Prince Harry and the Taliban
Updated: May 15
To return to Prince Harry and his narcissism. As related, Harry said in his biography that he killed 25 Taliban on his tour of duty in Afghanistan—the extract was leaked and his former commanders reacted with disapproval. It was said Harry had betrayed “first his own family and now his military family”.
What Harry said was that he felt neither “satisfaction” nor “shame” over the men he killed. Let’s pull back and imagine that we didn’t read about what Harry did in a book. Rather, let’s imagine we met Harry as an ordinary person in a pub and he said, “Yeah, when I was in Afghanistan I killed 25 Taliban,” and you said, slightly shocked, “Oh? And how did you feel after that?” and he said, “I didn’t feel particularly happy about it but I wasn’t ashamed about it either.” You would think, “Christ! This man’s a psychopath! He has no emotions.”
Psychopaths are not narcissists but they have narcissistic traits. It’s why they come over as cold—stone-cold killers, literally. It’s not that they delight in murder—they just don’t feel anything about it positive or negative (or that is their very firmly ingrained mask, the Terminator).
Let’s think it out for a moment, consider what’s incongruent about Harry’s response—and why he can only get away with it in a book, while in real-life it would seem very peculiar. For a start, man is a hunter and a warrior—to kill is intrinsic to man, and that includes to kill other men. So the idea that Harry didn’t “feel exultation” when he killed Talibs seems unlikely to me.
If I imagine myself in the gunner’s seat of an Apache, slightly sweaty and sick to my stomach due to the contrast between the Afghan heat and the helicopter’s AC system, and I have my little joystick and wobbly gun camera and I have these little men bobbing around in my crosshairs, then I will feel anxiety and anticipation.
I’m a hunter, I’ve been trained to do this task—I want to, other men depend on me to do it (those little men in the gun camera sights are off to lay an IED to blow up a Coalition convoy). So when the machine gun scatters the dust and the men fall down like limp rags (were they always just animated rags?) I will feel exultant. “Got ’em! Yes!”. Just like in a video game, because, as Harry said back in 2013, it is like a video game.
That’s a normal reaction—and I bet Harry had it. How could you not think, “Yes! Got ’em!”? So why does he say he didn’t feel any exultation about the kills? It’s to protect his public image, his narcissistic self-image. He is aware that it is anti-social to be “a guy who revels in the death of other men”—so he denies he experienced any exultation, any satisfaction even, when he completed a task he volunteered for and was trained to do and that any man would feel satisfaction about when completed.
However, Harry also doesn’t want to look like a wimpy teary guy who went back to his tent that night and cried himself to sleep because he killed those guys and they were just guys like me with parents and families and children. “Where’s daddy? Where’s daddy?” says the child of the fallen Taliban soldier, and the mother just leaves the room because there isn’t an answer. It’s enough to bring a man to tears…
But not Harry. He didn’t feel ashamed that he killed people, either—so his narcissistic visage that he is not a weak man is preserved. Ironically, Harry hopes to convince you that he is a well-rounded balanced guy who is neither weak nor a “total psycho killer”—and yet his very display, which denies any emotions whatsoever, is precisely “psychopathic”.
“Did you enjoy your birthday party?” “I neither enjoyed it nor felt any negative emotions around it, thank you mother,” so might reply a narcissist or a psychopath, because they are so afraid of the positive emotions (or negative, if they lost a party game) that everything is just “neither good nor bad”.
The reality is that men like to hunt and kill, but they also often feel remorse about the hunting and killing. That is paradoxical, illogical, and irrational—but it is what man is like. A similar situation pertains to sex: men both desire it but also feel remorse, the post-coital dip, after it.
If either emotion is denied, a man will experience cognitive dissonance. If he exults in killing, he will have to repress his regret and remorse as regards the damage he inflicts—if he only experiences regret and remorse about the death he inflicts, he will deny that he enjoys the hunt and the kill.
Harry has suppressed both emotions—the idea is to preserve an idealised narcissistic image that you cannot criticise; he’s perfect, you see—neither evil nor good; he has transcended both. The state has some superficial resemblance to Buddhism, where a person is not affected by anything—but really Harry is what Buddhists call “a stone Buddha”; he has achieved a superficial transcendence of desire, but the true Buddha returns and experiences his desire again while, at the same time, understanding it is an illusion. Harry has just cut off his “desire”, his emotions, completely.
Hence he acts in a narcissistic way in another dimension—he breaks rules and doesn’t seem to care. In particular, he has broken the implicit rules of his mannerbund—the British Army—and that is why his former commanders express disdain for him. I don’t know, but I suspect that in the military it is acceptable to speak about the number of kills you have attained in a particular register—at a debrief you are allowed to say, “On this operation, we eliminated 4 hostiles.” The military has kept a tally of kills, either through enemy ears sent back or McNamara’s Vietnam-era statistical tables, for decades.
What is not acceptable is to pop into a tent and respond to the enquiry, “How’s it going, mate?” with the words, “Yeah, I killed three guys today.” That’s taboo, not only because of the mixed emotions over killing described above but because it comes across as a brag. It’s not socially normal. I’ve related before that the headmaster at my school killed 12 or so men in a Zulu-style charge in the Falklands Wars, but he’d never say he did that—it was a legend, a hushed legend around him; and the military doesn’t give medals, so far as I know, for “killed 25 men” (even if that’s what you did).
So Harry breaks the taboo with what amounts to a humble-brag. “Yeah, I’m a real killer but, you know, it doesn’t mean anything to me one way or another.” You’re not meant to say that, you’re not meant to aggrandise yourself like that as a man (even if everyone knows you’re a killer, but it’s meant to be implicit *hushed tones*). It’s to do with the ambiguity man has over killing: it is both highly esteemed and admired and yet it is the worst thing you can do—so we cannot tolerate our heroes to be overt about what they are.
Harry just breaks the rules, not consciously but because he’s oblivious to them. Indeed, when challenged about the fact his former commanding officers condemned him he responded that he put the passage about “the 25 Talibs” in so as to “help veterans overcome shame that might lead to suicide”. That is also a narcissistic statement—I broke the rules, but it was to save very vulnerable people, so it’s okay (of course, I’m confident I can save them—somehow; although there is no indication I know how to do that, though I am perfect of course).
I don’t know why ex-soldiers commit suicide at such a high rate (though I could hazard a guess), but, realistically, I doubt that reading that passage would make any difference to them (or that anyone except women and homosexuals will read Harry’s book).
Again, Harry can’t make a mistake. You might think when everyone, from your family to your former commanding officers, has problems with your conduct that, maybe, the problem is with what you’re doing and not them. In fairness to Harry, I doubt he has a solid self-image that he wants to protect—I actually think narcissists lack a self-image and that the arrogant “self-image” that is inferred from their behaviour is an emergent illusion.
Their actions and speech aim to remove emotional pain by any means necessary—what they say is just what avoids pain (which, as noted in the previous article, is connected to humiliation they could not control in childhood). The behaviour seems arrogant to outsiders but it’s just a negative anti-image that protects the interior from the experience of pain—the narcissist being very sensitive; in fact, they lack a self-image at all and only create a “ghost image” or polarised negative of the denied pain inside. Hence, for example, I think Harry is obviously very sensitive, whereas Trump is not—hence Trump is not narcissistic.
As regards “the kills” perhaps one aspect to the problem, in the more general sense, is that in modernity there is no ceremonial recognition of the life that is taken. Primitive people will perform a ceremony over the animal they killed—over their fallen enemies—as a means to reconcile the remorse that comes about when man takes life. In modernity, there is no such recognition of your fallen prey or opponent and hence ambivalent emotions over what you enjoy but feel ashamed of return to haunt you—and that may explain the high suicide rate among veterans.