Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 9 - At The Disposal Of The Minister Of War: Part 2 - At The Disposal of the Minister of War

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’s career as a bomb-maker lasted only a short time—until July 4. He had impressed the Grand Duke and other members of the General Staff, not only for his invention (despite their inability to use it) but also because of his work with Terechoff. Korzybski was still looking to help. So by the orders of Grand Duke Nicholas, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, Korzybski was sent to Petrograd (the name of the Russian capital which had recently been changed from “St. Petersburg”) to be “at the disposal of the Minister of War.” Alfred arrived in Petrograd at the end of July. (4) Soon afterwards, he went to the Ministry of War office and was ushered in to see General A. A. Polivinov, recently promoted from Deputy Minister to Minister of War after a scandal involving his predecessor, Sukhomlinov, who was getting blamed for the accumulating war failures.

Polivinov was one of the few people in the Tsarist regime, along with the Grand Duke, whom Korzybski felt any respect for. Men like them, whatever their personal merits, were severely hemmed in by the ineptness and corruption of so many of their subordinates, colleagues, and superiors—along with the extreme inertia of the Tsarist administration, in general, and the dullness of the Tsar on top, more specifically. The resultant Russian inefficiency seemed inevitable and responsible for the debacle on the battlefield. Russian industry, although technically quite capable of providing adequate stocks of shells and other military supplies, had been stopped from doing so by dishonest businessmen, corrupt officials, and inadequate planning. With better leadership, the Russians could at least have held back the Germans from capturing so much of Russian Poland. Korzybski expected that the Grand Duke, unable to adequately replace equipment or men, would soon resign out of tiredness and desperation. The situation indeed looked desperate. The Germans were about to overrun Warsaw. And the Russian Army was retreating.

Having already heard about Korzybski, Polivinov embraced him and asked, “What can I do for you?”(5) Alfred could have chosen any situation he wanted. He wanted to serve at the front. He could no longer run around in a cavalry or infantry unit. But he had a friend serving as an officer in the Bodyguard Heavy Artillery Regiment. So he requested to be put there. He felt he could make a quite adequate artillery officer and asked permission to take the officer's exam at the Artillery Academy: 

Polivinov knew, and he knew that I knew that a complete collapse of the Russian front was in view, this request in a way was suicide, we both knew it. The so very nice old man got very excited, he jumped to his feet and exclaimed “Are you crazy?” I said, “No Excellence but I am cut away by the enemy from my home and property, so I better enlist.” With reluctance he agreed. (6) 

So with an order from the Minister of War, Korzybski went to the Commandant of  the City of Petrograd who took care of such enlistments. Just to forgo potential trouble, Korzybski had paid 50 of his last 100 rubles to a military doctor to get a medical clearance certifying his fitness for service. The Commandant looked through Korzybski's papers and then at Korzybski and refused to take him. Korzybski returned to Polivinov who went to the Tsar himself to obtain an imperial decree for Alfred to join the Regiment. 

With the imperial decree in hand, Alfred spent a good deal of time fruitlessly searching for the Bodyguard Heavy Artillery Regiment supposedly located somewhere in or around Petrograd. He couldn't find it. Meanwhile, the news from the front had not been good. On August 5, within 2 weeks of Alfred’s arrival in Petrograd, the Germans had captured Warsaw  and the Russians were steadily retreating east of the Vistula. The Grand Duke resigned at the end of August. Tsar Nicholas—whom Alfred considered a “half wit”(7)—took over the position of Commander-in-Chief in early September. Hopeless.

Korzybski also felt personally desperate. He had less than 50 rubles left in his pocket, no income, and was wondering how he was going to live. Luckily, one day on a street in Petrograd, he ran into a general whom he had known at the front. The general lent Alfred 100 rubles to tide him over and Alfred, not one to ever beg, gratefully took it. The general also suggested that Alfred, with his engineering background, might be able to get a job in the Russian armaments industry. Alfred began to consider this, and the general said he would keep a lookout for any job possibilities.

All through September and October, Korzybski remained in purgatory in Petrograd while the Russian retreat continued. By the end of September, the Germans had reached Riga, Pinsk, and Baranovichi, the former headquarters of the Russian General Staff. But the Germans had major problems too. They had reached the end of their supply lines. Along with the general destruction of battle, both the Germans and the retreating Russian forces had stripped much of the Polish infrastructure. As Korzybski had unhappily predicted, the German juggernaut could not depend on an undevastated Poland. By October, the Germans and Austrians—stuck in the White Russian and Ukrainian mud—dug into trenches facing the Russian side. Their advance had stopped.

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. The microfilmed copy of Korzybski's 1915 pocket calendar makes it possible to specify the times for his presence there.“Kalendarz”. AKDA 2.27-2.37.

5. Korzybski 1947, pp. 148, 216. 

6. AK to V. Molodoy, Unsent letter, 12/16/1924. AKDA 15.733. 

7. Korzybski 1947, p. 148.

< Part 1      Part 3 >

No comments: