Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chapter 15 - "Let The Dead Be Heard": Part 1 - Introduction

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.

Alfred’s first opportunity as a speaker came soon after the wedding. At the beginning of February, he gave a speech at Carroll Hall on behalf of the Polish Relief Committee, in which he pleaded for the recognition of Poland and for funds for relief work there.(1) He was also writing an article about the war and the need for a League of Nations, that he hoped to get published in a magazine or newspaper. He completed it in the first part of March and began sending out copies to potential publishers, government officials (including the Secretary of State and President Wilson), and some of his contacts in Canada and the U.S. 

Near the start of “Let the Dead Be Heard” by “a Polish Soldier” he wrote, “The value of life can be only appreciated facing death.”(2) The article never reached print. However, as perhaps his first publicly-offered piece of writing, it seems worth examining here for its revelation of Korzybski’s raw feelings about the war and its aftermath.The article consisted of ten dense pages beginning with a depiction of the suffering of the soldier in the trenches— a “bloody game…a moral hell of despair and hope.” His depiction undoubtedly reflected his own experiences: 
...Before killing an enemy he watched his agony and saw the deep bitterness, not against him, the direct slayer, but against those indirect slayers who created conditions leading to those wholesale crimes. He heard whispers of desperate love to the beloved ones, and the last worry “What will become of them?” Hour after hour he witnessed this hellish agony of hope and despair of life and death, and hour after hour, month after month, year after year, he grew more grim, more old, more nerve-broken, with a sterner and every day more pronounced determination to kill everybody who would stand in his way to kill wars. …

The essay ended with a plea for an effective “League of Nations”. To be effective it would have to involve some kind of world federation limited to “self-governing countries with European culture” (including, presumably, some form of representative government). The body would include an “international general staff, at the disposal of the League...” which would be empowered militarily by member nations to be able to severely punish any instigators of an aggressive war: 
...War is a crime—a nation, including women, voting for a crime, are criminals and they should be tried by this League of Nations, sentenced and punished according to verdict, through economic repression…or even executed through an aeroplane army with thousands of tons of bombs... 
The flying machines will be of commercial value, and a few thousand flyers in each country would be always ready to punish the criminal offender. The only country at present whom no one could trust is Germany, and Germany should be forcibly disarmed and put under definite control for many years, with a league or without.

Sentimentalism in questions concerning a war is a crime, because it encourages war, which is nothing but a crime. Let everybody know what they may expect by starting war, and the ruthless punishment in store for them in mind and on paper, that will stop even the attempt and will be in practice the highest and truest humanitarianism...

The plausibility in 1919 of the nations of the world giving up some of their sovereignty to a world body such as the League of Nations may seem unrealistic in the hindsight of the early 21st Century. But Korzybski genuinely felt such an arrangement would be needed if a future aggressive war by Germany or any other aggressive power was to be prevented. (Clearly his proposal of the need for a viable threat of force against international aggression—not the vision of a pacifist—was subsequently borne out by the failure to prevent the rearmament of Germany or to punish the aggressions of Japan. Twenty years later, a second round of world war would begin.)

The middle sections of the essay included comments about war profiteering, the various nations involved in the war, the causes of the Russian Revolution, the spirit of Poland, the improvement of the masses, and other topics. Its final lines alluded to “In Flanders Fields”:
...Justice is what the masses are crying for today. Then those things will be understood and done, those millions of dead will be honored as they deserve to be, by a living “monument of a better world.” “If ye break faith with us who have died, we shall not sleep”, they whisper. 

Alfred received some polite letters of response to his “interesting” article, including a reply from the League to Enforce the Peace. Former President Taft, who headed the organization, read the article and had the director of its speakers’ bureau write a letter inviting Alfred to apply to become a speaker for the group.(3) The League to Enforce Peace may have provided the original inspiration for Woodrow Wilson’s promotion of the League of Nations. Founded in 1915, it had pushed for an international association of states as well as an international court and conflict mediation.(4)  Alfred filled out their questionnaire and received a speaker’s card but decided not to work for them since he was beginning to have doubts about the people and purpose behind the organization.(5)  News from the Paris Peace Conference was already indicating that the other Allied powers were lining up to water down Wilson’s grand vision of the League. In the U.S., opposition in Congress to the Peace Treaty—especially to U.S. membership in the League of Nations—had already begun to develop. Alfred would look for some other way to help the cause of Poland.

Meanwhile, Mira and Alfred did not spend all of their time working. In the first few months of their marriage they had time to attend a number of posh gatherings in Washington, such as the Mardi Gras costume charity ball, and a “paper chase” and “hunt supper” at the Washington Riding and Hunt Club. Mira’s work also had some social requirements, appearances by her and Alfred at exhibits of her work, such as the one she had in early April at the home of Madame Zaldiver, the wife of the retiring minister of Salvador.

Probably some time in late March or early April, Alfred and Mira were able to get away to visit Colonel George Patton and his wife at the army base at Fort Meade, Maryland. Patton had spent the war in France where he had served, first as an aide to General Pershing and then as organizer of the American Tank School and commander of one of the first existing tank brigades of the U.S. Army before getting badly wounded. He spent the last days of the war in a military hospital and had just returned to the U.S. in March. Mira may have met Mrs. Patton—a formidable horsewoman—at the Washington Riding Club. Around this time she painted the Pattons’ portraits. Mira and Alfred were invited out to Fort Meade, where they played among the tanks with the Pattons. As fellow cavalry men and swordsmen (Patton had written an army manual on saber fighting), Alfred and Colonel Patton undoubtedly had a lot to talk about comparing notes about their experiences on the Eastern and Western fronts. Alfred admired Patton’s military prowess and later followed his World War II career with great interest.
Alfred & Mira (wearing hats) Playing With The Pattons,
1919 - Ft. Meade, Maryland
At the end of March, something else happened that would have great importance for Alfred—an expedition led by British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington left for the tropics. On May 29, Eddington and his team on Principe island, off the coast of West Africa, photographed starlight passing near the sun during a total solar eclipse. They found that the light was indeed deflected by the sun’s gravity, just as Einstein had predicted in his theory of General Relativity. Korzybski would have read the news when it was announced later that year in November. The implications of this for the world of physics were profound. In the next few years, Korzybski would become more and more involved in attempting to understand the einsteinian revolution and its broader human implications.

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. 
1. “Tells of Poland’s Needs. Count Korzybski Makes Plea for Funds to Carry on Relief Work”. Washington Post, 2/3/1919. AKDA 1.55. 

2. “Let the Dead Be Heard by a Polish Soldier”. AKDA 34.529. 

3. Tom Jones Meek to AK, 3/28/1919. AKDA 5.124. 


5. Alfred Korzybski Polish Language Résumé/Autobiography (trans. by Zahava Sweet). n.d. [probably 1919] “...President Taft...invited me as a member and speaker of an association [promoting a] League of Nations. The invitation I didn’t throw away, but I didn’t take part in that company because I didn’t want other nations to ride on my patriotism, for unknown and unclear goals.”AKDA 37.510-511.

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