Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chapter 54 - War Work: Part 2 - Questions of Morale

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S government had set up an Office of Civilian Defense to plan and coordinate federal and local government efforts to mobilize and protect civilians during wartime emergencies. Efforts included local organizations for blackouts, fire brigades, first aid, etc., with strong efforts to get civilian volunteers. The Chicago area office had distributed Block Roster Cards to local residents. Korzybski dutifully filled out his card. The question at the bottom asked for “Day and Hours Available for Civilian Defense Assignment”. Korzybski wrote, “Working on National Morale, unless in case of real emergency, have no time to spare.” 

He had already addressed the issue of morale in an interview he gave to a reporter from The Washington Post, published in that paper two days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Among other things, he pointed out that German propagandists had been using naive, isolationist, and sometimes fascistically-inclined congressmen as outlets for their material, which was getting sent out as mailings to constituents (postage paid by U.S. taxpayers) and published in the Congressional Record. Investigations were underway but the fact that these German propaganda efforts had happened with so little public attention seemed worrisome. The general public and the government needed to wake up to the importance of public attitudes—as the German and Japanese governments certainly had done. He also reviewed his by-now long-repeated view of the need for the U.S. government to employ “a board of eminent psychiatrists and other experts to plan and guide reconstruction of human values now being ravaged by Nazi and other evil influences.” As part of its job, the board could provide factual, expert opinions, not concocted lies, as the basis for counter-propaganda against the Nazis. He felt convinced that behavioral experts would legitimately be able to find Hitler and his minions psychiatrically disturbed. (At about this time Korzybski was recommending Erich Fromm’s newly published book Escape From Freedom for its analysis of “The Psychology of Nazism” and related issues.) The newspaper article concluded,
As a long range measure, Count Korzybski believes it essential to prepare to deal with the effect of the last few decades of war and chaos on the minds of the people of the world.  
“Here is a thing more deadly than any epidemic you can imagine,” he explained. “We set experts to work on sanitary measures, safety measures; we put scientists in laboratories to study cancer and the common cold. We must have no less vision in grappling with the deterioration of values, which, I seriously assure you, concerns the sanity of the whole race.” (4) 
For Korzybski, the role of the news media seemed critical for the more short-range bolstering of public values necessary to win the war. As a somewhat lonely, early proponent of recognizing and doing something about the German and Japanese threats (when that view was not popular), he had long expressed contempt for the editorial policies of The Chicago Tribune. Under the direction of its isolationist and fervently anti-Roosevelt publisher and owner, Colonel Robert J. McCormick, the newspaper had given strong support to the “America First” movement, which became a shelter not only for those with sincere anti-war sentiments but also for Nazi sympathizers.(5)  

Korzybski could feel much better about the The Los Angeles Daily News. Its owner-publisher-editor Manchester Boddy, a founding member of the Los Angeles General Semantics group, had converted the former tabloid paper into a formidable journalistic presence in Los Angeles with a circulation of over a quarter of a million.(6) 

Starting on November 24, 1941, Daily News writer Edwin Green, who had taken several seminars with Korzybski, began producing a weekly column, “General Semantics and Human Affairs ” for the paper. His column ran for over a year until the spring of 1943, when he left Los Angeles on an army assignment. He sat in as a guest at Korzybski’s L.A. weekend seminar; in March, while Alfred was teaching the intensive and doing interviews with students, the two men collaborated on five of Green’s weekly columns in the form of a series of interviews with Korzybski on the general theme of building wartime morale. The first interview, published on March 9, started,
Count Alfred Korzybski, director of the Institute of General Semantics and famous authority on human behavior, considers the daily newspaper “an instrument of tremendous power” for counteracting the effects of enemy propaganda. “Our people do not realize what a magnificent educational weapon their press can be in the battle for a sane world,” said Korzybski. (7)
To put the content of the five interviews in a nutshell, Korzybski contended that improving morale to counter enemy propaganda would require the cooperation of the government, press, and public. Clear and honest factual education could best counter enemy propaganda based on falsification and distortion. This would include conveying an understanding of the neuro-psycho-social mechanisms of behavior and deception being exploited by the enemy, an honest presentation of facts about the enemy (basically gangsters as Korzybski saw them), and a recognition of what the Allied nations were fighting for (in short, democracy against gangsterism).

In the final interview, published on April 6, Korzybski emphasized that Nazi and Japanese psychological warfare had made the term “honest propaganda” seem like an oxymoron. “It therefore becomes necessary to exclude this word ‘propaganda’ from the context of our war effort.” Instead he argued for the “morale building potency of plain facts and figures”—not a surprising suggestion coming from Korzybski. Politicians, journalists, and others needed to consider the effects their communications might have on personal, social and national morale:
The test of a public utterance,...could well be the question: “How will the issue affect the way we get along with one another?”Applying such a test to a great deal of the verbalism being put on the air and into print would serve as a counter-attack against the misleading information and defeatist arguments now actively sabotaging our war effort. (8)
Korzybski’s concern for morale extended to the Allied soldiers now mobilizing to fight on all fronts. He still carried daily reminders of his time on the Eastern Front in the First World War. He wondered about the costs some of his students would undoubtedly bear for their wartime service in this one. He had his Kipling—Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses—close at hand, with the line from “Arithmetic on the Frontier” that he and Mira had written out in the front or end pages of their multiple copies: The flying bullet down the Pass, That whistles clear: “All flesh is grass.” How could these men and women, especially those in combat, best cope with the stresses of those flying bullets and everything else they would experience? Since the First World War, Korzybski had had a vital, personal interest in preventing and dealing with “shell shock”, which would become known as “battle fatigue” and “traumatic neurosis” during this war. From a preventive point-of-view, he had long rubbed-in the importance of minimizing expectations, and he believed those prepared for the possible horrors of their wartime experience would more likely deal adequately with whatever horrors they might actually encounter. During and after the war, Korzybski and some of his students would continue to explore how extensional methods could help people cope with post-traumatic stress problems.

Many of Korzybski’s students would soon be called into military service. I’ll note only a few. Douglas Kelley got commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He would go on to use korzybskian principles and extensional methods in group psychotherapy for psychiatric casualties in the European Theater, publishing a paper on this after the war. Irving Lee would enter the army that summer as a lieutenant in the air corps, stationed at the School of Applied Tactics in Orlando, Florida where he worked developing training aids. Allen Walker Read would be inducted into the army that summer as well, assigned to work in the Military Intelligence Service in New York City. He got an appropriate job for a lexicographer, working on an American Military Definition Dictionary, English-Foreign language dictionaries, and on military phrase books. Harry Weinberg went to war in the Merchant Marine service. As he later wrote, since the seminar he took with Korzybski in December 1940,
...I more or less neglected my study of general semantics until one September morn I found myself aboard an ammunition ship headed for Guadalcanal with a copy of Science and Sanity in my duffel bag. Naturally, since I had been a chemist, the obvious position for me aboard ship was that of chief pot washer and potato peeler. (9)
In the long run, even such apparently mundane and unrelated wartime duties could further work in general semantics. Weinberg’s meditations about seeing the sunrise and on related issues while peeling his daily quota of potatoes, would eventually lead to a paper published after the war, “Some Functional Patterns on the Non-Verbal Level”. The paper led to: Irving Lee offering him a graduate assistantship at Northwestern; an eventual PhD in speech communication; and a new career for Weinberg as an instructor in speech and general semantics at Temple University. He eventually wrote one of the best books ever written on GS, the 1959 Levels of Knowing and Existence, which incorporated parts of his original paper. Other students, like Kelley, were able to make more direct wartime contributions to GS application and research. But on the whole, the war took many of Korzybski’s students out of significant contact with him and pretty much out of the immediate picture in terms of developing his work. But then again, the war disrupted many important things.

Although Korzybski would give six seminars in 1942, the number of students and demand for seminars began to diminish. In 1943, the Institute would hold four seminars and in 1944, just three. With fewer students, the Institute would continue struggling at the edge of financial survival—not so great for Korzybski’s morale. It seems ironic because by this time the impact of his work had begun to register even more thoroughly on public consciousness. The growing recognition probably served as a major factor in bolstering Korzybski despite the wartime difficulties.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
4. “Expose Hitler’s Insanity to German People[,] Authority Urged to Counteract Propaganda[.] Expert on Semantics Says Europeans Have Horror of Such Ills” by Dillard Stokes. Washington Post, 12/9/1941. IGS Archives; AKDA 41.180. 

5. See Avedis (“Arthur”) Derounian’s 1943 book, Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America. New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., pp. 396-39. Derounian wrote under the pseudonym “John Roy Carlson”. 

6. “Two-Man Show”. Time, Monday, Nov. 23, 1942

7. Green-Korzybski Interview articles, AKDA 41.406. 

8. Green-Korzybski Interview articles, AKDA 41.407. 

9. Harry Weinberg 1959, p. xiii.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Chapter 54 - War Work: Part 1 - Introduction

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Korzybski began a three-weekend seminar in Los Angeles on February 14. He had written about the trip to Crane, saying, “I am personally convinced that for nuisance sake Los Angeles will be bombed.”(1) Indeed, he arrived there in time to experience the most remarkable episode of ‘bombing’ on U.S. soil in World War II.

Increasingly affected by his war injuries, traveling had become more bothersome. And although financially the Institute would come out slightly ahead, the considerable expenses and the time away from home made him wonder about the worthwhileness of the trip. But the group of Los Angeles students who organized this weekend series and another intensive in March, had been insistent. (Another group of students in San Francisco had organized a two-weekend seminar in Berkeley to follow in April.) Things seemed to be going well enough, though with the lectures and the personal interviews and whatever other appointments he had, he felt extremely pressed for time—in other words, not so different from his usual slave-driving of self.

In his suite at the Wilshire Arms Hotel, the site of the seminar, Alfred had the parlor that served as his bedroom and office with a fold-up bed in the wall and a table for his desk. The actual bedroom had two beds for Kendig, who accompanied him on the train trip, and Charlotte, who’d be coming out in a few weeks to replace Kendig as his assistant. A dinette and small kitchen added to the comforts of the place. He felt happy to have a small electric heater for his room to supplement the room heat. (He tended to get cramps in his legs if he didn’t stay warm enough and it could get surprisingly chilly in Southern California at this time of year.) He felt grateful that to teach he didn’t have to commute farther than the lecture room in the hotel, since he tended to get breathless—apparently related to his ‘busted gut’, i.e., hernia—when he walked too much or otherwise overexerted.

With a great deal of ongoing Institute business to take care of, Kendig returned to Chicago a few days after Charlotte’s arrival on February 26. Charlotte just missed by a day the ‘Battle of Los Angeles’, which had begun and ended on the morning of February 25.

A few days before, a Japanese submarine had surfaced off the Santa Barbara coast and shelled an oil facility there, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Although only minor damage occurred, Southern California—which had oil depots, airplane factories, and shipping facilities galore—had gone on alert. Then, in the early morning hours of February 25, something or things happened in the sky. Who and how many saw whatever happened does not seem clear. Police had reports of from one to 100 unidentified objects—Japanese aircraft?—flying along the coast from Santa Monica to Long Beach. Sirens blared to signal a blackout. Anti-aircraft batteries began firing (over 1,400 rounds) into the sky at the invaders. The ruckus likely awakened Korzybski in his downtown Los Angeles hotel room. Perhaps he looked outside to see the ‘light’ show as did many people in Los Angeles.

Before the alert was over, five hours later, according to a newspaper account, “Thirty persons, twenty of whom were Japanese, were arrested; two persons were killed in traffic accidents during the blackout and at least two houses were damaged by shells which had failed to explode in the air. Shrapnel which fell like hail in some sections broke windows and caused other minor damage.”(2) Nonetheless, if there had been Japanese planes—if there had been any planes at all—they didn’t seem to have dropped any bombs. 

The Battle of Los Angeles 
No one in authority seemed to know what happened—or rather ‘everyone’ in authority seemed to be saying that different things had happened. While Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War, praised the successful military and civilian defense of Los Angeles, Navy Secretary Frank Knox declared that the whole thing had resulted from “a false alarm”.(3) Korzybski seemed confident, based on reports from one of his students involved in Los Angeles area civil defense, that the Japanese Imperial Air force had made its presence known. But after the war, the Japanese denied any wartime mission at this time to Southern California. One thing seemed clear: a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, people had gotten very nervous. And shooting into the sky at unidentified flying objects, with different authorities giving different stories, was not going to do much to reduce the nervousness or improve wartime morale.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
1. AK to Cornelius Crane. 12/24/1941. IGS Archives. 

 2. “Los Angeles Guns Bark at Air ‘Enemy’”. 2/26/1942, New York Times

3. “West Coast Raided Stimson Concedes. Differing From Knox’s ‘False Alarm’ Statement”. 2/27/1942, New York Times

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Chapter 53 - Question Marks: Part 5 - Debt Paid

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

At the end of November 1941, one of the biggest questions and sources of stress for the last two years—the unfinished business with Cornelius Crane—began to look like it would get resolved. Korzybski had just gotten the registration certificate from the U.S. Copyright Office for the newly published Second Edition of Science and Sanity, when he heard from Crane’s lawyer. He sent a telegram on November 27 to Congdon: “We are making settlement with Crane and must have trustee meeting.”(28) 

On December 11, Korzybski wrote to Francis Dewing, “[W]e are in a business conversation with the lawyer of Crane, and eventually Crane. Nothing is settled yet, but most probably some settlement will happen.”(29) Despite this promising news about Crane, Korzybski confessed to feeling rather “disorganized” due to the events of the previous four days: the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7; the U.S. in turn declared war on Japan, and Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. The country, which had been supporting England for about two years through the Lend Lease program, had officially entered as a combatant nation on the side of Allied forces in World War II. 

Besides the negotiations with Crane, a number of other important items were dealt with at the Trustees meeting of December 19 (which, it turned out, Congdon couldn’t attend). It seemed desirable to have a larger number of board members. A committee was appointed to rewrite the Institute bylaws so this could be done. Kendig’s status was changed as well. She was elected as a regular member of the board (a change from her ex-officio status). Her title of “Executive Secretary” of the Institute was dropped although she would continue as Secretary of the Board of Trustees. In addition to the position she held as Educational Director, the board confirmed a new role for her, Associate Director of the Institute. This certainly fit the responsibilities she already fulfilled. She had become indispensable to Korzybski in running the Institute. 

One of the ways she hoped she could help reduce the burden of work on both her and Korzybski was presented at the board meeting, when she announced the appointment of S. I. Hayakawa, Wendell Johnson, and Irving Lee in their new function as honorary Fellows of the Institute. In October, as a result of an earlier brainstorm of hers, she had written to the three men, inviting each of them to accept a position as an IGS Fellow, intended not only to honor them for their contribution in forwarding GS in their teaching and writing, but to also “enlist their help in planning future developments, especially in the matter of setting and maintaining standards for workers in the discipline.” After the Denver Congress, she and Alfred had begun to feel increasingly bothered by the problem of critiquing papers submitted by some of the “eager and sincere students of GS (often college professors) whose grasp of the discipline and use of language in conveying it were unacceptable.” She hoped that “in getting the Fellows to criticize such writings, we could ‘soften the blows’ for these writers and relieve Alfred of the odium of being considered an inflexible dictator.”(30) The three had accepted, were confirmed as Fellows of the Institute at the board meeting, and met with Kendig during the Holiday seminar for further planning. They decided with her to appoint future Fellows on the basis of unanimous agreement of the existing Fellows and began working at once on some of the writings that had been submitted to the Institute. 

The meeting agenda also listed a report on another plan intended to ease Korzybski’s burden. Some of his students in Chicago had formed a committee to start a “Society for the Study of General Semantics”, which would have as a major purpose promoting “the welfare of the IGS by plans for financial support.” Financial support seemed crucial for many reasons, among them the following. For some time, Mira had been pushing the notion to Alfred that he ought to write a third, more popularly-oriented book. Although he often seemed to pooh-pooh her suggestions, he also often eventually took them up—as he did this suggestion. But he would need time to write it, time which he so far had been unable to find. The next-to-last item listed on the Agenda for discussion at the Trustees meeting, referred to his hoped-for book: “...Discussion of a possible three year plan for financial support of IGS and the need of financial stabilization to facilitate Count Korzybski’s writing his new book in that period.”(31) Financial support and stabilization remained devoutly to be wished for. 

At least the Institute had reached the point of getting out of its deep financial hole. In the last few days of 1941, Crane paid up his outstanding debts, which allowed the Institute to disburse outstanding salaries to Korzybski’s staff and repay Korzybski for the money he had loaned it, which had nearly exhausted his and Mira’s personal savings. In addition, the settlement left sufficient money for the Institute to cover rent until 1944. Korzybski felt grateful and appended a “Special Acknowledgement” to the “Acknowledgements” page specifically thanking Crane. This would appear in all future printings of the Second Edition. 

But the Institute remained far from financially secure. For one thing, seminar attendance would remain an ongoing problem over the next few years since the pool of potential students had suddenly shrunk. Many were entering the armed forces. Even those who remained civilians seemed more likely to have priorities other than coming to an Institute of General Semantics seminar. At least the Institute now had the Second Edition of Science and Sanity to sell. Surely, they would have to do something about fund-raising. The war would make that more of a challenge. 1942 didn’t look like it was going to provide a good time for rest.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
28. AK to C.B. Congdon, 11/27/1941. IGS Archives. 

29. AK to Francis R. Dewing, 12/11/1941. IGS Archives. 

30. “Memorandum on the Institute Fellows”, M. Kendig to Russell Meyers and Marjorie Swanson, Oct. 4, 1956. IGS Archives. 

31. “Notes on Order of Business and Agenda For Trustee Meeting December 19, 1941”, 12/18/1941. IGS Archives.