We've been attacked for views we don't hold

| March 31, 2010

On March 23, 16 University of Regina professors, including us, signed a letter to our president, Dr. Vianne Timmons, asking that she review her decision to join the U of R to "Project Hero."

We wrote: "In our view, support for ‘Project Hero' represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates ‘heroism' with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices."

What followed was a media feeding frenzy that mostly misrepresented our position, and a week of the worst sort of national attention for us and for the university. Despite several of us doing numerous interviews, most media focussed on the erroneous notion that our opposition is to soldiers being considered heroes and to parentless children being given education assistance.

Those of us who signed the letter have been subjected to virulent hate mail and argument by decibels and epithet. The language of many of our critics would make a stevedore blush and a grammarian wince. Always helpful, local Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski poured gas on the fire at every media opportunity, repeating his claim that we oppose help for the bereaved and honour for the dead and demanding our public apology (boiling oil not being available) for something we didn't say and didn't intend.

It seems that some of his fellow travellers have created Facebook groups to maintain that focus and invite people to put pressure on us and on our university. We could be pardoned for thinking that much of the furore has political fingerprints all over it.

On Sunday evening, the local CTV news again ran the story, framing it on our alleged opposition to calling dead soldiers "heroes," with Lukiwski as the talking head, again demanding an apology from us.

What to do? Well, as one elder advised one of us, "Stand firm. Repeat your message. You've argued for peace your whole life."

Here goes, one more time:

Our objection to the Project Hero program arises from its language, which we think glorifies war. We object to its adoption without institutional discussion. It has financial and political implications for our university, as universities contribute tuition and scholarship monies and, in so doing, sign on to the notion of war as heroic. We think war is a problem to be solved, preferably by diplomacy and peace.

We also note that the federal government can, and does, provide for education assistance for families of soldiers; we have no problem with that.

The benefits listed in the "Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act C-28" provide for additional educational expenses beyond tuition. Although the act should be consulted for the most accurate information, the Veteran Affairs Canada website provides a quick summary:

"We have a program to help children carry on with their education past high school if they have a CF parent who dies as a result of military service; or was pensioned at a medium or high level at the time of his or her death.

"Under the program, full-time students can qualify for grants of about $6,700 a year to help pay for their education and living expenses. This amount may change over time to allow for increases in the cost of living.

"To qualify for the program, students must be under the age of 30 and attend a post-secondary school in Canada. Former students who went to school after 1995 can also apply to have some of their education costs reimbursed."

There was no policy gap and no need for "Project Hero." We continue to think our university should not adopt a program that effectively endorses the glorification of wars -- one of which now is in Afghanistan. Some of us consider that imperialism. That word bothered a lot of people.

We think it fits, but surely, the difference of opinion can be tolerated. After all, Malalai Joya, an Afghan woman politician in the current government, considers Canadian troops as unwelcome imperialists, and wants the troops to leave.

We also think that now, when the U of R is rationalizing its budget, when tuition fees are going up, following the recent provincial budget, when First Nations University is fighting for its financial life against an indifferent federal government -- surely, now, we can argue that all of our students are worthy of funding.

One of our concerns with the language of "Project Hero" is that such language normalizes militarism, and shuts down democratic and academic space for discussion. Our experience proves us right.

Joyce Green and Darlene Juschka are professors at the University of Regina; Green in political science and Juschka in women and gender studies, and religious studies.

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