Friday, March 27, 2015

Chapter 54 - War Work: 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.

Korzybski began a three-weekend seminar in Los Angeles on February 14. He had written about the trip to Crane, saying, “I am personally convinced that for nuisance sake Los Angeles will be bombed.”(1) Indeed, he arrived there in time to experience the most remarkable episode of ‘bombing’ on U.S. soil in World War II.

Increasingly affected by his war injuries, traveling had become more bothersome. And although financially the Institute would come out slightly ahead, the considerable expenses and the time away from home made him wonder about the worthwhileness of the trip. But the group of Los Angeles students who organized this weekend series and another intensive in March, had been insistent. (Another group of students in San Francisco had organized a two-weekend seminar in Berkeley to follow in April.) Things seemed to be going well enough, though with the lectures and the personal interviews and whatever other appointments he had, he felt extremely pressed for time—in other words, not so different from his usual slave-driving of self.

In his suite at the Wilshire Arms Hotel, the site of the seminar, Alfred had the parlor that served as his bedroom and office with a fold-up bed in the wall and a table for his desk. The actual bedroom had two beds for Kendig, who accompanied him on the train trip, and Charlotte, who’d be coming out in a few weeks to replace Kendig as his assistant. A dinette and small kitchen added to the comforts of the place. He felt happy to have a small electric heater for his room to supplement the room heat. (He tended to get cramps in his legs if he didn’t stay warm enough and it could get surprisingly chilly in Southern California at this time of year.) He felt grateful that to teach he didn’t have to commute farther than the lecture room in the hotel, since he tended to get breathless—apparently related to his ‘busted gut’, i.e., hernia—when he walked too much or otherwise overexerted.

With a great deal of ongoing Institute business to take care of, Kendig returned to Chicago a few days after Charlotte’s arrival on February 26. Charlotte just missed by a day the ‘Battle of Los Angeles’, which had begun and ended on the morning of February 25.

A few days before, a Japanese submarine had surfaced off the Santa Barbara coast and shelled an oil facility there, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Although only minor damage occurred, Southern California—which had oil depots, airplane factories, and shipping facilities galore—had gone on alert. Then, in the early morning hours of February 25, something or things happened in the sky. Who and how many saw whatever happened does not seem clear. Police had reports of from one to 100 unidentified objects—Japanese aircraft?—flying along the coast from Santa Monica to Long Beach. Sirens blared to signal a blackout. Anti-aircraft batteries began firing (over 1,400 rounds) into the sky at the invaders. The ruckus likely awakened Korzybski in his downtown Los Angeles hotel room. Perhaps he looked outside to see the ‘light’ show as did many people in Los Angeles.

Before the alert was over, five hours later, according to a newspaper account, “Thirty persons, twenty of whom were Japanese, were arrested; two persons were killed in traffic accidents during the blackout and at least two houses were damaged by shells which had failed to explode in the air. Shrapnel which fell like hail in some sections broke windows and caused other minor damage.”(2) Nonetheless, if there had been Japanese planes—if there had been any planes at all—they didn’t seem to have dropped any bombs. 

The Battle of Los Angeles 
No one in authority seemed to know what happened—or rather ‘everyone’ in authority seemed to be saying that different things had happened. While Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War, praised the successful military and civilian defense of Los Angeles, Navy Secretary Frank Knox declared that the whole thing had resulted from “a false alarm”.(3) Korzybski seemed confident, based on reports from one of his students involved in Los Angeles area civil defense, that the Japanese Imperial Air force had made its presence known. But after the war, the Japanese denied any wartime mission at this time to Southern California. One thing seemed clear: a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, people had gotten very nervous. And shooting into the sky at unidentified flying objects, with different authorities giving different stories, was not going to do much to reduce the nervousness or improve wartime morale.

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. AK to Cornelius Crane. 12/24/1941. IGS Archives. 

 2. “Los Angeles Guns Bark at Air ‘Enemy’”. 2/26/1942, New York Times

3. “West Coast Raided Stimson Concedes. Differing From Knox’s ‘False Alarm’ Statement”. 2/27/1942, New York Times

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