Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chapter 54 - War Work: Part 2 - Questions of Morale

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.

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S government had set up an Office of Civilian Defense to plan and coordinate federal and local government efforts to mobilize and protect civilians during wartime emergencies. Efforts included local organizations for blackouts, fire brigades, first aid, etc., with strong efforts to get civilian volunteers. The Chicago area office had distributed Block Roster Cards to local residents. Korzybski dutifully filled out his card. The question at the bottom asked for “Day and Hours Available for Civilian Defense Assignment”. Korzybski wrote, “Working on National Morale, unless in case of real emergency, have no time to spare.” 

He had already addressed the issue of morale in an interview he gave to a reporter from The Washington Post, published in that paper two days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Among other things, he pointed out that German propagandists had been using naive, isolationist, and sometimes fascistically-inclined congressmen as outlets for their material, which was getting sent out as mailings to constituents (postage paid by U.S. taxpayers) and published in the Congressional Record. Investigations were underway but the fact that these German propaganda efforts had happened with so little public attention seemed worrisome. The general public and the government needed to wake up to the importance of public attitudes—as the German and Japanese governments certainly had done. He also reviewed his by-now long-repeated view of the need for the U.S. government to employ “a board of eminent psychiatrists and other experts to plan and guide reconstruction of human values now being ravaged by Nazi and other evil influences.” As part of its job, the board could provide factual, expert opinions, not concocted lies, as the basis for counter-propaganda against the Nazis. He felt convinced that behavioral experts would legitimately be able to find Hitler and his minions psychiatrically disturbed. (At about this time Korzybski was recommending Erich Fromm’s newly published book Escape From Freedom for its analysis of “The Psychology of Nazism” and related issues.) The newspaper article concluded,
As a long range measure, Count Korzybski believes it essential to prepare to deal with the effect of the last few decades of war and chaos on the minds of the people of the world.  
“Here is a thing more deadly than any epidemic you can imagine,” he explained. “We set experts to work on sanitary measures, safety measures; we put scientists in laboratories to study cancer and the common cold. We must have no less vision in grappling with the deterioration of values, which, I seriously assure you, concerns the sanity of the whole race.” (4) 
For Korzybski, the role of the news media seemed critical for the more short-range bolstering of public values necessary to win the war. As a somewhat lonely, early proponent of recognizing and doing something about the German and Japanese threats (when that view was not popular), he had long expressed contempt for the editorial policies of The Chicago Tribune. Under the direction of its isolationist and fervently anti-Roosevelt publisher and owner, Colonel Robert J. McCormick, the newspaper had given strong support to the “America First” movement, which became a shelter not only for those with sincere anti-war sentiments but also for Nazi sympathizers.(5)  

Korzybski could feel much better about the The Los Angeles Daily News. Its owner-publisher-editor Manchester Boddy, a founding member of the Los Angeles General Semantics group, had converted the former tabloid paper into a formidable journalistic presence in Los Angeles with a circulation of over a quarter of a million.(6) 

Starting on November 24, 1941, Daily News writer Edwin Green, who had taken several seminars with Korzybski, began producing a weekly column, “General Semantics and Human Affairs ” for the paper. His column ran for over a year until the spring of 1943, when he left Los Angeles on an army assignment. He sat in as a guest at Korzybski’s L.A. weekend seminar; in March, while Alfred was teaching the intensive and doing interviews with students, the two men collaborated on five of Green’s weekly columns in the form of a series of interviews with Korzybski on the general theme of building wartime morale. The first interview, published on March 9, started,
Count Alfred Korzybski, director of the Institute of General Semantics and famous authority on human behavior, considers the daily newspaper “an instrument of tremendous power” for counteracting the effects of enemy propaganda. “Our people do not realize what a magnificent educational weapon their press can be in the battle for a sane world,” said Korzybski. (7)
To put the content of the five interviews in a nutshell, Korzybski contended that improving morale to counter enemy propaganda would require the cooperation of the government, press, and public. Clear and honest factual education could best counter enemy propaganda based on falsification and distortion. This would include conveying an understanding of the neuro-psycho-social mechanisms of behavior and deception being exploited by the enemy, an honest presentation of facts about the enemy (basically gangsters as Korzybski saw them), and a recognition of what the Allied nations were fighting for (in short, democracy against gangsterism).

In the final interview, published on April 6, Korzybski emphasized that Nazi and Japanese psychological warfare had made the term “honest propaganda” seem like an oxymoron. “It therefore becomes necessary to exclude this word ‘propaganda’ from the context of our war effort.” Instead he argued for the “morale building potency of plain facts and figures”—not a surprising suggestion coming from Korzybski. Politicians, journalists, and others needed to consider the effects their communications might have on personal, social and national morale:
The test of a public utterance,...could well be the question: “How will the issue affect the way we get along with one another?”Applying such a test to a great deal of the verbalism being put on the air and into print would serve as a counter-attack against the misleading information and defeatist arguments now actively sabotaging our war effort. (8)
Korzybski’s concern for morale extended to the Allied soldiers now mobilizing to fight on all fronts. He still carried daily reminders of his time on the Eastern Front in the First World War. He wondered about the costs some of his students would undoubtedly bear for their wartime service in this one. He had his Kipling—Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses—close at hand, with the line from “Arithmetic on the Frontier” that he and Mira had written out in the front or end pages of their multiple copies: The flying bullet down the Pass, That whistles clear: “All flesh is grass.” How could these men and women, especially those in combat, best cope with the stresses of those flying bullets and everything else they would experience? Since the First World War, Korzybski had had a vital, personal interest in preventing and dealing with “shell shock”, which would become known as “battle fatigue” and “traumatic neurosis” during this war. From a preventive point-of-view, he had long rubbed-in the importance of minimizing expectations, and he believed those prepared for the possible horrors of their wartime experience would more likely deal adequately with whatever horrors they might actually encounter. During and after the war, Korzybski and some of his students would continue to explore how extensional methods could help people cope with post-traumatic stress problems.

Many of Korzybski’s students would soon be called into military service. I’ll note only a few. Douglas Kelley got commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He would go on to use korzybskian principles and extensional methods in group psychotherapy for psychiatric casualties in the European Theater, publishing a paper on this after the war. Irving Lee would enter the army that summer as a lieutenant in the air corps, stationed at the School of Applied Tactics in Orlando, Florida where he worked developing training aids. Allen Walker Read would be inducted into the army that summer as well, assigned to work in the Military Intelligence Service in New York City. He got an appropriate job for a lexicographer, working on an American Military Definition Dictionary, English-Foreign language dictionaries, and on military phrase books. Harry Weinberg went to war in the Merchant Marine service. As he later wrote, since the seminar he took with Korzybski in December 1940,
...I more or less neglected my study of general semantics until one September morn I found myself aboard an ammunition ship headed for Guadalcanal with a copy of Science and Sanity in my duffel bag. Naturally, since I had been a chemist, the obvious position for me aboard ship was that of chief pot washer and potato peeler. (9)
In the long run, even such apparently mundane and unrelated wartime duties could further work in general semantics. Weinberg’s meditations about seeing the sunrise and on related issues while peeling his daily quota of potatoes, would eventually lead to a paper published after the war, “Some Functional Patterns on the Non-Verbal Level”. The paper led to: Irving Lee offering him a graduate assistantship at Northwestern; an eventual PhD in speech communication; and a new career for Weinberg as an instructor in speech and general semantics at Temple University. He eventually wrote one of the best books ever written on GS, the 1959 Levels of Knowing and Existence, which incorporated parts of his original paper. Other students, like Kelley, were able to make more direct wartime contributions to GS application and research. But on the whole, the war took many of Korzybski’s students out of significant contact with him and pretty much out of the immediate picture in terms of developing his work. But then again, the war disrupted many important things.

Although Korzybski would give six seminars in 1942, the number of students and demand for seminars began to diminish. In 1943, the Institute would hold four seminars and in 1944, just three. With fewer students, the Institute would continue struggling at the edge of financial survival—not so great for Korzybski’s morale. It seems ironic because by this time the impact of his work had begun to register even more thoroughly on public consciousness. The growing recognition probably served as a major factor in bolstering Korzybski despite the wartime difficulties.

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. “Expose Hitler’s Insanity to German People[,] Authority Urged to Counteract Propaganda[.] Expert on Semantics Says Europeans Have Horror of Such Ills” by Dillard Stokes. Washington Post, 12/9/1941. IGS Archives; AKDA 41.180. 

5. See Avedis (“Arthur”) Derounian’s 1943 book, Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America. New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc., pp. 396-39. Derounian wrote under the pseudonym “John Roy Carlson”. 

6. “Two-Man Show”. Time, Monday, Nov. 23, 1942

7. Green-Korzybski Interview articles, AKDA 41.406. 

8. Green-Korzybski Interview articles, AKDA 41.407. 

9. Harry Weinberg 1959, p. xiii.

< Part 1      Part 3 >

No comments: