Monday, August 4, 2014

Chapter 12 - "Buy Liberty Bonds And Work Like Hell.": Part 3 - "Poland Is Not A Piano."

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.

His work with Gasiorowski completed, Korzybski decided to enlist in the French-Polish Army. Despite his tremendous energy, he was not considered fit for service at the front. In April, he received a blue uniform (the French colors), the title of Captain (although he was technically a civilian), and an assignment to head the recruiting office in Toronto.(3)

The North American training camp for “The Polish Army in France” was located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The pool of potential recruits consisted of Polish immigrants who were not Canadian or U.S. citizens or who had not already declared their intent to become citizens. As resident aliens, they were not subject to serve in either the Canadian or U.S. Armies and were permitted to sign up with the Polish-French force. Recruiting in Canada had been poor and it was hoped Korzybski might be able to produce some results.

In Toronto, Korzybski had a small staff and a limited budget from which he had to pay salaries, travel expenses, etc. When he wasn't in the office, he traveled throughout the city and province, speaking to church groups, union meetings, etc., where Polish immigrants gathered. Since Ontario had no Polish language newspapers, he also made contacts with the English language papers, writing press releases and generally trying to keep recruiting office activities in the public eye. It didn't take him long to realize the main recruiting obstacle among Poles in Canada.

Many of the immigrant Poles only felt willing to fight—and perhaps die—in France if they knew the Polish Army existed there as an autonomous entity equal to its French and British allies. This was not the case. After almost a year of existence, the Polish Army in France by May 1918 still functioned as a unit of the French Army. This situation seemed as unacceptable to Korzybski as it did to the Poles he was supposed to recruit. They felt that the French and British were simply exploiting Polish national sentiments for their own purposes—so Poles could serve as cannon-fodder for them. How could Alfred recruit other Poles when he himself had little confidence that the allies had any interest in the ultimate independence of Poland? Rightly or wrongly, he believed that Paderewski, et al, in setting up the basic terms with the allies, had—for personal aggrandizement— agreed “to sell Polish Blood to the French.”(4) “The Polish were pretty radical, and they simply knew that the Paderewski army was lousy in principle. They knew it and I knew it. I went into the army to make it not rotten.”(5) What to do?

Korzybski felt if he could get Polish community leaders on his side he would have a better chance of getting the rank and file to enlist. In early May he met with Polish leaders in Toronto. He stood in front of the group in his blue officer's uniform and spoke about the war, the necessity of defeating the Germans, etc. Afterwards one of the men asked a question: "Officer, you look like a decent man. How [do] you happen to be in that rotten army?” Korzybski replied:

As you understand, men, I am in uniform, so I am a little bit tied up to be too frank in statements. So I cannot admit that the army is rotten. I cannot speak about that, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume—I don’t admit it, I just assume it—that the army is rotten. What shall you do? Enlist and make it good.(6) 

On May 12, Korzybski presided over a meeting in Toronto at Massey Hall to celebrate the anniversary of the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791, and to raise funds and get recruits for the Polish Army in France. 800 to 1000 people attended the gathering. Alfred presided over the program, which featured a band and a variety of speakers for the Polish cause. Toronto newspapers reported the event:
Captain Korzybski opened the meeting with a vigorous speech in the Polish language. He spoke as a man who had a message to deliver and was aflame with the urgency of it. A man of soldierly bearing and intense enthusiasm; the Captain busied himself about the platform as if he was in the midst of a campaign when every minute counted.(7)  
He referred to the days when there was a Poland free as the [old] days when the hand of the Hohenzollern was unknown, when the elector, Frederick the Great, was an unknown quality, and the legislature of the then famous kingdom of the Sobieskis was as constitutional as any in the world.(8) 
Recruiting Poster for the Polish Army in France,
By W.T. Benda [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By implication, Alfred also acknowledged the negative attitude of many people in the crowd towards the Polish-French Army when he repeated to them, “[E]nlist and make the army good.”(9) Afterwards, he guessed that his honesty here and in the prior meeting with Toronto’s Polish community leadership had some effect on the success of the meeting, which resulted, according to one news account, in two dozen recruits and $800 in contributions for military hospital equipment. But he also didn’t feel entirely surprised when, within a short time, he was recalled from his Toronto post. He later learned British and French authorities had gotten word of his speeches, felt threatened by his honesty, and had exerted some force to have him removed.(10) 

He returned to New York City at the end of May. His chiefs at the Polish Military Commission actually approved of his plain speaking and warmly embraced him. They immediately reassigned him to their office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to become head of recruiting for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Again, with a miniscule budget and small office staff, he began a round of traveling and speaking, as well as managing the office and dealing with the day-to-day business of recruiting. 

Since there were clear stipulations that only non-U.S. citizens could apply for the Polish Army in France, Korzybski had to write letters to various Selective Service Boards for men who didn’t know English. He also had to deal with the problem of enlistees who had deserted from the Polish Army training camp in Ontario. Although he preferred signing up single men with no dependents, some men who enlisted had wives and children or other dependent family. He helped those who needed it to arrange their financial affairs for loved ones in case they didn’t return. He also became involved in fund-raising efforts to support the families of men who would not return. Grim business.

It hindsight, it may be difficult to remember that as the summer of 1918 arrived, the outcome of the war did not seem at all certain. The Germans had launched a major offensive in the spring, which brought them less than 100 miles from Paris. Although their troops were exhausted and their advance was petering out, they were far from defeated. Perhaps out of a sense of desperation, by mid-June the Allies finally decided to recognize the Polish Army as a separate entity. Alfred must have felt some satisfaction when he read the news about the ceremony in France, at which Polish troops under Polish command received a Polish Flag from French authorities, and gave their vow of loyalty to Poland.(11)

Still Alfred remained suspicious of Paderewski and the Polish nationalists he represented. Probably just after the war, during a talk he gave in Washington to some U.S. military officers who wanted to learn about his work in the Russian Army military intelligence, conditions in Russia and Poland, etc., one of the officers asked him, "Is there a possibility that Paderewski will become a Polish king?” Korzybski bristled, “Your Excellency, please remember Poland is not a piano.”(12)

Paderewski at the Royal Albert Hall piano
Despite Korzybski’s success as a recruiter, this attitude did not endear him to the top leadership of the Polish Army, even though his immediate superiors in New York City approved of his performance. At the end of July he was dismissed from his position in Pittsburgh and called back to New York City where he stayed with his friend Sobanski. He was out of the Polish-French Army. The letter of recommendation he received said, “We have found [Korzybski] to have fulfilled his duties with knowledge and zeal to our full satisfaction. He is leaving on his own accord in order to restore his health.”(13) In truth, he had been driving himself hard and did feel the need for some rest.

Not only had he done his best as a military recruiter, but he had made some good friends during his stays in Toronto and Pittsburgh—people like the landscape painter and muralist Leon Dabo. Still in the U.S. Army, Dabo had been to France and had spoken at a rally in Pittsburgh where Alfred also spoke. Korzybski would continue corresponding with Dabo for a number of years. Alfred also became friendly with Pittsburgh civic and business leaders like Judge Joseph Buffington and Taylor Allderdice. Alfred made friends with some of the unrenowned folk of Toronto and Pittsburgh as well. Wherever he went, he could make himself at home with both ‘commoners’ and ‘kings’.

Alfred had some time to think about what he wanted to do next and also when the war ended. The Germans’ advance of the last few months was being reversed. They were retreating from Allied forces. Recently-arrived American troops had joined in the counterattack. In a letter to Allderdice dated July 28, Korzybski wrote that,

The news from the front are truly astonishing, how your boys in such a short time are able to do such a good work, and I think I will not be very mistaken if I say that next spring will see the Allies fighting on the German soil, and finishing this war by taking Berlin.(14)

Likely thinking about job opportunities, Alfred realized he still might want to work in something related to engineering. As already noted, his interests lay more with mechanical engineering and inventions. On stationary and job applications, he took to labeling himself as “Alfred Korzybski, M.E. [Mechanical Engineer]”.

Still, for some time his main focus of interest had been more on human behavior than mechanical devices. His lifelong observing of people, and wondering about what makes them tick, were now supplemented by his wartime experiences. He had pondered a great deal about the sources of the various messes he had witnessed on the Eastern Front, Petawawa, and elsewhere. As in his pre-war ruminations about the state of the sciences, he had become more and more conscious of the ineffectiveness—indeed hopelessness—of so many people’s ways of thinking-reacting.

Korzybski wrote to his friend Sloane Gordon, an American journalist he had met while still in Poland. Gordon, back in the U.S., worked for the Wheeler Newspaper Syndicate. Alfred requested any advice or leads Gordon might have about jobs that could make use of his knowledge of human behavior. He felt an intelligence or propaganda job would still allow him to contribute to Allied victory.

I feel you are the right man to put me on the right road. As you know I have two specialties, Law and Mechanical Engineering, but to say the truth I like better to utilize my knowledge of Psychology and Languages rather than Engineering, and feel sure that these capacities are most needed nowadays. …Psychology is a very important factor to win this war in the cheapest way and this is why I think this would be the most efficient way to serve the common cause. …(15)

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. 
3. Letter from Polish Military Commission to "To Whom It May Concern". AKDA 5.122, 32.257. 

4. Korzybski 1947, p. 178.

5. Ibid., p. 180. 

6. Ibid.

7. "Polish Legion Seeking Men". The Globe (Toronto), 5/13/1918. AKDA 1.10.

8. "Poles Determined To Say In War". The World (Toronto), 5/13/1918. AKDA 1.12 

9. Korzybski 1947, p. 181.

10. Ibid., p. 182. 

11. "Polish Legion Receives Flag From Allies". 6/19/1918. AKDA 1.19; "White Eagle of Poland Again In Thick of Fray" by Walter Duranty, New York Times, 6/23/1918. AKDA 37.383 

12. Korzybski 1947, p. 190.

13. Letter from Polish Military Commission to Whom It May Concern", 8/5/1918. AKDA 5.122.

14. AK to Taylor Allderdice, 7/28/1918. AKDA 34.519. 

15. AK to Sloane Gordon, AKDA 34.514. 

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