Should soldiers’ children get special scholarships?

Answer: yes

My fellow blogger Todd Pettigrew, as well as several professors at the University of Regina say no.

“Project Hero,” the program implemented several weeks ago at U of R, provides free tuition for four years (as well as $1,000 for books) to the children of military personnel who have died in active duty.

But to Prof Pettigrew and the 16 professors who are protesting the scholarship program, Project Hero does more than just provide tuition—it glorifies war.

“It implies that military officers have a special status simply by virtue of being in the military,” writes Pettigrew. “It suggests that the whole class of people is to venerated, and that military service is a special calling to which only a select group of heroes can aspire.”

I’ll admit, the name “Project Hero” leaves little to the imagination. So how about we call it the “Military Dependent Scholarship?” Or the “Children of Deceased Veterans Bursary?” Problem solved, right?

With the word “hero” gone, you’d have to do a hell of a lot of extrapolation to get back to the glorification of soldiers, no? (I can already feel the vibration of goaded fingers.) How would the renamed scholarship glorify war any more than, say, wearing a poppy on Veterans Day?

One could argue I’m missing the “meta,” but I see the the scholarship simply as a way to provide tuition to children who have lost a parent, and by extension, a financial resource. Yes the families of fallen military personnel are compensated, but this program provides a fiscal opportunity specific to the pursuit of higher education. I’m sure the U of R professors would agree with me when I say that it’s a pursuit worth of encouraging.

I think it’s also worth noting that this scholarship isn’t for “Children of Military in Afghanistan.” Canadian troops just happen to be there at the moment. Military lives are lost in combat and in training, during battles of which Canadian citizens approve and many of which they do not. Funny–in World War II, when professors and academics were one of the first to be persecuted in Nazi-occupied Germany, Canadian soldiers fought against constricting pressures, allowing for academic freedom and freedom of speech, which, ironically, grants our professors the opportunity to object to Project Hero today. What would attitudes towards the program have been back in 1940? Should we only compensate the children of war casualties who fought for causes with which we agree?

Another overlooked point in this whole debate is that the children of many professors at Canadian universities pay reduced or no tuition if they enroll at an institution where a parent works. As long as we’re extrapolating, what message does that send? Let’s say a professor is a racist bigot who spews ignorant propaganda in lecture all day–do we deny his/her child the financial break because of what could be inferred from the subsidy?

Professor Pettigrew makes the very good point that it’s not just military personnel who risk their lives for others; police officers, firefighters and others put put themselves in danger each day for the public. And I completely agree. To go further, I think universities should provide scholarships for the children of those who have lost their lives in the line of public duty.

But, in the meantime, I think we should let these veterans’ kids have their break. Just as “glorifying war” churns the stomachs of these professors, politicizing the tragedies of Canadian military families leaves a bad feeling in mine.