Hateful Letters to a Soldier - From a Leftist Professor
By: peter kerstein / Letters from a Leftist Professor
Monday, November 11, 2002

"...It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."

Last week I got a message containing an email exchange between an Air Force Academy cadet and a professor who responded very rudely to a polite request for information. I didn't run it because I couldn't verify it and the professor's response seemed so stereotypically rude and anti-military that I wasn't entirely sure it was real.

The Air Force Academy has a program called The Academy Assembly. An Air Force Academy cadet named Robert Kurpiel sent an e-mail to which ended up in the hands of Peter Kirstein, Professor of History at Saint Xavier University.

Here is the text of that e-mail:

Dear Sir or Ma'am
The Air Force Academy is going to be having our annual Academy Assembly. This is a forum for mainly but not only Political Science majors, discussing very important issues dealing with politics.  Right now we are in the planning stage for advertising and we would appreciate your help in the follow (sic) areas. Do you know of or have methods or ways for interschool advertising and or communications? What would be the best way for us to advertise at your school whether it is sending you the fliers and you making copies or by perhaps putting an advertisement in your local publication? We would appreciate your input and the cost of what your recommend. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Very Respectfully,
Cadet Robert Kurpiel

Here is the response from Professor Kirstein:

From: Peter Kirstein
Sent: Thursday, October 31, 2002 1:46 PM
To: Kurpiel Robert C4C CS26
Subject: Re: Academy Assembly
You are a disgrace to this country and I am furious you would even think I would support you and your aggressive baby killing tactics of collateral damage. Help you recruit. Who, top guns to reign death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world? Are you serious sir? Resign your commission and serve your country with honour.

No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries with AAA, without possibility of retaliation. You are worse than the snipers. You are imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us.  September 11 can be blamed in part for what you and your cohorts have done to Palestinians, the VC, the Serbs, a retreating army at Basra.
You are unworthy of my support.
Peter N. Kirstein
Professor of History
Saint Xavier University

The Air Force Academy stepped in and tried to calm the situation. Here is a letter from the Director of the Academy Assembly.

Subject: An Open Letter from the Academy Assembly
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There has been considerable attention given to an e-mail received by a Fourth Class Cadet here at the United States Air Force Academy from Professor Peter N. Kirstein of Saint Xavier University. Dr Kirstein's e-mail was a response to an e-mail he had received concerning the Academy Assembly.

The Academy Assembly is a forum to promote academic discussion of important issues of our day and to allow the student delegates from all over the North America to draft a report that is widely disseminated. This year our theme is America's Challenges in an Unstable World: Balancing Security with Liberty. I am pleased to say that a "cyber-episode" which started poorly has evolved into a more professional and academic discussion.

Please find below a letter of apology from Dr Kirstein which I received this morning, accompanied by a phone call. I have drafted this message in response to his correspondence and with an advance copy to Dr. Kirstein.

On behalf of the Academy Assembly I accept this apology in the same sincere manner in which it was given. Furthermore, I offer my own apology to Dr Kirstein for the way his original message, which was intended as private communication, was spread throughout the Air Force Academy and beyond. Since that e-mail was forwarded with such great vigor to many individuals both within and outside the Air Force Academy I would ask that you, the reader of this letter, please forward this e-mail to anyone to whom you sent the original message.

Two results of this are obvious and I want to share them with you. The first is that through well considered words and messages a situation that was initially highly inflammatory has become one in which diverse ideas can be compared and discussed; this is the essence of the Academy Assembly. Second, though emotions have run understandably high throughout the USAFA Cadet Wing in response to this e-mail, replies to this e-mail from our cadets have been, almost without exception, marked by great maturity and professionalism. I was presented nearly forty proposed responses to the original e-mail from cadets, but the one that best encapsulates the opinion of the cadet wing is a quote from their book, Contrails, which serves as not only a statement for others, but an admonition for themselves.

"It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."
~Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, Sergeant, USMC

I would dare to add one thought to the above quote; that we in the military, as servants of the public, must carefully guard and cherish our relationship with the civilian community. We must always remain open and responsive to legitimate criticism that is presented in a spirit of willingness to improve the forces that guard our country and make them an institution that all Americans can take pride in. I am pleased to say that this discussion, of which many of you only saw the first portion, has moved towards that high plain.
Respectfully yours,
Captain Jim Borders
USAFA Director,
Academy Assembly Instructor
Political Science

And, here is the apology written by the Professor.

Dear Captain Borders,
I have expressed to Cadet Kurpiel my regrets over what I communicated to him in my e-mail. I did not mean to impugn his character. I am sure he is of the highest character. I should have written him in a more thoughtful and contemplative manner. As one who believes in non-violence and the avoidance of conflict, I could have been more circumspect and creative in my communication with him.

Cadet Kurpiel has sent me several generous, thoughtful and impressive e-mails. He has also expressed "apologies" for the unwarranted national distribution of a private e-mail correspondence which has caused me and others to receive 100s of e-mail messages. I hope this update on my response and the cadet's kind communication will serve to inform the public that this issue has been resolved with dignity and honour between myself and Cadet Kurpiel.
I remain respectfully yours,
Peter N. Kirstein
Professor of History Saint Xavier University