On the one hand, it was nice to see Prince Harry in a British army uniform, as opposed to one of Hitler's. It's a little bit like Pokemon, really. I'm hoping he'll give us a highly collectible Hutu warrior snap soon. Gotta catch 'em all! On the other, is there anyone over Pokemon-playing age who believes it was really worth it? The sheer number of man-hours and money lavished on allowing one young man to experience job satisfaction is mind-boggling. It has to be the most fatuous use of Ministry of Defence resources since Geoff Hoon.
According to the executive director of the Society of Editors, who helped establish the controversial media blackout, it was not designed to mislead readers and viewers but to ultimately give them "a deeper insight into a new side of Prince Harry". But how completely intriguing. And yet, is he basically still a fairly dim, fairly affable chap, you might ask? It would appear so. But he's being fairly dim and fairly affable in Afghanistan. Or rather, he was until the news broke, at which point a detailed, prearranged plan to get him out - how many logistical brains are wasted on this nonsense? - was mobilised. So at least we have an exit strategy for Prince Harry, if not for the actual war.
Anyway, he was spirited out on a special flight, and is now back on what we must call civvie street. For their part, the ministry are frightfully upset about the fact that it has all come out. Colour us crushed. In fact, I haven't felt this choked up since Cherie Blair cried because her son was off to university and people were being mean about the £500,000 worth of property she'd bought to help him settle in.
And so to the deep new insights. "Nine times out of ten someone stumbles upon you when you're having a shit," Harry explains in one interview. "They don't bat an eyelid because it's normal out here." "It's very nice to be a sort of normal person for once," is his verdict in another interview. "I think this is about as normal as I'm ever going to get." "William sent me a letter," he reveals in a third interview, "saying how proud he reckons that she [Princess Diana] would be."
Reading this makes you realise that the whole thing is as much about the emotional neediness of millions of civilians as it is about his. They need him to trot out the obligatory line about our much-missed queen of hearts; he needs to defecate in a hole he's dug himself and josh about Terry Taliban to feel "normal". You can't help feeling the arrangement tends toward the dysfunctional. Can we please just get back to shooting anyone who gets near the oil pipeline?
Instead, the past few days have seen the war in Afghanistan recast as some Truman Show-style illusion, constructed to convince its star that he is normal. But he's not normal; he's Prince Harry. And it's a war, not his therapist.
Harry should not be in the army in the first place. It is admirable that he wanted to be, just as it is equally admirable when any other young person volunteers. But really, save yourself the bother of even debating whether it is morally correct or brave of Harry to want to see action, because only one thing matters - his presence puts other soldiers around him in greater danger than they would otherwise be.
He freely admits this at various stages in the reams of interviews he has granted, so one might regard his insistence on still going as somewhat self-indulgent. Even had the news blackout held, the knowledge that Prince Harry has been deployed will be sufficient to heighten the future threat to British troops, as the possibility that "the bullet magnet" (as he is nicknamed) could be in theatre raises the stakes. After all, if this little episode has shown us anything, it's that royal lives count more than off-brand ones.
Added to that, Harry's presence is evidently such a complete performance to manage that it cannot be judged a prudent use of resources - unless, of course, you think that sexing up the war is a good use of the MoD budget. Those on the ground might disagree. Two weeks ago, the assistant coroner for Oxfordshire concluded that a British soldier had been killed "not by the terrorists but by the lack of basic equipment". Andrew Walker went on to declare that "to send soldiers into a combat zone without basic equipment is unforgivable, inexcusable and a breach of trust between the soldiers and those who govern them."
A personal preference would have been for this newspaper to have told the MoD that it didn't fancy being part of their suspicious stunt, given that the Guardian is not given to clearing pages for the kind of cringe-making "access" offered in return. A hunch says a couple of other titles could have ended up agreeing, at which point the idea might have been deemed unsustainable. The money saved on facilitating it all could then have been spent on something genuinely morale-boosting for the troops. Adequate body armour always makes a lovely gift.
It would of course have been beastly for Harry to have had his hopes of seeing action dashed, but perhaps he could have seen that as a life lesson in itself, given that coping with disappointment is something that "normal" people do every day.
As for the future, one thing is clear. In the interests of national sanity, all royals should be wrapped in cotton wool - probably literally - and kept safe at all costs. Just think of the 10 years and counting of the witless, tedious, and expensive effluence we have endured about Princess Di's sudden death. Consider the billions of man-hours spent a-hurtin' and a-grievin' and a-yakkin' about it all, then imagine what kicking off another cycle of that could do to our fragile economy. We would be the new Afghanistan inside a decade, which somehow feels like it might defeat the purpose of Harry's mission.
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