- Professor of History, Saint Xavier University
- Created a national controversy by attacking an Air Force Academy Cadet as a “baby killer”
- Member of Historians Against The War
- Inspired by his mentor, Professor Howard Zinn
Peter Kirstein is a professor of history at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Illinois. His academic website features his “teaching philosophy,” which includes these edicts:
- “Teaching is a moral act. It is NOT a dispassionate, neutral pursuit of ‘truth.’ It is advocacy and interpretation.”
- “Teach peace, freedom, diversity and challenge American exceptionalism on every front.”
- “Move beyond the academic concentration camp of one’s ‘discipline’…”
Informing students that “[t]he CIA is a terrorist organization,” Kirstein's website recommends that “the agency should be abolished and its $30+ billion budget used to buttress Social Security and feed the starving poor in America!!” [emphasis in original].
The accent on advocacy is on prominent display in Kirstein’s courses at Saint Xavier. For instance, his introductory class “United States History to 1877” centers on the “European invasion of America,” while his follow-up course, “United States History Since 1877,” engages with the “[t]hemes of war, racism, civil rights, and economic issues” through the prism of a “non-elite, multicultural social history” and unaccountably ends its survey with the Vietnam War.
Vietnam is also the subject of another Kirstein class, “Vietnam and America.” Of particular concern to the course is the war’s “impact on domestic protest and peace movements.” In yet another course, “Socialism and Capitalism,” Kirstein invites students to ponder the “socialist alternatives” to “unregulated” free-market capitalism.
Professor Kirstein sparked a national controversy after receiving the following e-mail in late October 2002 from an Air Force Academy cadet:
Dear Sir or Ma’am,
The Air Force Academy is going to be having our annual Academy Assembly. This is a forum for mainly but not only Political Science majors, discussing very important issues dealing with politics. Right now we are in the planning stage for advertising and we would appreciate your help in the follow [sic] areas.
Do you know of or have methods or ways for interschool advertising and or communications? What would be the best way for us to advertise at your school whether it is sending you the fliers and you making copies or by perhaps putting an advertisement in your local publication? We would appreciate your input and the cost of what your recommend. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Cadet Robert Kurpiel
On October 31, 2002, Kirstein sent this e-mail reply to Cadet Kurpiel:
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 [sic].
No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries without AAA [Anti-Aircraft Artillery], 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
When Kirstein’s letter became public, it became the subject of radio and television talk shows and Internet chatter. The History News Network reported the flap in a Nov. 17, 2002 article titled, “The Historian Who Denounced the Military for ‘Baby-Killing’ Tactics.” In the debate that followed, Kirstein provided further insight into his beliefs. “One of the great achievements of Communism, rarely recognized in the West,” he wrote, “is its relatively successful containment of American power from the early 1950s through the demise of the Soviet state in 1991." America’s rejection of the World Court, he explained, was because of its “concern that its senior-national leadership might be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
While conceding that he may have committed an indiscretion in his e-mail to the cadet, Kirstein escalated his attack on his country and its military: “Vietnam was a disgrace, a war crime and an event far worse than the crimes of President Saddam Hussein. ... I welcome the controversy that I have caused and I am in this for the duration. I will not be silenced or intimidated by talk shows, Wall Street Journal editorials, Internet campaigns to destroy me and take away my livelihood, or pressure from militants who play the New McCarthyism game of patriotism and blind allegiance to an immoral foreign policy.”
In a 2003 talk sponsored by the Center for Educational Practice, Kirstein urged his fellow educators to follow his example and condemn the American military. “The militarization of American society and its incessant military crusades," he said, "pose a greater threat to our freedoms than [do] the putative enemies that we slaughter on the battlefield or even worse in their homes or hospitals in distant lands.”
In 2005, Kirstein’s academic website commemorated “Vietnam Liberated 30 Years Ago: April 30, 1975,” ignoring the reality that Vietnam is still a Communist police state. The website also features a shrine to Karl Marx, with Kirstein proudly posing at Marx’s gravesite and a link to a speech by Fidel Castro, one of Marx’s last surviving dictator disciples, “History Will Absolve Me.”
Of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kirstein has claimed that “American motives were not self-defense but dreams of hegemony: namely the control of oil, a permanent military force that could virtually eliminate any geostrategic competition in the Gulf and an encirclement and ultimate invasion of Iran.” Kirstein hastened to add that even if Saddam Hussein had been in possession of illicit weapons of mass destruction, this would not have justified his ouster since both the United States and Israel had nuclear weapons arsenals.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Army’s 2003 entry into Baghdad, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News published comments by several American radicals, including Professor Kirstein who said: “Images remain. The image of the American flag being draped over a statue of Saddam Hussein as the invaders conquered Baghdad. The Oil Ministry alone being guarded as vandals stole precious artifacts from Baghdad museums and other facilities. Innocent Muslims being whisked away in chains to Guantanamo Bay. The president of the United States referring to non-white, non-Western nations as an axis of evil…”
Professor Kirstein, whose mentor is Howard Zinn, is a member of Historians Against the War. Kirstein regards the United States as “the leading terrorist and criminal nation in the world today.”
This profile is adapted from Mike Bauer's profile in David Horowitz's book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America