Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chapter 13 - A Veteran Of The Great War: Part 2 - In Flanders Fields

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.

In the first few months after the armistice, one thing seemed abundantly clear—the war had left things in disarray. Alfred, lover of the mathematical sciences and an engineer, had already started wondering, analyzing, trying to figure out what could be done, not only for himself but for Poland and the larger world. His lifework was on the verge of being born.

Alfred had gotten a Little Leather Library edition of Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads (which included “Danny Deever") and in the back of the book—small enough to fit into his breast pocket—he kept a card printed with John D. McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”.(5) McCrae, a Canadian-army field surgeon, had composed the poem just outside his surgical tent in the rear of an ambulance after the bloody Second Battle of Ypres in war-torn Belgium in the spring of 1915. McCrae had seen many men die and by the time he himself died in early 1918, his poem was already becoming famous. Alfred had likely heard it recited and sung at many Liberty Bond rallys and memorials for the war dead:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie, 
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.      

Alfred had pasted “America’s Answer” by R.W. Lillard, to the back of the card with McCrae’s poem. The last verse of Lillard’s poem, read:
Fear not that ye have died for naught. 
The torch ye threw to us we caught. 
Ten million hands will hold it high, 
and Freedom’s light shall never die!
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught in Flanders Fields! (6) 

Years later, in 1934 Korzybski recalled both poems while writing a letter explaining the origin of his work to the psychiatrist Helen Flanders Dunbar (Dunbar’s middle name had jogged his memory).
Do you remember the answer? ‘Fear not that ye have died for naught. The torch ye threw to us we caught. Ten million hands will hold it high, and Freedom’s light shall never die! We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught in Flanders Fields!’ Did we? ‘that is the question’. Well Gen. Sem. [General Semantics] was born through pain and in pain. It is an illegitimate child of Mars and the World War, and like Oedipus it fulfills an ancient prophecy and kills the father. If I may quote from my ‘Manhood of Humanity’: ‘Is this climax of the pre-war civilization to be passed unnoticed except for the poetry and the manuring of the battlefields, that the "poppies blow" stronger and better fed?...Is the great sacrifice worth analyzining? There can be only one answer—yes. But, if truth be desired, the analysis must be scientific.' This is approximately the birth certificate of Gen. Sem.(7)

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. 
5. See Patterson, Michael Robert. 

6. "Flanders Field and Replies to Flanders Field" at http://www.nbc-links.com/miscellaneous/FlandersField.html (accessed on 10/26/2010) for a number of poems written in response to McCrae's. 

7. AK to H. Flanders Dunbar, 12/4/1934, AKDA 32.940.

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