Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chapter 8 - Battle And Retreat: Part 4 - Used To Be A Horseman

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.

Since the start of the war only four months before, Korzybski had remained pretty much in constant motion. Shifting from place to place, locations blurred. Time distorted, days passing like hours and hours like days. August 1914 already seemed like the distant past. In the field, though not for the most part directly involved in combat, he usually worked under artillery bombardment. And he had seen up-close the results of artillery, rifle, and machine gun fire. Once while walking in a forest, he had stepped through a pile of leaves and onto something soft—parts of a decaying, unburied human body that he then had to scrape off his boots. For long periods of time he had to get by with very little sleep. He often had no food since, when traveling as a representative of his special headquarters unit, he was not attached to a regular army kitchen. Once while getting chauffeured in a dilapidated car to a new location, he and his driver saw a big piece of black bread, probably dropped from a field kitchen wagon, lying on the road in a muddy hole: "We stopped the car, retrieved that muddy loaf of bread, and began to eat it.”(9)

Somewhere on the Eastern Front, probably early 1915

After the fall of Lodz, Alfred’s nearby family estate came under German control. His mother by this time had moved to her place in Warsaw. So she was safe. But he didn’t know when he would see Rudnik again. Probably not long afterwards (he later had trouble remembering the exact time or location of the incident), Alfred found himself in the middle of a pitched battle. His horse, a beloved white Arabian bred at Rudnik, got shot during a barrage of gunfire. The Arabian fell on Alfred, crushing his pelvis and severely dislocating his left hip. The horse died and Alfred somehow managed to pull himself from underneath and crawl away. (10) Instead of reporting to a hospital, he stayed at the front working, managing to walk—although doubled up in pain—by using his sword as a crutch. A couple of days later, he happened to meet a general, a physician from the medical corps. The general took one look at the hobbling, bent-over Alfred and asked him, “What is wrong with you?” Korzybski replied, “Your Excellency, there is nothing wrong with me.” General: “Go to the hospital.” Korzybski: “I’m sorry, your Excellency, but I cannot do that. I have work to do.” General: “Go to the hospital. Those are orders.” Korzybski: “Yes, sir.” So Alfred got himself to the hospital. (11)

His memory of what happened there remained cloudy. He wasn’t even sure where the hospital was located. He remembered getting tied down to a surgical table and then being put under with chloroform or ether. He was later told that some screws were put into his leg and pelvis. He was put into a cast from his leg to his chest. It all seemed like a daze, except for the pain:
The only thing I [clearly] remember in the hospital [is] that once the pain was so acute—I am not a suicidal type at all—but the pain was [so] extremely acute that I decided to suicide, to kill myself. Couldn’t stand it any longer. I preferred to die than to suffer so much. The point was that I didn’t have the strength to get up to get at the gun. So the result was that I didn’t shoot myself, but just endured the pain. (12)

After he left the hospital (perhaps a month or two later), he found that he had a more or less permanent stiffness in his joints. For the rest of his life he tended to limp and within a few years regularly used a cane as well as a shoe lift extension on the left side. (That leg became shortened after the hip injury.) In later life he preferred sitting on a high, firm chair. His sciatic nerve had also somehow gotten injured and he had a predisposition towards sciatica for the remainder of his life.

Immediately after leaving the hospital, he became most aware of one fact: he could no longer jump onto a horse. He had to be lifted. This didn’t impede his military duties since by this time (the spring of 1915) his work required little time on horseback. The fact remained: Alfred could no longer get onto a horse or ride one with any ease. He had ridden and trained horses since childhood. He loved those animals. Over the course of the next year, he came to a poignant realization: his life as a horseman was over. Years later, in 1948, on a biographical form he filled out for the 8th Edition of American Men of Science, he wrote under Hobbies (along with “Electric, Mechanical Tools”): “Horse Training”, years: “1890–1916”. For “Degree of Skill” he marked an “x” under “Excellent” and wrote in the box, “Used to be”.(13)

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. 
9. Korzybski 1947, p. 125. 

10. Ibid., p. 125; “Artist and war hero wedded in Washington”. The Philadelphia Record, Feb. 8, 1919. IGS Archives. 

11. Korzybski 1947, pp. 125-126.

12. Ibid., p. 127. 

13. AK - 1948 Biographical Form for the 8th Edition of American Men of Science. IGS Archives.

No comments: