A Veteran's Creative Adjustment

Notes on Sources:


by Alfred Korzybski

[Foreward by Lt. Col. Douglas M. Kelley, M.C.] In this paper, 'A Veteran's Readjustment and Extensional Methods Methods,' Korzybski has attacked a problem which so far has been generally ignored by most therapists. This is not because the problem has not been recognized but results from a lack of trained personnel available to give therapeutic guidance to returned veterans.

The actual psychiatric casualty in most instances is receiving some type of therapy, but there are simply not enough adequately trained physicians available to care for the returning veterans who, though not psychologically wounded, are definitely psychologically bruised. Such veteans can and usually do make a satisfactory reconversion to civilian status without help, but simple techniques and training in extensional methods would certainly smooth their path and result in complete reconversion to civilian life.

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 conditioned 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 organized 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. In my experience with over seven thousand cases in the European Theater of Operations, these basic principles were daily employed as methods of group psychotherapy and as methods of psychiatric prevention. It is obvious that the earlier the case is treated the better the prognosis, and consequently hundreds of battalion-aid surgeons were trained in principles of general semantics. These principles were applied (as individual therapies and as group therapies) at every treatment level from the forward area to the rear-most echelon, in front-line aid stations, in exhaustion centers and in general hospitals. That they were employed with success is demonstrated by the fact that psychiatric evacuations from the European Theater were held to a minimum.

Korzybski's paper, together with the actual report of the use of general semantics by a veteran, points to the next important step in the employment of these principles -- the revonversion of the returning soldier, sailor, or marine. Through the use of group therapy large numbers of individuals can be trained in extensional methods, and this type of training should prove of value to any individual who has suffered from the searing contact with actual warfare, the problems inherent in his displacement from his previous environment, or the general trials and tribulations resulting from forced adjustment in the armed services. Such individuals may not present overt symptomatology but would nevertheless be benefited by a knowledge of extensional methods which would result in a better understanding of their problems.

Korzybski's paper indicates the value of these techniques and should be carefully studied not only by psychiatrists but by all persons concerned with the tremendous problem of the readjustment of the returning veteran.

[End Introduction. Korzybski's article begins]

The following case report on himself by a Pacific war veteran is most revealing for our work. This veteran was a student in Professor Elwood Murray's class in general semantics in the University College evening division of the University of Denver. He was discharged from the army because of his 'nervous disability,' the sort of reacions described in this report. The veteran attended one lecture a week, and his class paper was written at the end of ten weeks. Professor Murray is director of the School of Speech and the author of a book and an number of articles on speech personality and general semantics to the medical staff of the military Fitzsimmons General Hospital, University of Colorado Medical School, and the faculty of Colorado Woman's College.”

We are desperately short of psychiatrists and we will continue to be that way, as it takes a long time to train a physician to understand most 'mental' difficulties. The main point in connection with general semantics, or, if you wish, a non-aristotlean orientation, is in the fact that non-medical men giving group classroom training in scientific method can convey through extensionalization (i.e., evaluating in terms of facts), constructive techniques which do work. The following report of the veteran, who was the only survivor of a Japanese bombing of a group of fifteen of his buddies, is most instructive.”

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. 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. It is not accidental that the greatest modern scientific achievement, the realease of atomic energy, was not accomplished by physicists alone or mathematicians alone but by joint efforts of specialists in those fields, epitomizing the physico-mathematical methods of finding the relations between map-territory, to use our language. On human levels we find their expression in psycho-somatic trends, which present initially serious methodological difficulties similar to the notion of space-time in the history of relativity.

However, the principles are very simple, and extentionalization can be conveyed even to small children, also to grown persons who get into evaluational difficulties. Let us recall that in general children are born extensional, and we eventually do endless harm by training them in intension, for which they usually pay the price later in life. Non-aristotlean extensional methods are not a medical discipline, but any psychotherapist in retraining the patients in adjustment to 'facts' or 'reality' must knowingly or unknowingly depend on some sort of extensionalization. In practice it is more efficient and adequate to start with an entirely general technique for extension, which also remains valid in classroom use by non-medical educators. Medical men do not need to be apprehensive, since general semantics has nothing to do with medical problems as such. Physicians who apply the new methods find that they simplify their own rofessional tasks. They are able to reach their patients sooner and with less effort, since they begin on neutral and general grounds which involve the important factors of thalamo-cortical integration. It must be stressed that in a non-aristotlean re-training, we are dealing with method alone which any individual can apply by himself in any life situation or profession without medical help, or with it if necessary.

Probably almost any psychiatrist could have helped this disturbed veteran. However, this would probably require time-consuming individual work not applicable to group or classruoom non-medical use. Let me repeat that this veteran is probably not psychiatrically ill; he simply reacts as most living human beings would react to his experiences, which certainly were not happy, to say the least. On the battlefronts one cannot help but see the dead and dying, hear the screams, curses and prayers, smell the blood and stench of decaying flesh, etc., and so feel personally the indescribable terrors of war. These horrors become impressed on our nervous systems and so naturally we respond to them for some time to come.

In practice it will probably appear that the veterans returning from the Pacific front will present different problems than those returning from the European theater of war. So far psychiatrists have not paid enough attention to these differences, which would be instructive and educational.

[End Korzybski's paper]

A Veteran Uses General Semantics for Rehabilitaion
by The Veteran

It was not with willingness and wholehearted cooperation that this veteran of four campaigns in the South Pacific consented to give the information in this study. He felt, however, that this trend may help him to relax. As far as putting to use the work of General Semantics, it was a benefit; but, at first, to relate many incidents openly was extremely difficult and he tended to relapse into the nervous condition he was in when released from the service.

There are a few phases of misevaluation that will give an example of the problems of the veteran; many are extremely difficult to put into written description.

The fear of darkness, for quite some time, hindered many of his activities after sundown. It was hard to feel safe from enemy fire even as a civilian in the United States. Most of the evenings were spent in the home rather than venture outside. The veteran put to work General semantics and took long walks down side streets at night, keeping in mind that the darkness he then encountered was entirely different from that in combat. After a week or so of such procedure, he betgan to relax and take part in evening activities outsdie.

There is a great fear of crowds noticeable. Why this should be he cannot explain, unless it is due to the isolation and small numbers of men encountered while in the Pacific area. To overcome this, he took walks in the downtown district and forced himself to mingle with the people. He has partially overcome this fear and is still advancing. Perhaps one reason for his not mixing more with people was the 'silly conception' of war they expressed. At first he lost his temper quickly and made many cutting remarks to people. Later he developed a sullen silence refusing to comment on or discuss the situation except with those he felt were interested and were making an attempt to ease the situation. At present, he is most objective, trying to keep in mind that though there are remarks that irritate him, there is no possible way to understand the conditions without having experienced the same. Using this method of silence mentioned has helped a great deal with delay of reactions as an aid to evaluation. Though at first he reacted within himself, and carried all the marks of ill-will, at present he uses this period entirely for evaluation.

Tension was and still is quite noticeable; however, there is some improvement. After correct evaluation of sudden sounds, relaxation came easier. The veteran wasin a constant state of anxiety, tensed to move quickly should it be necessary. Movements of all those about him, no matter how slight, are observed. He found the identification in his reactions with being constantly alert for movements in trees and bushes that might be those of the enemy in combat. Realizing this, he is more at ease.

When the veteran attended movies, he always left during the newsreel. He reacts to battle scenes as though he were present. It leaves him in a state of great anxiety and what might be termed 'fresh combat fatique.' The veteran is striving to overcome this identification. In doing so, he remains in his seat and tries to keep in mind that it is just a screen with black and white pictures, rather than actual battle. There has been a noted improvement in regard to after-effect; however, while witnessing the scenes, he sweat's profusely.

Aversion to noises such as the fire siren. Sirens were used in combat to alert soldiers for air raids. When the veteran hears sirens he breaks into a sweat and has great difficulty in controlling the desire to drop to the ground. The veteran, to make this a proper evaluation, visited a fire station and examined the sirens on the engines. Seeing them as they were and for the purpose they are now used has contributed to more self-control.

Low-flying planes also greatly affected him. He experienced a bombing in the early part of the war in which he was the sole survivor among some fifteen others. With exception of great shock and unconsciousness he was not injured. The low flying plane flashes this experience to his mind. To attempt to properly evaluate the situation, the veteran gained permission to enter an airfield and examine planes. He stood close to the runway when planes came in. This has not helped too much, but he believes in time he can train himself to picture peaceful maneuvers of friendly planes landing on an airstrip rather than death-dealing Jap[anese] bombers.

This leads into the problem of insomnia. He has many nightmares; however, the dream most often repeated is that of the action described above. In these dreams he breaks into a heavy sweat and awakens. Training in general semantics has not helped this situation. When the individual is asleep he cannot have the cortical control that he has during waking hours.

The oppression of army life has left him with a most serious attitude of rebellion. If asked to do something, he is most co-operative, but should someone order him, he flatly refused to co-operate. He has improved greately, however, realizing that the situation is entirely different and in most instances, the co-operation betters his association with people.

An example of pure identification