Now Published!: E-mail with Cadet Robert Kurpiel Prior to Veterans Day Suspension

Veterans Day: November 11, 2002 I was improperly and outrageously suspended from teaching and removed from the classroom due to a highly charged antiwar e-mail response (October 31, 2002) to Cadet Robert Kurpiel of the Air Force Academy. Our initial exchange is part of the public record. Until now, there had not been dissemination of additional e-mail correspondence on November 2, 2002.

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All November 2, 2002. Typos were edited. Clarifications made.

Dear Cadet Kurpiel,

Let me say that I should have been more reflective in my response to your e-mail soliciting participation in the Academic Assembly. I do not know you personally and I did not mean to impugn your character. Clearly, more careful and thoughtful language would have been preferable and I concede it should have been forthcoming. I have also communicated this to Captain Jim Borders who expressed some concern over the 100s (later actually 10,000+) of messages I have been receiving. I will also call him Monday to respond to his generous and kind voice mail.

I do believe that you should have directly responded to me and afforded me the opportunity to respond to you prior to sending my response throughout the academy and the US. It was a private communication. I did not make a speech, grant an interview, publish a letter or post a message on the Internet but e-mailed you privately. I think it would have been fair of you to seek my permission before this campaign was directed against me.

I received many impressive and incisive comments from other cadets and I did respond to some of them before I realized that 10-15 messages an hour were too much. I have also received several messages that were extremely insulting and aggressive in tone.

Maybe there is something we can both learn from this. The sender should be more careful in what he or she writes and the recipient should be equally cautious in how that information is communicated.

Several of your classmates have suggested I speak to them. If I were to receive such an invitation, I would be delighted and honoured. I believe I could contribute mightily to relevant discussion on peace and justice issues.

I remain respectfully yours Cadet Kurpiel,

Peter N. Kirstein
Professor of History
Saint Xavier University
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Professor Kirstein,

Sir,

Let me begin by apologizing for the hundreds of emails you received.
I became involved with the Academy Assembly at a very basic level. One of the upperclassmen in my squadron who is a part of the assembly was tasked with contacting literally hundreds of colleges and universities around the country and asked for help. I merely helped him to complete this assignment. I was directed to forward all of the responses I received to the cadet I was helping. From there I am not sure exactly what he does with the responses or who he is responsible to. All that I can tell you is that your response was forwarded by me up the chain of command for the Assembly. It was not my intention to have anybody outside of those who are immediately involved with the Assembly, let alone outside of the Academy to see the correspondence. The leak occurred well after I passed on your letter.

I am sorry that I did not respond to you directly after reading your first reply. I agree that a correspondence between the two of us would have been more fair to both sides involved. I was told by the cadet I was helping that I should not reply and then asked the assistant director who said that it would be handled at a higher level. I can assure you I did not forward your latest letter to anybody but did show a hardcopy to the assistant director and asked permission to respond personally.

Thank you for your apology offered in your last letter. I must admit that I was taken back by the insults waged in the original response. You did not know me and still you proceeded to call me a “baby-killer” [Ed note: As I have indicated nationally for three years, I referred to tactics specifically—“aggressive baby-killing tactics of collateral damage”—and not to a person] and question my willingness to serve this country with honor. But that is now in the past and having said my piece in reference to it I shall refrain from bringing it up again.

You made the statement that we could both learn something from this and I agree. In the future whenever either of us partake in a correspondence more care should be exercised on both ends. I know I will do what I can to personally follow through on letters I receive and I am sure that measures are being implemented to prevent future correspondence from getting beyond those who need to see them. I hope that you also take away from this the need to see what it is that is being said and politely decline or accept rather than getting on a soapbox…(The last paragraphs simply repeats the Academy Assembly business).

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Very Respectfully
Cadet Fourth Class Robert Kurpiel
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Dear Cadet Kurpiel,

I appreciate your response and I do hope you feel free to disseminate my last e-mail and this one should you choose. It might stop the e-blitz.

One of the things that have struck me is the inability of persons and nations to resolve conflicts in a manner without hate, violence and devastation. I am a committed pacifist. I am opposed to all violence even in self-defense. Although I served in the military and my father was an army Captain during World War II in the Aleutians in the Pacific, I abhor the use of force and will fight to my dying breath to prevent that.

Aside from that, it is apparent that you as a Cadet at the Air Force Academy and myself a peace activist at a civilian university, have been able to compromise, to recognize our errors—which we have both conceded—and attempt to resolve this in a polite and professional manner. Perhaps our exchanges could be an object lesson for nations as well. I am proud of what we have accomplished together sir.

I am sure you must be very accomplished to make it to the academy. I hope and expect you will serve the United States with honour and I hope you never have to use force against any people anywhere during your career as an Air Force officer.

I doubt if I would be an honored guest at AFA, but several of the class presidents as I recall but I know several of your classmates did inquire if I could address them. I will ask Captain Borders about that and yet I am hardly anticipating such a venue.

Sincerely and best wishes,

Peter N. Kirstein
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Professor Kirstein,

Sir,

Thank you for letting me know where you are coming from as far as your views as a pacifist. Having served in the military you should know that we are the last ones who want to go to war and stress the importance of political, economic, and informational tactics before resorting to military force.

I concur that we have managed to overcome our differences and handle the rest of this correspondence civilly. Hopefully these past two letters will circulate (Emphasis added) and end the string of e-mails you have been receiving and show how even those with opposite views can cooperate.

I truly hope that you will be able to attend the forum and express your views there where they can be voiced in a setting designed for such a debate.

These last two letters have proven to be a pleasure communicating with you.

Have a nice day.

Sincerely,

Cadet Fourth Class Robert Kurpiel
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Cadet Kurpiel,

Feel free to send me those materials. I will then decide whether I should distribute them to my students.

Best,

Peter N. Kirstein

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