Revised June, 2012
A new policy, begun in 2009 by Retired General Rick Hillier and Honorary Lt. Colonel Kevin Reed, provides scholarships to children of soldiers who have died while in service. Project Hero has been introduced at several colleges and universities across Canada. Some professors at the University of Regina have objected to the program, however, claiming that the program glorifies military action, as does the name itself - Project Hero, and would rather their university had no part in it.
The program appears to be a tuition waiver, with grants for books and tuition presumably supplied by the Canadian Hero Fund. It looks as though the Canadian Hero Fund originally provided the funds for such endeavors, including spouses of the deceased soldiers being eligible as well as their children. Being so closely associated with the universities puts a different slant on the program, however. If the universities voluntarily waive the tuition fees, they will give the impression of taking sides, despite what the universities say.
“Our decision to do this was not at all meant to suggest endorsement of or lack of endorsement of something such as military action. It is purely to support the education pursuits of those for whom it might have been challenging to access post secondary,” said Barb Pollock, spokeswoman for the University of Regina. (Globe and Mail, Mar 26, 2010). But of course it is an endorsement! If they provided free tuition to white supremacists, wouldn't people notice, and wonder? Do we really want our universities to set objectivity aside and become politically associated with this side or that?
It's understandable that the University of Regina would sign up to the program without giving it much thought. They could see how other respected universities had agreed to the program, and at face value, it must have seemed like a good idea. It's just too bad that experts in the field weren't asked for their opinion first, before this step was taken.
The title given to the project is another issue. The old-fashioned idea, especially among military personnel, might well be to think of war and death in war as heroic, but our aim should be, and I thought was starting to be, to perceive war as a necessity, and being a soldier as a career, not mainly as a noble way to die, a means to becoming a hero.
The children and spouses of our fallen soldiers will be provided for, by programs initiated by the military or former military personnel, with ways of donating made easily accessible through the internet. It is not a rejection of the men who served in the military, or of their children, to turn down this request to join Project Hero. But it will be maintaining the purpose of universities, to turn down such a request. Universities should stay away from being seen to take sides, even if that is not their intention. They should avoid stepping into controversy by appearing to take sides.
It is difficult to turn down requests to assist children, the innocent victims of war. But doing so, in this manner, can lead to the kind of society we would rather not have. "Setting up the military as something special leads to a militaristic society" says Art Campbell, retired Wing Commander (see comments following Adrian MacNair blog). He also does not want to see the spouses of deceased soldiers being left out, with diminishing pensions to support them as they grow old.
The emphasis in society is always on youth - children and youth. In February this year, John Babcock died, at the age of 109. He was the last known survivor of WWI, and there was a call for a state funeral to be held for him. He wasn't a hero, in the traditional sense, and he didn't see himself as one, so he declined the offer, previously made to him. Links to four articles about his death are included below - Canada’s last World War I vet, The enduring legacy of an old soldier; How inconvenient the veterans' wishes; and John Babcock's passing. Check for comments by readers about the significance of his life and death. I wouldn't want to see the focus of 'remembering' to be mainly about money - about scholarships to university for the children of soldiers who died.
Added June, 2012
In one of the articles, the words of one veteran are included - a grandfather, Jeffrey Scott Walsh, “who considered the Hero Project a ‘gift’ that the ‘university’s initiated.” He says, “I don’t think it was the families who asked for this help . . . But it’s not fair to students who need financial help and don’t have soldiers in their families.” (Professors slam scholarships, 2010).
Not only that, but the soldiers whose families are being helped through such scholarships are not ones who made it through and returned alive. Only the children of deceased soldiers are eligible. As the daughter of a veteran of WW II, who did return from the war alive and healthy, my experience tells me that financial situations of soldiers and their families don’t automatically improve just because dad comes home. In fact, that is one of the reasons my family emigrated to Canada in 1957, because good jobs were not always easy to find in England after the war.
Besides that, singling out particular groups of individuals to receive assistance is a political gesture, as comments in the National Post articles suggested, though unfortunately, the National Post presumably deletes its comments section of each article soon afterwards, leaving only the article itself available to be read.
The death of John Babcock was symbolic of the sacrifice that soldiers have often been ready to make, for their families and country. Even though he never went to war, he was the last remaining WW I soldier from Canada. He was made a hero of sorts, against his will, but one doesn’t have to die to be a hero. He became a celebrity, but not of his own making. His longevity – and being part of a particular historical period in history now gone forever – has made him someone to remember.
Blood of Heroes Blogspot
Canada’s last World War I vet, John Babcock, dies
By Nicolaas van Rijn Staff Reporter
Feb 19, 2010
Canadian Hero Fund: keeping their dreams alive
Criticism of scholarships for children of fallen soldiers draws sharp rebuke
By Jennifer Graham
Globe and Mail (Regina — The Canadian Press)
Mar 26, 2010
The enduring legacy of an old soldier : He survived!
By J.L. Granatstein
Feb 24, 2010 http://www.montrealgazette.com/opinion/enduring+legacy+soldier+survived/2604717/story.html
How inconvenient the veterans' wishes are to our mythology
By Noah Richler
Globe and Mail
Feb 23, 2010
Ignorance on display at the University of Regina
By Adrian MacNair
Full Comment, National Post
Mar 25, 2010
John Babcock's passing
By Wilfred Edmond
Special to The Windsor Star
Mar 18, 2010
Professors slam scholarships for children of dead soldiers
By Josh Campbell
Mar 25, 2010
Project Hero: Gifting Education to children of our fallen soldiers
Sask. premier disappointed by Project Hero critics
Mar 25, 2010
The University of Ottawa offers free tuition for children of Canadian military parents killed in action
University of Ottawa
June 30, 2009
Links updated June, 2012