Fourth Year Anniversary: Kirstein Antiwar E-mail to former Cadet Robert Kurpiel

Four years ago today I received an  email from then Cadet Robert Kurpiel of the Air Force Academy. It was addressed to Dear Sir/Ma’am and was basically Spam that announced an event at the academy. It also solicited faculty promotion of the Academy Assembly event including financial incentives for student newspaper advertising. 

My e-mail response precipitated an international condemnation which led to my suspension and reprimand after initially being informed no such sanctions were contemplated due to my “constitutional rights.” I will be posting never released, unabridged e-mail correspondence initiated by Richard Yanikoski, former president of St Xavier University, in 2005 and 2006. I have waited a year to do this and will probably publish them around Veterans Day, November 11: the day I was suspended and removed from the classroom: The aforementioned correspondence deals directly with the propriety of such sanctions.

It is essential that academic freedom be defended and that those of us—Ward Churchill, Richard Berthold, Nicholas De Genova—who become public figures for unpopular, antiwar speech have both constitutional and academic freedom rights to anger and to provoke significant, elite publics. Our nation must defend and honour academicians who suggest a radical politics, who denounce the empire, who refuse to be cowed into subservience and silence as the battles rage and the babies and other innocents perish. Not to do so would be to surrender one’s humanity and frankly one’s obligation of citizenship. No job, no academic position is so valuable to me that I would engage in self-censorship or the violation of my moral code and principles. I concede I have made errors but I will not concede to anyone the right to suppress, bully or cajole me into silence with reprimands, public denunciations of my character and political inquisitions in the name of civility and good manners.

Now to parse the e-mail sentence by sentence and evaluate it with the advantage of four years of reflection. I have not engaged in this exercise previously and construe it as a constructive “anniversary” exercise. I responded with this email on October 31, 2002. I omitted my signature and added numbered sentences to facilitate the quadrennial assessment below:1) 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. 2) Help you recruit? Who, top guns to rain death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world? 3) Are you serious sir? Resign your commission and serve your country with honour. 4) No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries without AAA, without possibility of retaliation. 5) You are worse than the snipers. 6) You are imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us. 7) September 11 can be blamed in part for what you and your cohorts have done to the Palestinians, the VC, the Serbs, a retreating army at Basra.8) You are unworthy of my support. 

1) I should have not called him a “disgrace.” My fury at being solicited is reasonable and just. My accusation of “aggressive baby killing tactics of collateral damage” was the most controversial statement of my career and I believe was the fulcrum that led to my suspension. I stand by that charge and have defended it with lectures on college campuses throughout the United States. I believe U.S. military tactics are obscene, frequently engage in wanton destruction beyond military necessity and their destruction of innocents, such as babies, are dismissed with the monstrously understated and dehumanising term of “collateral damage.” The military uses such patois to shroud and deny their own actions and the horrors perpetrated during war. Over 600,000 Iraqis have died since the March 19, 2003 invasion and many of these casualties have been non-combatants including children killed in a ruthless and barbaric manner by American military personnel.

2) The cadet was not asking me to recruit directly students or applicants to the academy but certainly wanted me to engage political science students to attend an “Academy Assembly” at the Colorado Springs institution. “Top Guns” are navy pilots such as the folks at the infamous sex orgy Tailhook convention a few years ago but I used that term in a generic manner to refer to the slick, macho culture, Tom Cruise, superpersons who pilot machines and deploy in a cowardly and feckless manner missiles and bombs on unsuspecting “targets” below. I do not think it honourable to train someone to fly an aeroplane or helicopter to kill people. It is barbaric and inhumane to train humans to apply technology in this manner.

3) I recognized when I was writing the e-mail that cadets were not yet commissioned officers and that was an obvious error. Only upon graduation are they commissioned as lieutenants in the air force. The statement “serve your country with honour” was robust and harsh but I believe that killing is dishonourable, that military service is not the most appropriate form of patriotic service and that wars, particularly America’s wars, do “dishonour” a nation and those who wage it. For those who believe military service is honourable, and I concede the other side of the argument is worthy of debate, they should realistically assess the carnage and devastation that emanates from America’s war crimes. I am entitled to my opinion recognizing that military personnel may be guided by a sense of duty, but the act of killing and training to kill is so destructive of civilisation that we must stop the unquestioned glorification of military service.

4) I stand by that and I have a right as a military veteran, United States Army Reserves, and as an American to voice that opinion. Now they use pilotless “Predators,” that are remotely controlled by some officer thousands of miles away in the United States, to bomb “high-value targets” etc. Is a suicide bomber, who knows he or she will die, any less honourable than Americans in a aeroplane that flies beyond anti-aircraft range and drops its ordinance, probably in an indiscriminate manner, on humans below? I do not think it courageous for pilots to engage in these actions, although personally they may have attributes that are not cowardly or pusillanimous.

5) This was in reference to the D.C. snipers John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo who terrorized the D.C. area for some three weeks in October 2002. They killed ten people and one recently admitted to additional killings. My statement in terms of numbers was accurate. So many people are killed in war that the comparison is valid. Also as we have seen in Iraq, marines and army personnel have killed innocent Iraqis, invaded their homes, raped and murdered women, tortured to death Iraqis in prisons. No not all American military personnel behave in this manner but I do stand by this statement in terms of quantity and specific actions in which hundreds of thousands of non-combatants have been killed in Iraq.

6) I am proud of that observation and how accurate it was in light of the war that was to come. We are the most reviled and least admired nation on Earth right now. Many polls verify this decline in prestige from Europe to Asia.

7) Without presenting an exposition on each of the four examples, since I have written on this elsewhere, there is no doubt that the September 11 attacks were not mere purposeless terrorism but retaliation  in an ongoing war between the U.S. and Islam. The issue of stateless Palestinians, murderous sanctions then imposed on Iraq, the stationing of American forces in Saudi Arabia and the biased, almost obsequious support of Israel were factors that led to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. The empire strikes back and America fails to see its own culpabilities and sins as it describes its adversaries as “terrorists” without recognizing its own contribution to international savagery and anarchy with our “terrorist” wars and lust for violence and military conquest.

8) I should not have implied that the cadet personally was “unworthy.” I meant that my participating in a recruiting exercise for the Air Force Academy at a time when war with Iraq was becoming increasingly likely, was unworthy of my time and effort. I cannot and will not retract that sentiment. The St Xavier University chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a report about a year later defending my rights. It appeared on George Mason University’s History News Network.This was a refereed article in Situation Analysis in the United Kingdom that summarised and placed the case in historical perspective.

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