strong the confessional impulse may be — and in Prince Harry’s case, it’s fair to say, his confessional impulse is large — it’s not a good look to put out there how many enemy nationals one might have killed. Harry put it out there in a big way.

In this instance, the Taliban felt especially moved to deride what they perceived as Harry’s derogatory metaphor attached to their mujahideen by noting that the comrades of the “chess pieces” Harry was busily gunning down were victorious and are now running the country. The messages to and about Harry have arrived from Kabul, and other locations, on a variety of platforms not just from one Taliban leader in mid-January, but from several, including most significantly Anas Haqqani, brother of militia leader and current Taliban interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Though dismissive of Harry, and amusingly addressed, Anas Haqqani’s tweet to Harry upon the publication of the book was starkly ironic:

“Mr. Harry!” Haqqani wrote. “Among the killers of Afghans, not many have your decency to reveal their conscience and confess to their war crimes. The truth is what you’ve said. Our innocent people were chess pieces to your soldiers, military and political leaders. Still, you were defeated in that ‘game’ of white & black ‘squares.’”

In a larger and far more ominous sense, the brief encomium out of Kabul also signifies that the Taliban have taken note, first, of Harry, and second, of his book. That’s a fact that should give anyone pause, especially now that the Taliban have re-cemented control their old heroin manufacturing sales and “tax” programs — money streams that fueled not just their many long years of resistance but their proselytizing reach in the West. The Taliban have recorded and will remember Harry’s slight. As we know since they have taken power, revenge is definitely on the menu.

But in a deeper, more unsettling way, by delving into the debate, the Taliban, a book burning organization if there ever was one, certifies Spare’s global reach, and they do, also, buttress the fact of Prince Harry’s intense renown. For the prince’s part, it seems his ongoing concerns over his security will only increase.

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