Monday, January 28, 2013

Halo

Prince HarrySo Prince Harry’s in trouble again.

He kept his butt-cheeks under wraps but was a might loose with an insensitive tongue. I haven’t read any of the offended write-ups or seen any of the worthy TV interviews with the usual round of for-hire-experts. I’ve caught a few newspaper headlines, caught the odd sound-bite and therefore deem myself as well equipped to offer an opinion as any UK tabloid journalist (with the advantage that I won’t hack your mobile phone – Lord knows I can barely get into my own).

From what I can glean Harry’s been taken to task for talking about how he, along with his army chums, have taken a few Taliban fighters “out of the game” and even compared the action he’d seen to playing video games.

Right-on righteous people the world over are up in arms (ironic) over his gross insensitivity and callous, off-hand dismissal of taking another human being’s life.

And they’re right. Of course they are. I can remember feeling outraged at hearing stories of American helicopter crews listening to loud rock music as they shot at insurgents and again, made comparisons to playing computer games. It was as if they were treating modern warfare as some kind of leisure pursuit which totally devalued human life until the people they were fighting impinged on their consciences no more than a pixellated sprite on a computer screen.

That is plainly wrong. Dreadfully wrong.

But who is at fault here?

Let’s look at it another way. We train our armed forces to do many different tasks – but no matter how you dress these tasks up politically, they are trained to kill. Their goal is always to kill more of the enemy than the enemy kills of them. They are trained to do it without thinking. Without breaking down and needing counselling five minutes into a fire fight or even five weeks. As horrible as it sounds conscience doesn’t come into it. And yes it is desensitizing. I imagine when you’re in a battle zone the last thing you want is to be feeling a bit sensitive. You would not be able to function and as such would be liable to get yourself and your colleagues killed.

We expect our soldiers to go out and kill. To kill with honour, yes. To kill “viable targets” (what a horrid expression), yes. To not kill children or innocents. To not kill for pleasure or needlessly. But ultimately, when the need calls for it, to kill. It’s a big part of soldiering in the modern world, alas.

I daresay the soul searching, the emotional breakdowns and psychological payback comes later. But at the time, when you’re in the theatre of war, you keep all that touchy-feely stuff as far away from you as possible and by using whatever means necessary.

That’s what I imagine Prince Harry is doing.

And then we have the video game thing. Heaven knows I have complained myself about computer games which purport to replicate the “real war experience”. My granddad fought in WWII, I don’t imagine he’d have thought much of his experiences being the basis for a living room based computer game which involves the participant sitting on their backside twiddling a few buttons on a handheld controller and staring at a TV screen.

But these games are out there and proliferating in huge numbers. Our kids, siblings, partners are playing them. They play them for entertainment. They play them for fun. The realism element is a selling point, a way of benchmarking the quality of the game.

This is highly questionable.

This desensitizes us all. Cheapens us all.

As a society we condemn warfare while at the same time making it a significant element of most of our entertainment choices – computer games, movies, literature. It has become enmeshed with fashion, rock music soundtracks and the way we gauge our own status.

Not all of us, I know. But enough that in any high street in any town you can go into a Game store (for example) and immerse yourself in the war of your choice.

Who is at fault here? The individual soldier or the society that equates war with play and then sends that soldier out to play for real?

Just think for a minute of all those people who help design and create those ultra-realistic computer war games... how much blood is on their hands?

Real, not salaciously imagined.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

32 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

It's not a real war experience unless you're under fire and pissing your pants, so I wouldn't worry too much about computer games. The only news I could find about Prince Harry concerned an all-night party he attended in Fulham and which blonde he was chasing. Killing the Taliban does that to you.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: I'm not sure which is worse - fighting insurgents in Afghanistan of an all-night party in Fulham. I suspect there's a better class of person in Afghanistan.

the fly in the web said...

My father...professional soldier...used to remark when something hideous happened

Well, if you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined.

And then get on with picking up the pieces.

Utterly cynical about so called 'war aims' I have a suspicion he would have had those designing, selling and playing the computer games of which you speak living in a freezing Nissan hut, under the control of a demonic sergeant major and encouraged to act out their fantasies under live fire...preferably dum-dum.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: I like the sound of your father. I bet HRH Prince Harry would too.

Expat mum said...

I would imagine that the only way you could even contemplate killing others in this way is to pretend they're not real.

Löst Jimmy said...

Good old Blighty goes over to Afghanistan to fight for Democracy and they send an un-elected Prince...

Marginalia said...

I'll have you know we had a hell of a time in Fulham. It was a real battle to get the 4x4 out of the garage without scraping the paintwork.

Steve said...

Expat Mum: that's a massive suspension of belief; not sure I could do it.

Löst Jimmy: the Taliban (even more undemocratic) at least have a direct opportunity to make their displeasure known.

Marginalia: I believe Prince Harry is receiving counselling to cope with the fallout of similar experiences.

The Sagittarian said...

Oh good lord, you mean people still take note of what these freeloaders say?? Honestly you think he's just shut up about his day job....

Steve said...

Amanda: weirdly, people say the exact same thing about me.

Nota Bene said...

Don't know where to start this one...as usuual you've put together a thoughtful, well-constructed post.

I think Harry was poorly advised because it was obvious there would be uproar.

I think it was a mistake for us to go to Afghanistan...it's a sovereign country...and anyway, I was taught at the age of 13 you cannot conquer this godless, lawless mountainous territory

I think that it is inevitable that soldiers think of their targets like a computer game...you probably couldn't kill people unless you did, or unless you were a psychopath

And I've always argued that if pornography corrupts/desensitizes then so too must too much screen violence

John Gray said...

I am not a game player but I think I understand Harry's choice of language when describing his job.... There is a distance there.....a need to de personalise the reality......mental mechanisms.......mental mechanisms

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I think sometimes the media fails to see the man (and even fails to see the soldier) because of the Prince though, of course, for better or worse he is all three. The morality of war - can war possibly have such a quality? - is always questionable. And the questions are always, always human.

John: exactly. Reading between the lines I saw the words "coping strategy" writ large.

Livi TeePot said...

Excellent post, as ever.
I love Prince Harry and I think you're right in laying the blame away from the soldiers, they are doing what they have been trained and ordered to do and dealing with it in the best way they know how.
Games that are based on war are worrying imo and something needs to be done, but what? That is the question.

Rol said...

Prince Harry? The celebrity totty quotient has gone severely downhill round these parts lately.

Steve said...

Livi: sadly I don't think anything will ever be done. War sells and war makes money both in real life and virtually.

Rol: I'm not sure I'd describe Prince Harry as a celeb let alone as totty!

Hannah Denski said...

Oh, so he was dressed this time... yet forgot to dress the bit about what we're doing in Taliban... Oh Harry, will you ever learn? Makes you wonder though, can we handle the truth? x

Steve said...

Hannah: only Jack Nicholson can handle the truth!

The bike shed said...

Couldn't agree more - This is highly questionable. This desensitizes us all. Cheapens us all.

If I were being flippant I'd say royalty does that too, but I'm not so will just nod to a thoughtful post

Steve said...

The Bike Shed: good man.

Trish Burgess said...

Interesting post and comments. Even if computer games did help Harry and his chums in the real world of war, his error was in talking about it to the media.
On a positive note, I gather many surgeons improve their technique by keeping their fingers and thumbs nimble with computer games.

Steve said...

Trish: with judicial pressing of the restart button...

Cait O'Connor said...

I agree with Mark (Bike Shed) here and you Steve - A thoughtful post.

Being Me said...

This is a great post. A topic I've thought about many times (but little I can do about changing anything, except avert my daughter's eyes from the copious and accessible violence in her world).

It's crazy rationale to jump on the "blame the soldiers"/"Harry, how could you" bandwagon, when as you so rightly put it, computer games and music lyrics and, of all things, T-shirt art, have desensitised society as a whole to such an extent that this "bloodsport" has become nothing more than a real life game. Think of the retired snipers (one of whom had published a book about being the self-proclaimed best sniper ever... or words to that effect) in the US recently, who were both killed at the hands of a third PTSD ex-soldier after they took him to a (Lord help them) gun range to forget things for a while.... It's insanity to think that killing in the name of "honour" and "duty" do not change a man/woman.

Won't somebody think of the forefathers? I can't help but have the uneasy feeling this modern warfare (and computer games that sanitise same) somehow greatly cheapen and diminish their huge and unrealised sacrifices, even those who outlived the battle only to come home forever changed.

Steve said...

Cait: thank you - if I can make people think or make them laugh I am happy.

Being Me: I don't think my grandfather would have been impressed by war becoming casual gaming entertainment... and yet, I cannot deny he loved old war films which in turn inspired young boys to play as fighter pilots and tank drivers in playgrounds all over the West through the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc. I sometimes think that as a species we are fatally flawed.

lunarossa said...

I think that Harry should learn to think before speaking. I wonder whether all those years of private education and privileges have gone wasted on him. maybe he should have been left at in his golden cage to play shooting game on the X-box instead of inflicting him on his battalion! xx

Steve said...

Lunarossa: being out in the real world (even if encased in cotton wool) rather than locked in his golden cage can only encouage him to be a better person...

EmmaK said...

I don't worry about computer games so much maybe because I have girls who don't have much interest in the heads flying off blood spurting ones. I am more bothered at living in USA where you have these rifle ranges where you can use machine guns to reenact various lovely war scenarios such as 'Get our SEAL Team 6 package and shoot the same weapons used by American special operations units. You’ll fire the M249 SAW, a machine gun with a very high rate of fire'. Maybe an idea for your next family holiday? http://machinegunsvegas.com/packages/seal-team-vi/

Rol said...

You taken February off or something?

Steve said...

Rol: I didn't set out to but things certainly seem to be turning out that way...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Never mind that - Harry is starting to lose his hair and look like Prince Charles - let's talk about the important stuff! ; - )

Steve said...

Laura: Prince Charles, you say? Now that would be fucking news!