Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chapter 57 - "Release Of Atomic Energy": Part 4 - "A Veteran's Readjustment"

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.

One of the first tasks in this new world would be to clean up the detritus of the old one. Most significant perhaps was the debris of wartime experiences, which could haunt men and women coming home to civilian life from military service. Some of them had witnessed horrendous scenes of devastation, destruction, and death. Some of them had personally heard “the flying bullet down the pass that whistles clear,” had learned indeed how “flesh is grass.” And some, traumatized by their experiences, found it hard to assimilate and move beyond them later in peacetime surroundings. If wounds from psychic trauma continued to bleed into their civilian life, they might get a diagnostic label; in this war, e.g., “battle fatigue”, “combat exhaustion”, and “combat neurosis”.

Korzybski knew from personal experience what it could be like to cope on the battlefield and afterwards. He considered it a matter of great concern. All through the war he had gotten letters from soldiers and flyers from around the world, not all of them his personal students, reporting on their experiences and asking for his help. One letter from an American fighter pilot in England, dated May 5, 1943, covers the issues of the sanity of fighting men rather well. After thanking Korzybski for Science and Sanity, which he had found enlightening, he noted that returning soldiers, however sound in body, might be “...warped and twisted in their minds, rendered less than ‘human’ because they found battle ‘not what they expected it to be.’”
I have made every effort to avoid the false identifications in this matter of battle, identifications I have observed in many of my fellow pilots. I have sensed, up until recently, how I must avoid certain sure pitfalls—and with the tools you have given me, I am even more confident of myself—but that solves the problem for me alone.  
Why don’t you apply yourself to this particular aspect of sanity and write a pamphlet specifically designed for soldiers? I realize that the aim of general semantics involves a complete reorientation of the individual’s outlook, but I think specific local applications of the system can be applied usefully. (17) 
Some of Korzybski’s students, like Douglas Kelley and Elwood Murray had been working on just that.

Kelley, who had become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Medical Corps, served as Chief Consultant in Clinical Psychology and Assistant Consultant in Psychiatry to the European Theatre of Operations. He worked with psychiatric casualties from “combat exhaustion” in army hospitals in England prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy and in Belgium afterwards. He and his associates devised a program of treatment involving intensive but brief classes and group counseling sessions based primarily on Korzybski’s educational approach. Kelley also trained non-psychiatrist medical officers, who served in aid stations, exhaustion centers, and Army hospitals. There is some evidence (although statistical data were lost) that the use of these methods with thousands of troops may have had something to do with the apparently reduced number of psychiatric casualties during the D-Day invasion as compared with previous Allied invasions in North Africa and Italy.

As described in a 1946 memorandum written to Vice Admiral Louis E. Denfield by Captain James A. Saunders, Ret. USN, a student of Science and Sanity who worked on the U.S. Senate Committee on Naval Affairs:
The methods used by Doctor Kelley were briefly as follows: 
By means of pictures, charts and lectures the men [receiving treatment for combat exhaustion] were instructed in the structure of the human nervous system, the manner in which it functioned and the relationship between events in the external world and the human nervous system. He taught them physico-mathematical methods of evaluation, including the use of the extensional techniques of thinking. The men who were able to understand and use the new methods of evaluation were able to reevaluate their combat experiences and overcome their psychoneuroses. They were also able to use the new methods of evaluation and make appropriate adjustments to the new experiences they encountered in combat in the European Theatre of Operations. (18)

Kelley wrote a paper on this work, “The Use of General Semantics And Korzybskian Principles As An Extensional Method of Group Psychotherapy In Traumatic Neurosis”, eventually published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases in 1951. In his paper, Kelley described his classes in sufficient detail for others to test it by replicating his work.

At the IGS seminar-workshop, the war had just ended when some of the students put on a skit “G.I. Joe Comes Home” for a near-the-end-of seminar celebration party. But even before the end of the war, G.I. Joes had been coming home, some of them with significant problems of adjustment. Elwood Murray had had a Pacific war veteran in one of his general-semantics classes at the University of Denver. The veteran “discharged from the army because of his ‘nervous disability’ ” was—as Korzybski described him—“the only survivor of a Japanese bombing of a group of fifteen of his buddies.” Murray’s evening class consisted of one lecture a week for ten weeks. The veteran struggled to apply what he was learning and wrote an end-of-term paper that Korzybski, who was in contact with both Murray and the veteran, considered of exceptional value in demonstrating what was possible from explicitly using extensional methods. In the summer of 1945, Korzybski wrote up his commentary on the veteran’s paper as a case study in the application of his work. He put this together with the veteran’s paper as an article, which he entitled “A Veteran’s Readjustment and Extensional Methods”. In it he recounted a number of his own wartime experiences and how he dealt with them.

In a Foreword eventually published with the article, Douglas Kelley provided a useful summary :
War produces a series of situational stresses which result in the development of profound changes in an individual’s psychosomatic structures. Korzybski’s paper demonstrates many excellent examples of these changes which are best understood in terms of Pavlovian conditional systems. The veteran’s reaction to rice and maggots, his aversion to special noises, his fear of low-flying aeroplanes, and his basic feelings of irritability and resentment are born of a conditioning, the like of which civilization has previously never experienced. No human being can conceive of a more adequate mechanism for twisting human emotion and for developing organismal responses to specific stimuli than is achieved in an active battle zone. 
Following the development of primary symptoms we find, as Korzybski puts it, the occurrence of second-order reactions ‘such as fear of fear, nervousness about nervousness, and worry about worry.’ General semantics, as a modern scientific method, offers techniques which are of extreme value both in the prevention and cure of such reactive patterns. (19)

By 1945, Korzybski had become even more insistent that many of the problems psychiatrists dealt with could not be viewed as simply medical. Specialized psychiatric approaches overlapped considerably with the educational and preventive general methodology of evaluation—physico-mathematical in structure—he had formulated. If more psychiatrists and others realized this, it would enhance psychiatric, medical and educational practice. Korzybski had been writing to many of his psychiatrist friends about this and in the following year published a memorandum he had written, “Some Excerpts From Letters To Psychiatrists...”. In the “Veteran’s Readjustment” paper, he noted:
The importance of non-medical, scientific methodological training for extensionalization must be emphasized here. In our work we are striving for neurological thalamo-cortical integration through scientific method alone, which occurs empirically, if the students are willing enough to co-operate and work. This particular veteran did co-operate, and took his retraining seriously. Without medical help in the narrow sense, he did improve steadily, and probably will recover completely. He is probably not psychiatrically ill but just naturally disturbed. We will have to deal with large numbers of such cases with a very restricted number of available psychiatrists. In our records we have a number of similar communications from all battlefronts about the benefits derived from studying extensional methods through Science and Sanity, etc., which might be called ‘bibliotherapy.’ 
In many ways, such results should be expected because modern extensional methods are prior to any science, medicine and psychiatry included. ...(20)

Korzybski submitted the article to ETC. at the end of the year and felt dismayed when the journal’s Editorial Committee turned it down. Korzybski was told that although Congdon and Hayakawa liked it, one or more psychiatrists who were consulted felt that the paper ‘stunk’. Korzybski wrote a ‘protest’ letter to Wendell Johnson, one of the journal’s editorial associates, which may have had some effect since the piece finally got published in the Summer 1946 issue of ETC., (Volume III, No. 4). The American Journal of Psychiatry also published part of the article in the “Clinical Notes” section of its July 1946 issue (Vol. 103, No. 1).

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. 
17. Copy of a letter to A. Korzybski from an American fighter pilot. IGS Scrapbook 2.228, AKDA. 

18. “Brief Resume of Facts, Conclusions and Recommendations Contained in Memorandum to Vice Admiral Louis E. Denfield, U. S. Navy, Dated 27 September 1946”. IGS Archives. 

19. “Foreword by Lt. Col. Douglas M. Kelley” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 541. 

20. Korzybski. “A Veteran’s Re-adjustment and Extensional Methods”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 542-543. 

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