Battle Royal With Prince Harry's forthcoming deployment to Iraq, British officials face the dilemma of what to do with a prince who wants to serve in combat. Does the publicity garnered by high-profile soldiers boost troop morale—or endanger their lives?
NPR logo Battle Royal: Majesties and Movie Stars in Combat

Battle Royal: Majesties and Movie Stars in Combat

As newspapers and teen magazines draw attention to Prince Harry's forthcoming deployment to Iraq, British officials are weighing the pros and cons of sending the 22-year-old royal into harm's way.

Prince Harry, third in line for the throne after his father and brother William, was scheduled to depart for Iraq in coming weeks along with other members of the elite Blues and Royals regiment. But The Sun newspaper quotes unidentified military officials as saying that Britain's Defense Ministry is rethinking that plan, concerned that the presence of such a well-known soldier on the battlefield might endanger the lives of those serving alongside him.

Sending royals into battle is not a new concept. Henry V famously led English soldiers into battle against the French at Agincourt in the 15th century. And more recently, Prince Andrew served in the Falklands War in 1982 as a Royal Navy pilot.

The U.S. has sent its own version of royalty into combat - in the form of Hollywood stars. One of the more famous movie stars to see combat was Jimmy Stewart. Originally turned down by the Army because he was five pounds underweight, Stewart gained those extra pounds and went on to fly at least 20 dangerous combat missions during World War II, eventually rising to the rank of colonel.

Henry Fonda also saw combat in World War II during his rise to fame, serving in air combat intelligence. For his heroism, he earned the Bronze Star and a presidential citation.

Celebrity soldiers, be they of royal or celluloid variety, are usually welcomed by military officials. They boost troop morale and can serve as recruitment magnets.

Their high profiles, though, can backfire when events don't turn out as planned. U.S. Army officials are accused of covering up the circumstances surrounding the death of former football star Pat Tillman. Tillman, who turned down a lucrative NFL contract to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was killed in Afghanistan. Initially, military officers said Tillman died in an ambush, when in fact he was accidentally killed by fellow U.S. troops.

The situation for Britain and Prince Harry in Iraq may be a bit more tenuous than that of celebrities in previous wars.

Over the weekend, British newspapers reported threats by Iraqi insurgents to kidnap or kill the young prince, including claims that his photograph had been widely circulated among militants.

"There is a groundswell of opinion across senior ranks now that to allow Harry to serve in the open with his men will lead to an inevitable disaster," said the unidentified source quoted in The Sun.

Since the 2003 invasion, 145 British troops have been killed - 11 in the past month alone.

Britain's Ministry of Defense says deployments are kept under "constant review" but that the plan is to dispatch Prince Harry to Iraq, along with the rest of his unit.