/ 9 January 2023

Killer Prince Harry shines light on bias towards the West

Gettyimages 80051573
Prince Harry sits in his position on a Spartan armoured vehicle on February 18, 2008 in Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan. (Photo by John Stillwell POOL/ Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images)

Henry Mountbatten-Windsor, known to fans of the British monarchy as “Prince Harry”, has casually acknowledged that he killed 25 people while piloting an Apache attack helicopter in Afghanistan. He did not, he writes in his new autobiography, Spare, think of them as “people”. 

The war in Afghanistan, launched by the United States, was an illegal war. Estimates of the number of lives lost due to the US-led invasion, supported by Nato, range from 176 000 to 360 000. The lower estimate is broken down as follows: 52 839 opposition fighters, 69 095 military and police and 46 319 civilians.

The US and its allies in Nato, including the United Kingdom, have been responsible for millions of deaths since the end of World War II. There are credible estimates of the number of deaths resulting from the US-led invasion of Iraq that exceed a million people, mostly civilians. The war in Vietnam took more than two million lives. Again the vast majority were civilians.

Even Human Rights Watch, very much a pro-Western organisation, has admitted numerous civilian causalities from the Nato bombing campaign of Libya. Up to 20 000 civilians have also been killed in US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. 

Of course, the trail of destruction left by the US is not only a matter of lives lost to bombs and guns. The US uses sanctions as a key weapon in its geopolitical contestation and, around the world, numerous lives have been lost due to a lack of access to food, medication and other essential items resulting from sanctions. 

The US is also indirectly responsible for the loss of a vast number of lives via its support for brutal regimes, such as the tyrannical states operating out of Tel Aviv and Riyadh. The US provided direct support to the regime in Jakarta during the mass killings of the left in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966 which left around a million dead. 

The US also supported numerous bloodthirsty dictatorships during the Cold War, especially in Latin America and Africa. The US has organised a huge number of coups against elected governments since 1945. The coup against Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, after which the semi-fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet was installed, is among the most notorious but there were many, many others. The US continues to organise and support coups today, such as that in Bolivia in 2019.

The news that Mountbatten-Windsor took 25 lives from an attack helicopter has revived memories of the footage from the Iraq war that Chelsea Manning leaked to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. The footage shows civilians and a journalist being killed from a helicopter while some US soldiers laugh. 

In light of the videos courageously made public by Manning and Assange we cannot assume that the 25 people killed by Mountbatten-Windsor were all enemy combatants. There is a general silence in the Western media about the horrific abuse that Manning and Assange have suffered at the hands of the US and UK. 

The double standards in the Western media about the rivers of blood stemming from military and other actions by the US and Nato are almost unbelievably crude. The West is consistently portrayed as a moral force in global affairs and the stain of murder seldom sticks to its leaders. George W Bush, who drove the catastrophic war in Iraq, is reported on as a kindly old man enjoying his new hobby of painting watercolours. 

When former United States secretary of state Madeleine Albright died last year numerous obituaries described her as a trailblazer for women, as some sort of feminist icon. In a 1996 television interview, she was asked the following question: “We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Her response: “I think that is a very hard choice but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

One can only try to imagine how an African or Arab woman who had made a similar comment about the deaths of white children would have been treated in the Western media.

All of this raises an uncomfortable issue for South Africans. It is clear that the majority of our white compatriots have a very strong identification with the West, seeing it as a force for good and thinking South Africa should identify itself fully with it.

Of course, there are black people who share these pro-Western views but this is far from uniformly the case and the sympathies of many black people are with the victims of Western violence – from Palestine to Vietnam.

In our media, Greg Mills is often taken as an important voice on international affairs. Mills, who worked as a “special adviser” to a Nato commander in Afghanistan, runs the Oppenheimer family foundation, the Brenthurst Foundation. Its board includes the former chief of the defence staff in the UK and the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the US. The Brenthurst Foundation could hardly be more embedded with Nato and the US and UK military.

Unsurprisingly, as Clayson Monyela has noted, the foundation is deeply concerned with the war in Ukraine, in which the US and Nato are involved by proxy, but does not share the same concern for the war in Yemen or the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians. We could add that there is a similar silence on the war in Ethiopia.

There is just no way that a commentator embedded in the same way in the military of a non-Western state would be treated, as Mills is, as a credible, independent commentator. 

But, disturbingly, the biases towards the West evident in the work of Mills are apparent in much of our media. We are an African country and yet the wars in Ethiopia and Yemen, which have taken more lives than the war in Ukraine, are largely ignored. The lives of people in Ethiopia and Yemen clearly do not count for much to most of our media. 

Robert Sobukwe of the Pan-Africanist Congress, one of our great intellectuals, looked forward to a future in which being African would not be a matter of skin colour. Today, this vision of the future seems like a romantic dream. Not only are many, if not most, of our white compatriots stridently pro-West but critics of the West are often treated as irrational and immoral, even as supporters of odious non-Western regimes as if one cannot, for example, be simultaneously critical of the US and Russian states. 

This drives a serious wedge into our nation-making as it seems that many whites are, in terms of their political identities, permanent settlers identifying as part of the West. Very few identify with Africa and the broader non-Western world.

The news about Mountbatten-Windsor’s “kill count” is deeply sickening. How will our white compatriots respond? Will there be evasion or even justification? Or will there be some sort of acceptance that the West is not, as it claims to be, the enlightened force to which we should all pledge our allegiance?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.