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:
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.
It was, in fact, genuine, proving that some stereotypes have a basis in fact. Neal Boortz has been on top of it and has the whole story, ending with an apology from Professor Kirstein. All I can say is that the students and faculty of the U.S. Air Force Academy have shown far more maturity and civility than their antimilitarist critic. Again.
Although Professor Kirstein has apologized, I can't help but feel that his initial letter was a more accurate reflection of his feelings than the apology that came out after this letter received widespread attention. And I think that the identification of people like Kirstein with the Democratic Party helps to explain yesterday's election. While I would defend Kirstein's right to spout his insulting twaddle -- just as I defend the right of fraternity members to wear blackface, which I regard as behavior of equivalent intellectual and moral seriousness -- I am embarrassed that the academic profession claims so many people who think like Professor Kirstein, and talk like Professor Kirstein -- and that the academic profession, for the most part, isn't embarrassed about that at all. Indeed, he would have been likely to receive more censure from academics had he impersonated Michael Jackson.
That the email is barely literate, of course, adds insult to injury.
UPDATE: A reader directed me to Kirstein's website, which he characterizes as "almost a parody." The picture of Karl Marx's grave appears to have been removed, but Kirstein does advise fellow professors to "Be prepared for occasional frustration when students don't always respond to your enthusiasim [sic] and dreams." He's also blasting Campus Watch for "McCarthyism," but the fact that Campus Watch has named him an apologist for terrorism seems to do more to enhance than to detract from Campus Watch's credibility.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Nope, the Marx picture is still up -- it's here.
Peter Kirstein's response to the Air Force Academy cadet is completely in keeping with what those who knew him in graduate school would have expected. Peter and I were in the St. Louis University doctoral program at the same time in the late 60's, early 70's. His every day conversation then was filled with ideological cant and he was viewed as a largely harmless if somewhat annoying buffoon. Too bad that the passage of 30 plus years has brought such little intellectual development.
Unfortunately, there is a whole generation of annoying buffoons, hired back when standards were much, much lower, still occuping positions in academia. People like that would be screened out today.