I’ve been thinking about the comments HRH Prince Henry of Wales reportedly made three years ago whilst an officer cadet. Whilst it is not true that this issue is unimportant, as the anti-PC crowd suggests, the importance of the comments in the context of their timing is important, and should be taken into account.
When the comments were made, Prince Harry was 20 or 21 years of age; by that time, I know I would have been old enough and wise enough to recognise the term as a derogatory term of abuse, and tantamount, when said in front of a group of people, to bullying. But that said, i was a politically correct sort of chap, who studied, lived and breathed politics and revelled in diverse company.
But I wasn’t in the army, and I didn’t have the esprit de corps thing going on that officer cadets often do. As a result, i have no idea what was considered, between comrades, acceptable language, and neither do the lunatics baying for blood or disciplinary action all over the internet and other media.
What’s considered acceptable language between people who exist in a group may often seem appalling or massively insensitive when viewed from outside; it is acceptable for people to develop their own nicknames and to use those, so long as consent for them is determined and accepted by the people involved. of course, we don’t know if this is the case.
I may decide at some point that i don’t mind being called ‘ya black bastard’. i have been called it in the past, just as I have been called a ‘tan’ and ‘toryboy’. to those outside my group where it was acceptable to use that language, thse things seem like the absolute height of insensitivity and sectarianism.
To the uninitiated who know nothing of the history of Ireland, some of them seem racist. It would be disgraceful for someone I did not know to use those words, but absolutely reasonable for somoeone with whom i share a mutual respect to utter them as often as they like.
There should be some boundaries to this, but these are set voluntarily in groups; in general, I tend to think that words which could be construed as racist or otherwise offensive ought not to form part of my nickname vocabulary, but that’s my call and nobody else can make it. The fact that the world has jumped to conclusions in this way is unpleasant in the extreme.
In any case, the fact that the young Prince has made an apology should be enough to draw a line under the issue, and the fact that he’s had to make such an apology, and that the MoD must now follow its own disciplinary procedures, should be enough to warn young cadets and others around the world that language, even of the sort used intimately between colleagues, has boundaries for acceptable use.