The Magazine

When Professors Attack

They make fools of themselves.

Dec 2, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 12 • By JED BABBIN
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LIKE THE POOR, those who hate the military will always be with us. They believe that America is bad, and that a soldier's only value is as an object of ridicule and scorn. The Vietnam era belonged to them and, even after the war ended, their rants went unanswered. Those of us who wore the uniform in the 1970s were taught restraint, and threatened with courts-martial if we gave in to our instincts to beat the snot out of the ones tossing eggs at us and calling us "baby killers." For the military, the 1960s are over, and those who survived have gone on to real jobs. For the egg-throwers, it's still 1968, and a large number of them have gone on to academia.

The Vietnam era ended suddenly in 1991. America responded to the Gulf War with an overwhelming support for the professional military that had been long obscured from view. America's short-haired epiphany may have come at the instant CNN showed my former Pentagon neighbor, Marine Brigadier General Tom Draude, talking to his troops on the eve of battle. In Tom, everyone saw the smart, tough leader who has always inspired trust and confidence. Tom and his guys were headed to Baghdad at high speed and low altitude when orders stopped them from finishing the job.

Then came 9/11, and the hate-the-military types haven't had it so bad since WWII Hollywood was turning out the "Why We Fight" movies. Instead of Pete Seeger, we have Toby Keith. Instead of frantic civilians catching the last helo out of Saigon, we have Delta Force commandos charging Mazar-i-Sharif on horseback, sitting tall in the saddle. The effeteniks of academia have lived to see the Evil Empire they half-defended fall, and their profanation of the military rejected by everyone except themselves. Their frustration at all this--when it boils over--reveals much about these so-called teachers and the colleges they infest.

On October 8, Air Force Academy cadet Robert Kurpiel sent an e-mail to several college professors seeking support for the academy's annual assembly, which provides a forum for the exchange of political views. His polite request sought advice on publicity for the event and such. One who responded was Professor Peter Kirstein of St. Xavier University in Chicago. His October 31 diatribe has to be read in full and verbatim:

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 [sic] 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.

Kirstein's barely literate response got around by e-mail pretty quickly. I received it from no fewer than three Air Force pals. Then the media picked it up, and Prof. Kirstein got a flood of protests. In response, he issued what he and his college have falsely labeled an apology. In it, Kirstein says only that he regrets impugning Cadet Kurpiel's character, and graciously accepts Kurpiel's apology"for the unwarranted national distribution of a private e-mail correspondence."

About Kirstein's other libels, there is neither apology nor retraction. Kirstein apparently stands by his statements that Air Force cadets are "cowards," "worse than the snipers" (the e-mail was sent a week after the suspected Washington-area killers were caught), and that 9/11 is partly their fault. (Both Prof. Kirstein and his boss, St. Xavier president Dr. Richard Yanikoski, declined my requests to be interviewed for this article.)

After the phony apology, the Wall Street Journal was willing to declare peace, its November 12 editorial concluding that we have a "happy ending." But it cannot end there, because the real issue is not the gratuitous libels or the resulting outrage. The military community is used to shrugging off such petty outbursts. The issue is whether someone like Kirstein--who is completely immersed in his own political bile--is fit to teach at any college.