Faculty members at the University of Regina have come out against the University’s adoption of “Project Hero,” a program by which scholarships are provided to children of those who have died while serving in the Canadian military.
One can almost hear the outrage before it is even spoken: Canadian soliders are heroes, people will say. They put their lives at risk for us everyday, and we must do everything we can to support our brave men and women in uniform.
This kind of thinking is so widespread, I’m sure many people accept it as an unquestionable article of faith. To them, the U of R faculty must seem perverse, if not diabolical, in their thinking. But I’m with the profs on this one.
To be sure, military life, especially life in a combat zone, cannot be easy. One does not have to be a soldier to know that it’s hard, dirty, dangerous work, often done a world away from home, and often done in the defense of our highest principles. For the record, I don’t oppose Canada’s operations in Afghanistan, and I’m proud of my fellow Canadians who are trying to bring hope to a region where hope is in short supply.
But let’s not let all that blind us to the reality of military conflict. Our soldiers are not just there putting their lives on the line. They are there killing people. That’s why they have guns. That’s what armies do. That’s why they call it war. Don’t get me wrong: it may be necessary, but if it is, it is a necessary evil.
And that’s why I can’t support things like Project Hero. It implies that military officers have a special status simply by virtue of being in the military. It suggests that the whole class of people is to be venerated, and that military service is a special calling to which only a select group of heroes can aspire. And if the military is always to be honoured, then the things that they are called upon to do are inherently honorable, and that, in the end, is to glorify war and its attendant violence. The fact that Project Hero provides funds for the children of dead soldiers has to imply what Wilfred Owen famously termed the old lie: that it is sweet and noble to die for one’s country.
Yes, members of the military do hard jobs that are dangerous and important. But so do police, and firefighters, and lots of other people. Even professors have died in the line of duty. Let’s be grateful to those who serve in uniform, but let’s do them the honour of treating them honestly in the process.