A Debate: Prowar Missouri Vietnam Veterans Assess My “Legacy”

I received several e-mail from an individual who claimed to be a highly decorated Vietnam Veteran and whose support group discussed my 2002 antiwar e-mail to a cadet that had been sent to dozens of professors to recruit students to attend an event at the unruly Air Force Academy. Their e-mail contained the subject “Your Legacy.”

I still receive e-mail from individuals concerning this transformative event. Recently, I heard from Emily, who is in California and married to a marine, who described herself as a “cover girl for Runners World.” She used the recent USS Comfort mission in Haiti to hail the humanitarian mission of the military and to disprove my utter distaste for war and the nation that uses war to advance the interests of its elite ruling classes.


War crimes against children with napalm attacks during Vietnam genocide.

From: Chris Gussman – CEG Services Inc. [mailto:cgussman@hughes.net]
Sent: Tue 2/2/2010 4:10 PM
To: Kirstein, Peter N.
Subject: Your legacy

Mr. Kirstein,

I belong to a 60 member Viet-Nam veterans group that meets once a month for friendship and mutual support. During last night’s meeting, the conversation turned to how we were treated by the American public when we came home in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I commented that fortunately today’s vets were treated much better than vets of my era and several people in the group disagreed. While treated somewhat better, they felt that there were still vicious public people out there who had no respect for the sacrifices the American soldiers make every day. Then your name was mentioned as an example of hurtful people in positions of importance. I was not aware of the Air Force Academy incident but it seemed that I was the only one in our group who didn’t know about it. We talked about it for 1 1/2 hours. In the end we took a vote and I was elected to see if I could contact you and deliver the following message:

While every member of our group served in the military to protect your right to hold any opinion, those rights do not protect you from the scorn of others. To criticize the young man who guards your house is unforgivable. The disrespect and arrogance displayed by your words to that Air Force Cadet help explain why academics are considered to be out of touch with reality. We collectively feel that you should be ashamed of yourself.

Chris Gussman
10439 Reynolds Road
Orrick, MO. 64077-8046
Office: (816) 770-5590
Fax (816) 770-5582
Cell (816) 591-8580


One can debate how much control the US had over the South Vietnamese government but NO debate it was as autocratic as its neighbor to the north above the 17th Parallel.

From: Kirstein, Peter N.
To: Chris Gussman – CEG Services Inc.
Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 5:06 PM
Subject: RE: Your legacy

Hi Chris:

Thank you for contacting me and the respectful if not critical tone. I will return it likewise.

While probably not all that relevant, I did serve in a St Louis unit of the US Army Reserves and trained at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

I am sorry if my actions upset your Vietnam Vet group but I believe I stayed the course in appropriately rejecting war. If you read about the incident that you mention, I did engage in mutual apologies with the Air Force Academy and did have subsequent e-mail with then Cadet Kurpiel. With regard to Vietnam, I was very opposed to that war and believe to this day it was a war crime and act of genocide, knowing that the warrior is not always to be blamed for the war. Vietnam was the single most important event of my life, as it probably was yours, and we will obviously have different perspectives.

I am a native St Louisan but live in Chicago now. I see you are near Kansas City in good ol’ Mizzou country,

Best wishes,



Two to three million Vietnamese killed during the genocide.

Mr. Kirstein,

Thank you for your reply. I admit that I am surprised.

I think you may also be surprised by my small group’s attitude. First, a little more information about the group. We met at the VA hospital in Kansas City between 1968 and 1972. We were all were being treated for injuries sustained in Viet-Nam. Our group of 60 have been awarded 131 Purple Hearts among other medals. I served 3 tours with the USAF between 1964 and 1969. I was injured 3 times (shot twice, hit by missile debris once) and never completely completed any tour (I made it 12 months, 9 months and 11 months). I was awarded 12 medals in addition to 3 Purple Hearts including a Distinguished Flying Cross (which was rarely awarded to an enlisted man).

The part that may surprise you is that, to the man, we agree with your assessment of the war……sort of. We agree that the war was a political exercise and that the war was not fought to win. But war crime and act of genocide? Obviously I don’t agree. To do so would be to brand myself a criminal. I do not believe that I am. I also wonder where your strong opinions were founded. Based on press reports? Were you there? Did you meet the people of South Viet-Nam? Did you see what was going on with your own eyes or did you watch the war on TV. In the almost 3 years that I was there, I met hundreds of South Vietnamese people. Almost all of them went out of their way to thank us or hug us. The people I met wanted us there.

My group’s objection to what you did had to do with an elitist attacking a kid who asked a question having nothing to do with the war. We’re not angry with you because of your anti-war feelings. Hell, we had anti-war feelings as well. We’re angry with you because you were a bully. You apologized because the world figured you out and you were in trouble. I don’t believe your apology was sincere for a moment. You were called out and, when the going got rough, you didn’t have the balls to stand by your convictions. So you apologized. My assessment is that, like most bullies, you are a coward as well.

But, as almost all men who have faced combat, we agree that war is never a good thing. But sometimes it’s what must be done.

And all of us believe that you are a lucky man to have people like Robert Kurpiel protecting you so that you can continue be a talker and a bully without ever having to dirty your hands.

Thank you for your reply,


Epic leader of the Vietminh and North Vietnam: Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Việt Nam Dân Chủ Cộng Hòa) that resisted Japanese, French and American colonialism and in the latter case, incontestable genocide.

Dear Chris:

I do not think I was a bully or a coward but a person of principle who demonstrated great courage given the threats and national attacks on me. I do not think it cowardly to protest war in an email that was a response to spam: he sent it to about 60-70 faculty and I was certainly not obligated to recruit folks for an event there. I was too personal in areas but most of the e-mail was antiwar and I don’t think I have to step back from that. Actually I have written about, spoken about and published articles about the Kurpiel incident. This might be of interest:


Whether you were a criminal or not in Vietnam is not for me to decide. I do think Senator John McCain was certainly and deserved his POW status as long as he was treated in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention which he apparently was not. Generally, a criminal war does not lead to prosecution of field officers or enlisted personnel unless individual acts such as {Lieutenant William} Calley {My Lai act of genocide} are detected.

I do think the war was genocide and if there were justice in the world, there would have been war crime trials with the following defendants prosecuted for war crimes and violation of international humanitarian law: Westy {General William Westmoreland}, Abrams {General Creighton Abrams who replaced Westy}, McNamara {Secretary of Defence Robert  Strange McNamara}, L.B.J. {President Lyndon Baines Johnson}, R.M.N. {President Richard Milhaus Nixon}, Rusk {Secretary of State Dean Rusk under John Kennedy and L.B.J.}, Kissinger {Secretary of State Henry Kissinger under Nixon and President Gerald Ford}.

I don’t think Vietnam Vets deserved parades when they returned, although many got them. I don’t think they were heroes but I do think many were pawns in the game and drafted and should not be blamed for the war. I think it is not easy to condemn a war and celebrate the warrior and maybe that is too bad: but reality.

I suspect your anger toward me is less how I treated a “kid.” It’s not like I ever met him, or spoke to him or that he would cry and break down because of few sentences in an e-mail. He had a much stronger support group that anyone could imagine. No I suspect your anger was the way I assessed the military and this country which is so violent and desirous of war. I have great passions as do you about war and will continue to express them, however, perhaps more artfully.

So good luck and remember it was the government who sent you to war, not the antiwar protesters who wanted the war to end.



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