Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 5 - Incident at a Train Station

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.

By January 1917, the ‘prophecy’ Korzybski had engraved on the ash tray seemed as fanciful as fairy-dust. The war, in its third year, seemed to have no end in sight. Both fronts in Europe saw little overall movement of the entrenched sides.(12) Inside Russia there were lines for bread and signs of open revolt. Devastated Poland now had German overlords. The grim situation did nothing to change Alfred’s conviction that he had chosen the right side to fight for. It had become clear—even for Poles who had fought on the German or  Austrian side—a victory for the Central Powers would mean the end of any hope for Polish independence.

The Russian Imperial Artillery Commission completed its work at Petawawa in the first week of February. Alfred never knew exactly why. Probably, the contract with Canadian Car and Foundry had ended. At any rate, he no longer had a job at the proving ground. The Artillery Commission retained him a bit longer in order to supervise the packing and loading of the field guns and remaining ammunition onto railway cars. After he shipped them out of Petawawa, he packed up his own belongings and went to Ottawa, where he was staying with a friend. He had sent the ammunition—including high explosive shells and gun powder—to the Eddystone Ammunition Company in Pennsylvania. The Russian guns, loaded in two open cars, went to Ogdensberg, New York, where Alfred met them and arranged for the next step of their transport to Weehauken, New Jersey, for transfer to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. By the end of the month, he had handed over the guns to the representative from Aberdeen, and returned to Ottawa.

He no longer worked for the Russian Artillery Commission. Over the previous year he had written letters trying to find the location of the Body Guard Heavy Artillery, still holding some possibility of joining them. But he heard nothing. He didn’t know what he would do next.

During this period, an incident happened one night at the Ottawa train station. Korzybski, probably on his way to Ogdensberg to deal with the Russian guns, happened to meet two Canadian officers, Lieutenant Consitt and Captain Bothwell, whom he knew from Petawawa. They were in the company of a Captain Maloney, whom they introduced to Korzybski. What happened is not exactly clear but the following day, Korzybski sent a letter to Lieutenant Consitt.:
Dear Sir, 
Wednesday 14th February at 11-45 pm. at the central station in Ottawa I made through you and Captain Bothwell the acquaintance of an officer whose name I do not remember. The conduct of the said officer toward me was perfectly insolent, as you are the witness. Not  wishing to make trouble in a public place, I kept still for the few minutes to the train, but was decided to ask satisfaction. Therefore I invite very kindly you and Capt. Bothwell to be my seconds, this is friends, and challenge the said officer in my name to fight a duel. I accept all conditions fixed by you and Capt. B. Sword or pistol are without difference to me, for pistol I suggest 10-15 yards. Believing Sir, that my invitation you will honor me by accepting my invitation, I remain very truly yours. Formerly of the Imperial Body Guard Heavy Artillery, now officer of R. I. Art. Com. In N. Am. 15 February 1917. (13)
"The Code Of Honor--A Duel In The Bois De Boulogne, Near Paris"
 (published 9 January 1875)
By G. Durand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

They all wanted to avoid a duel and Maloney wrote a letter of apology. Alfred wrote back as soon as he received it, “Dear Friend. …I am glad to learn that you did not intentionally hurt my feelings. Therefore I am pleased to accept your apology and also hope to meet you again under more favorable circumstances. …”(14) Later in life, he sometimes received petty, unwarranted, even insulting criticism—which he sometimes responded to. However, after this episode, as far as I know, he never challenged anyone to a duel again.

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. 
12. On the Eastern Front, a Russian offensive the previous March at Lake Narotch in Lithuania had failed miserably at the cost of huge casualties. In the summer of 1916, around the time of Alfred’s party, General Brusilov had masterfully managed a Russian offensive in Galicia , where his forces made a significant breakthrough into Austrian territory. However, with tremendous losses on both sides and severe shortages of supplies, Brusilov couldn’t sustain the campaign. 

13. AK to Lt. Consitt, 2/15/17. AKDA 32.19. 

14. AK to Capt. Maloney, 2/22/1917. AKDA 32.15.

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