Imagine, in the same month as the death of the muse of high camp, Susan Sontag, we have England in an uproar about Prince Harry and his silly armband. All this, while The Producers is playing in London to packed houses. They’re even talking of banning the swastika. That’ll be one in the eye for Indian symbols! The airlines will have to start handing out reminders to the Navajo before they land at Heathrow.
The theme of the party where some jerk snapped Harry was Colonialists and Natives. I suppose the lad could have gone as Lord Curzon or Lord Kitchener, but most of Harry’s male relatives still have to dress like that anyway for formal military occasions. The Afrika Korps uniform was a nice idea and a lot more original than putting some shoeblack on his face and going as a native.
How bitterly Harry must regret not dressing up as Captain Cook. Then he could have had an enjoyable Tour of Contrition to the Antipodes and the Pacific region, apologizing to the Maoris and Hawai’ians for insensitivity to genocide. Who wants to go to Auschwitz at this time of year?
Of course, the leaders of major Jewish organizations have had a field day, broadcasting their shock and dismay on an hourly basis and telling Harry to jog round the Auschwitz perimeter another couple of times. Moral reprobation from these folk about fancy dress looks threadbare in an age when Israeli soldiers force a Palestinian to play his violin at a border crossing.
How come Sharon didn’t send those soldiers to Auschwitz to apologize for having forgotten that it’s only sixty years since Jews with fiddles in Eastern Europe were being told by genuine Nazi murderers to hop about and play a few tunes? How come Sharon doesn’t have to apologize for anything?
“Where do you stop with the taboos,” wrote David Ball to the Daily Telegraph. “Do you not dress as a Dominican Friar, whose order was responsible for the persecution and death of 1000’s of ‘Heretics’ i.e. people with different views, in the Middle Ages. Do you not dress as a US cavalryman, who assisted in the systematic virtual destruction of the indigenous native population of America…. I don’t think Harry was going around shouting neo-Nazi slogans and giving Heil Hitler salutes.”
I’ll buy that, same as I buy the view of the Pravda editorialist who wrote: “Prince Harry turned up in an Afrika Korps uniform–who better to mock than the German colonials under Hitler, the greatest imperialist project in human history since perhaps Genghis Khan?… if this young man was invited to a Colonials and Natives party, what was he supposed to wear? A pink ballet dress, to be accused of being a fairy, a trans-sexual or a cross-dresser?”
Rommel was a perfect choice. The English have always had a soft spot for the Desert Fox, the Good German outgeneraled by Montgomery and then forced to commit suicide by Hitler. Actually, Rommel was outgeneraled by the matrons who ruled over matters of hygiene at the schools attended by the British officer class. How well I remember the matron at my own school, Heatherdown, who used to line us little boys up and then clasp our testicles in her chill hand and demand that we cough. I’ve never been quite sure why; maybe to detect signs of incipient syphilis in case we 8-year-olds had been infected by the girls at Heathfield, on the other side of a wall even more forbidding than the one the Israelis are running through the occupied territories.
It was these matrons, so I was recently reminded by Mark Harrison in the Christmas issue of Oxford Today, who instilled in British officers the importance of hygiene. In the Western Desert of Egypt in 1942, Harrison writes in his essay “Medicine and Victory,” because of “proper waste management” the British Army “enjoyed a marked and consistent advantage over their opponents, as sickness rates were 50-70 per cent lower than in the German forces. By the time of the climactic battle of El Alamein, the Afrika Korps carried the burden of 9,954 sick out of a total strength of 52,000.” Out of 10,000, the Panzer division had slightly less than 4,000 men fit to fight.
All this gives fresh resonance to the phrase “dirty Germans.” Col. H.S. Gear, assistant director of hygiene in the British Army, claimed the Germans’ positions were “obvious from the amount of faeces lying on the surface of the ground.” The official historian of the campaign, F.A.E. Crew, wrote, “It is not improbable that the complete lack of sanitation among both the Germans and the Italians did much to undermine their morale in the Alamein position.” The matrons won! Prince Harry should have gone to the party dressed as Matron, or Matron’s softer antecedent in the lives of these young men: Nanny, the emotional rock to which many an upper-class lad clung for the rest of his life.
All this talk of matrons and nannies brings me to Harry’s great-great-uncle Edward VIII (titled, after abdication, the Duke of Windsor), a keen admirer of Hitler, as pious British reprovers of Prince Harry have not failed to point out. Wallis Simpson, herself a Nazi agent, won the Duke’s eternal affection by understanding exactly what fancy dress he really craved.
In his wonderful The Duchess of Windsor (recently reissued with sensational new material along with his equally gripping Howard Hughes) my friend Charles Higham quotes the Duke’s equerry, Sir Dudley Forwood, who used to peer through the bedroom keyhole, as saying of Windsor that “it is doubtful whether he and Wallis ever actually had sexual intercourse in the normal sense of the word. However, she did manage to give him relief. He had always been a repressed foot fetishist, and she discovered this and indulged the perversity completely. They also, at his request, became involved in elaborate erotic games. These included nanny-child scenes: he wore diapers, she was the master.”
Harry could have gone to that party in diapers, or even as a foot. But instead he tried to be a manly man and went as a soldier, and got into a whole heap of trouble. He’ll know better next time. Even if he’d gone as a 1942-vintage Luftnachrichtenhelferin, as fetchingly depicted in my treasured copy of Women at War, 1939-45, probably no one would have batted an eye.