Béla H. Bánáthy, Founder of the
|Béla H. Bánáthy in 1998 at Pico Blanco Scout Reservation.|
Béla Heinrich Bánáthy (Gyula, Hungary, 1 Dec. 1919 – Chico, California, 4 Sept 2003), was a systems scientist and a professor at San José State University and the University of California at Berkeley. Bánáthy was the founder of the White Stag Leadership Development Program whose leadership model was adopted across the United States; founder of the International Systems Institute and its innovative "conversation"-oriented conference structure; co-founder of the General Evolutionary Research Group; an influential professor of systems theory; and a widely-read and respected author.
Béla Bánáthy was born in 1919 in rural Gyula, Hungary. The oldest of four sons, his father Peter was a Presbyterian minister and his mother Hildegard Pallmann was a teacher. Peter Bánáthy had earned the honorary title Vitéz for his service during World War I, and Béla, as his oldest son, would inherit the title.
|Béla in Scout unform at about age nine. (Image copyright Tibor Banathy. Used by permission.)|
When Bánáthy was about six years old, their family informally adopted Tamas Feri. Tamas was about 13 years old and from a poor gardener family. Tamas took Bánáthy on his first overnight camp out with his patrol to a small forest near Gyula. Bánáthy's father then became the Scoutmaster of the "small scouts" troop (similar to American Cub Scouts).
When Bánáthy was nine years old, he became the troop leader and during one national holiday, led the troop in a parade. About that time, the entire troop spent two weeks camping at a church camp at Leányfalu, north of Budapest. The church groups lived in wooden barracks, but Bánáthy's troop stayed in tents, "as Scouts are supposed to do."
The family moved about 84 kilometres (52 mi) from Banathy's birthplace of Gyula, to Mako, Hungary, about 202 kilometres (126 mi) southeast of Budapest. He joined the regular scout program of the Hungarian Scout Association and "Csanad Vezer" Troop 92. The troop had over 50 Scouts and 30 "small scouts" during the 1930s. They held their monthly troop meetings on Sunday in a large gimnazium (secondary school) and met weekly every Saturday as a patrol. Bela reported, "Our weekly patrol meetings focused on scoutcraft and Scout spirit and guiding us to move through the various stages of advancement in rank."
The Hungarian Scout program had four stages. During the first three years, Bánáthy advanced three stages. The last stage required Bánáthy to earn 25 merit badges. This last stage was called Turul, after the mythical bird of Hungary. From spring to fall, as weather permitted, the patrol had many outings. Every summer the troop went on a two- to three-week long summer camp.
Members of Bánáthy's troop attended the 1933 World Jamboree where he would make a life-changing decision. Up to this time, Bánáthy had decided to follow his father into the ministry. Bánáthy wrote,
"The highlight of the Jamboree for me was meeting Baden Powell, the Chief Scout of the World. One day, he visited our camp with the Chief Scout of Hungary, Count Pál Teleki (who later became our Prime Minister), and the chief of the camp staff, Vitez Kisbarnaki Ferenc Farkas, a general staff officer of the Hungarian Royal Army. A few years later he became the commander of the Royal Ludovika Akademia (when I was a student there). In the 1940s, he became the Chief Scout of Hungary. (I was serving on his staff as head of national junior leadership training.)
For me the Jamboree became a crucial career decision point. I resolved to choose the military as a life work... There were two sources of this decision. One was my admiration of Lord Baden-Powell, and his life-example as a hero of the British Army and the founder and guide of scouting. The other was the influence of Captain Varkonyi, a staff officer of the Jamboree, who was assigned to our Subcamp. We spent hours in conversation about scouting and the military as a career, as a major service in the character development of young Hungarian adults. After the Jamboree we corresponded for a while. By the end of the year I shared my decision with my parents."
Also in 1933, Bánáthy attended the regional patrol leader training week. Later in 1934, Bánáthy and six other members of his troop traveled to the National Jamboree in Poland. They camped in a large pine forest and visited Krakow and Warsaw. The Polish government hosted a banquet for all of the Scouts in the Presidential Palace. In 1934, he was awarded the best notebook prize of the national spring leadership camp and in 1935, he was invited to serve on the junior staff of the same camp at Harshegy, Budapest.
In 1935, the troop traveled to the Bükk Mountains in northeastern Hungary for their summer camp. As a Senior Patrol leader, Bánáthy and two others took a bicycle tour in advance of the summer camp to preview the camping site.
The two military men that Bánáthy had met, and from whom he developed a desire to serve in the military, soon played roles on the national stage that would affect Bánáthy. In 1937, Banathy attended the Royal Ludovika Akadémia. He graduated and was commissioned in 1940, at age 21, Second Lieutenant in the Mechanized Infantry. He was commissioned in the armored infantry later than year and met his future wife Eva Balazs during this time. When Hungary reluctantly entered the war in 1941, Bánáthy was sent as an armored infantry officer to the Russian front near Moscow on the Don River. The little-trained and ill-prepared Hungarian Second Army advanced during a severe November ice storm to within 140 km of Moscow. During Operation Saturn, a fierce Soviet attack in early January 1943, the Hungarians were annihilated. Bánáthy was seriously wounded and returned from the front to Budapest to recuperate. Upon his return, he married his fiancé, Eva Balazs, with his arm in a sling.
Hungary was generally an unwilling member of the Axis, and Germany continually pressured it to play a greater role. Pál Teleki, whom Bánáthy had also met at the 4th World Jamboree, was Prime Minister. He and Regent Miklós Horthy tried to keep Hungary out of the war, though their national pride prompted them to seek a reversal of the geographic injustice of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. This Germany promised them. Through the Munich Agreement of 1938 they gained part of Czechoslovakia, and via the Vienna Awards they gained additional territory.
In Yugoslavia, the Yugoslavian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lazar Marković, went to Vienna and signed the Tripartite Pact. On his return, Air Force General Richard Simovic executed a bloodless coup d'état, after which he refuted his country's signature on the alliance. This threatened Germany's planned invasion of Russia, potentially exposing its southern flank. Germany planned to force Belgrade to remain part of the Axis and suggested that Hungary should also attack. Teleki refused, and the Germans asked permission to transport their troops across Hungary.
The British, with whom Teleki had had a long relationship, sent word via the Hungarian Minister in London that they would declare war if he assented. Teleki heard soon afterwards that Regent Horthy and Hungarian General Werth had permitted the Germans to cross Hungary's borders. On 3 April 1941, he took his own life. Winston Churchill later wrote, "His suicide was a sacrifice to absolve himself and his people from the guilt in the German attack on Yugoslavia…" Parts of Yugoslavia were annexed to Hungary, in response, the United Kingdom broke off diplomatic relations on December 1 that year. General Farkas was soon named by Regent Horthy as the country's new Chief Scout.
Bánáthy served two tours on the Russian front in World War II as an armored infantry officer. In 1941, Bánáthy's unit advanced during a severe November ice storm within 140 kilometres (87 mi) of Moscow. Wounded, he returned from the front to Budapest and married his fiancé, Eva Balazs, with his arm in a sling. In 1942, he returned to the Russian front with the Second Magyar Honved. Having grown the peace-time Hungarian Army very quickly from an initial force of 80,000, the rank-and-file of the Hungarian Army had undergone only eight weeks of training.
They were charged with protecting the 8th Italian Army's's northern flank between the Novaya Pokrovka on the Don river to Rossosh., part of the larger force defending the drive by the German 6th Army against Soviet General Vasily Chuikov's 62nd Army, which was defending Stalingrad.
On 13 January 1943, the Russian forces, an overwhelming force in numbers and equipment, began the Voronezh-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation on the Bryansk, Voronezh, and Southwestern Fronts. They rapidly destroyed the Hungarian Second Army near Svoboda on the Don River. During its 12 months of activity on the Russian front, the Second Hungarian Army's losses were enormous. With an initial force of about 200,000 Hungarian soldiers and 50,000 Jewish forced-laborers, about 100,000 were killed, 35,000 wounded, and 60,000 taken prisoners of war. Only about 40,000 returned to Hungary, scapegoated by Hitler for the catastrophic Axis defeat. "No nation lost as much blood during World War II in such a short period of time." Among them, Bela was seriously wounded and returned to Budapest, where he spent seven months recovering from his wounds. After recuperating, he became a junior officer of the Royal Hungarian Army and served on the faculty of the Ludovika Akademia under Bánáthy's mentor Commandant General Farkas.
During 1943, General Farkas, the commanding officer of Royal Ludovika Akadémia (officer training school), who Bánáthy had met at the 1933 Jamboree, invited Bánáthy to teach junior leader training at the academy. He also asked Bánáthy to organize a Scout Troop for the young men, 19 years and older, which was a common practice within the Hungarian Scout Association at the time. Bánáthy found a passion in training the young men in officer's leadership skills and became the voluntary national director for youth leadership development and a member of the National Council of the Hungarian Scout Association.
In July 1944 General Farkas was Commander of the Hungarian VI Army Corps which had been garrisoned at Debrecen. He replaced General Beregfy, loyal to the Arrow Cross movement. During that month, Farkas was instrumental in beating back a Red Army attack across the Carpathian mountains. In early October 1944, the Red Army advance into Budapest was slowed by the Battle of Debrecen in eastern Hungary. On 15 Oct 1944, Farkas was named commander of the Pest bridgehead and then Government Commissioner for Evacuation. In early November 1944, the first Russian units appeared on the southeastern edge of Budapest. Bánáthy was able to get his wife Eva, one year old son Bela and two-week old son Leslie out of Budapest. Bánáthy's family, along with his commanding officers' families, found shelter at first in farmhouses, and later in bunkers, caves, and trenches.
Unable to replace the equipment and personnel lost in the Battle of Debrecen, the Hungarian Second Army was disbanded on 1 December 1944. The remaining units of the Second Army, including the unit in which Bánáthy served, were transferred to the Hungarian Third Army. The Siege of Budapest began when the city was first encircled on 29 December 1944 by the Red Army. Bánáthy continued to fight with the remainder of his unit against the Russians after Budapest fell on 13 February 1945. The Axis was striving to protect the last oil fields they controlled in western Hungary around Lake Balaton. However, by late March 1945, most of what was left of the Hungarian Third Army was surrounded and destroyed about 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the west of Budapest in an advance by the Soviet 46th Army towards Vienna. The remaining shattered units fought on as they retreated progressively westward through the Transdanubian Mountains towards Austria.
Bánáthy's family with other family members of the remainder of his military unit made their way west, along with tens of thousands of other refugees, about 250 kilometres (160 mi) into Austria, trying to stay ahead of Russian advances. Temperatures through the time of their flight remained near 0 °C (32 °F).
Bánáthy reunited with his family in Austria, and as the war ended and Austria was occupied in April 1945 by the Austrian, British, Soviet and US governments, they were placed in an Allied displaced persons camp. They were housed in an single 6 by 10 feet (1.8 m × 3.0 m) room in a wooden barrack which served as their bedroom, kitchen, living room and place for firewood storage. Food was extremely scarce and they subsisted on around 600 calories per person per day for five years. They were among 1.4 million displaced persons in Austria at the time while there was a world-wide food shortage. Bánáthy later traded for milk to give two-year-old Bela and one-year-old Leslie enough protein.
|Béla and his family were interned in the Waldlager Refugee Camp near Ranshofen, Austria beginning in early 1945.|
In 1946 Béla and his family were moved to the Waldlager Refugee Camp near Ranshofen (a small town south of Brauna by the Austrian-German border). Anna Gábor Cseh, who lived in the refugee camp, described Béla "an incredibly talented, charismatic man with great organizational skills." He helped organize the first Austrian Scout troop in Braunau in the spring of 1946: the No.1 Rákóczy Ferenc II. Scoutgroup. Ede Császár had started a troop in Braunau in 1945, but that camp was closed in December 1945 and Császár was transferred to Italy.
In early 1947, Béla began to organize troops and leaders’ training at refugee-lägers within Austria. The refugees in the damps were initially limited to a 9.6 mi (6 kilometer) radius near the camp. Béla registered the Scouting groups with the Scouts Association of Austria and also with the U.S. Occupational Authorities. The refugees were gradually allowed greater freedom, and Béla was also allowed to travel to Germany, where other Hungarian refugees were in camps. Béla helped organize Hungarian scouting in the German camps as well. During this time, he organized leadership training camps for the adults, and he named the leaders the first “White Stag Staff”.
With extremely little food available in the camps, in early 1947 Eva's twin sister came from Hungary and took the two older sons back to live with her older sister. The Pallendal family was well-educated and relatively wealthy, so they had access to more food than what was available in the camps, and they intended to return the boys after a year. In 1948, when the Cold War ensued, the two boys were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Shortly after their third son Tibor was born, the family was moved to another camp, near a Marshall Plan warehouse, where Bánáthy began unloading sacks of wheat from railroad cars. During 1947, Banathy was named the Hungarian Scout Commissioner for Austria and led training for Hungarian Scout leaders along with his former commanding officer, Kisbarnaki Ferenc Farkas. In 1948 their fourth son Robert was born. Bánáthy soon found work in the statistical office of the warehouse. He was ordained by the World Council of Churches and became minister for youth among Hungarian refugees. He contacted the World Scouting Movement for assistance and was successful in organizing Scouting in the camps. He served as director of religious education of the Protestant Refugee Service of Austria, was editor of a religious youth service and of a Scout publication.
In 1948, the Hungarian Scouts decided to organize a 15th Anniversary Commemoration of the 4th World Jamboree in Godollo. Anna Gábor Cseh, who served under Bánáthy, told later how they completely lacked equipment, and Bánáthy decided to seek help from the occupying U.S. Army. He selected Cseh, a "pretty blonde woman", to take the request for help directly to General Mark Clark, Military Govenor of the United States Occupation Zone in Salzburg, even though she didn't speak English. She took the train and wearing her full Scout uniform, she told the guard in German that she wanted to talk to General Clark. When he told her her request was impossible, she showed him her English letter of introduction. He read the letter and handed it to another guard who took it to Clark. A few minutes later a senior officer appeared and escorted her directly into Clark’s office. Clark read the letter and smiled. He told her, “We can do this! You know... I remember the Jamboree at Gödöllő.” On the first day of the event, the U.S. Army delivered tents, cots and food, sufficient to take care of the entire encampment.
In 1949, with help from a Swiss foundation, Bánáthy assisted in establishing and was selected as the President of the Collegium Hungaricum, a boarding school for refugees, at Zell am See near Saalfelden, Austria. In the same year, the Communist government in Hungary seized the businesses belonging to the the Pallendal family, Bánáthy's in-laws. Because they were members of the social elite, there were seen by the Communist government as a political threat as was common in that time.
In 1951, in what was a common practice during this time, the Police arrived at dawn to seize the Pallendal family home with orders to deport the family. Those at home were arrested and immediately deported. Seven year old Bela and six year old Leslie, along with their grandmother and two aunts, were put aboard a freight train and sent towards Russia. As was the practice, the train stopped occasionally and a few hundred people were forced off. The Pallendal family was ejected in eastern Hungary, and an uncle was able to locate them and hide them from authorities in a small village in eastern Hungary.
In January, 1951, the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago sponsored Béla, Eva, Tibor and Robert as immigrants to the United States. Bánáthy's family lived in the Seminary, and Bánáthy labored nights 60 hours a week in the cellar of the Seminary, shoveling coal to fire the furnace, while studying English from a book. He occasionally preached at nearby Hungarian churches. Eva found work in a paper factory and Tibor, their third son, entered American public school.
Unknown to Bánáthy, his former commanding officer General Vitéz Kisbarnaki Ferenc Farkas visited the United States and his former adversaries, the United States Army, during early 1951. He recommended Bánáthy as a Hungarian language instructor, and Bánáthy was invited to teach at the U.S. government's Army Language School in Monterey, California.Bánáthy accepted the job at the Army Language School, moving to Monterey in June 1951. There he met the founder of the Hungarian Department, Joseph Szentkiralyi (Americanized as St. Clair), who had also attended the 1933 World Jamboree. Coincidentally, Bánáthy's and St. Clair's wives rediscovered a girlhood friendship from Budapest. Eva found work in a restaurant on the Monterey Peninsula. Bánáthy resumed his interest in Scouting and community service. He served as President of his local Parent-Teacher Association and on the board of the local Red Cross. In early 1956 Bánáthy become a United States citizen. After nine years of separation, Bánáthy obtained help from U.S. Senator William F. Knowland and the World Council of Churches and secured the of release Béla and his brother László from the communist authorities in Hungary. Life magazine featured a picture of them meeting their mother at the Idlewild Airport in Queens. In the same year, Paul Ferenc Sujan joined the language school faculty, and Bánáthy learns that he too had attended the 1933 World Jamboree.
Along with a life-long interest in Scouting, Bánáthy was an educator, a systems and design scientist, and an author. At the Army Language School, he taught in the Hungarian language department, later becoming its chairman.
|Béla circa 1961. (Image copyright Tibor Banathy. Used by permission.)|
Following on his interest in leadership development for youth that he had nurtured in Hungary, in 1958 Bánáthy started an experimental leadership development program in the Monterey Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He was assisted by fellow Hungarians Joe St.Clair, Paul Sujan, and a fourth person, Fran Peterson. "Lord Baden-Powell was my personal idol and I long felt a commitment to give back to Scouting what I had received," Bela said.
As part of his master's degree program in counseling psychology at San José State University, he wrote a thesis titled "A Design for Leadership Development in Scouting". He established contact with Paul Hood who was conducting research into leadership for non-commissioned officers for the U.S. Army. Bela's work was presented in his master's thesis, which described the founding principles of the White Stag program. This program was later adapted by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America for, first, it's adult Wood Badge program, and afterward, as the de facto method for teaching junior leader training. (In 2008, the program celebrated its 50th anniversary.) Bela also taught in Sunday School and was on the Board of his church. In 1960, the Monterey Bay Area Council recognized Béla for his exceptional service to youth and awarded him the Silver Beaver.
In the 1960s Bánáthy began teaching courses in applied linguistics and systems science at San José State University. In 1962 he was named Dean and Chairman of the East Europe and Middle East Division at the Army Language School, overseeing ten language departments. In 1963 he completed his master degree in psycholinguistics at San Jose State University, and in 1966 he received a doctorate in education for a trans-disciplinary program in education, systems theory, and linguistics from the University of California in Berkeley. youth. During the mid-1960s Bánáthy was named Chair of Western Division of the Society for General Systems Research. He published his first book, Instructional Systems, in 1968.
|Joe St. Clair, Fran Peterson, Maury Tripp, and Béla Bánáthy at the 1962 Indaba at Ford Ord, California.|
During the 1960s and 1970s, Bánáthy was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley and continued teaching San Jose State University. Paul Hood encouraged Bánáthy to join him at the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development (now WestEd) in Berkeley (later moved to San Francisco). In 1969, Bela left the re-named Defense Language Institute. He became a Program Director, and later Senior Research Director and Associate Laboratory Director at Far West Labs. He "directed over fifty research and development programs, designed many curriculum projects and several large scale complex systems, including the design and implementation of a Ph.D. program in educational research and development for UC Berkeley." Due to the success of his leadership development program, the Scout programs of Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela invited him to introduce it to their countries.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Bánáthy focused his research on the application of systems and design theories and methodologies in social, social service, educational, and human development systems. In the 1980s he developed and guided a Ph.D. curriculum in humanistic systems inquiry and social systems design for the Saybrook Graduate School.
In 1981, he founded the International Systems Institute (ISI), a non-profit, public benefit scientific and educational corporation in Carmel, California, USA. He organized its first meeting at Fuschl Am See, Austria in 1982.
What was truly revolutionary about the International Systems Institute was Banathy's method for organizing conferences. Banathy observed that in traditional conferences, a few usually well-respected or prestigious individuals would apply to present "pre-packaged new ideas" to others. In typical conferences, presenting almost always carries more prestige than listening; the few present and share their wisdom with the many. This one-to-many or "hierarchical knowledge distribution system" slowed the sharing and spreading of ideas about which many people cared deeply if not passionately, as there was always limited opportunity for interchange among participants. This interaction was usually wedged into the the interstices of the formal schedule in the form of informal, spontaneous gatherings for which no record existed. 
The notion that presenting is more important than listening aroused life-long antipathy in Bánáthy. When he formulated the leadership competencies of the White Stag Leadership Development Program in the 1960s, he described the passing of knowledge from one to another as "Manager of Learning." He wrote extensively about how the focus should be on the learner, not the teacher.
"He could see far beyond what most of us ordinarily see. So many times I have had a great (for me) insight only to read all about it in one of Bela's writings.... His wisdom and role in life was unique. He was a pioneer, and like most pioneers, walked alone at the horizons of our knowledge. But he left footsteps behind, footsteps that many will want to follow." Magdalena A. Kalaidjieva
Bánáthy advanced a different vision for conferences, one that would allow everyone to fully engage. He proposed that everyone be given the opportunity to prepare and distribute papers to all participants in advance of the conference. And instead of listening to speeches, conference attendees took part in extended, non-hierarchical conversations about the conference papers. The conference proceedings were the result of these conversations. Bánáthy felt strongly that systems scholars from all over the world should be given ongoing opportunities to engage in extended conversations so they might put their expertise "actively into the service of humanity worldwide." 
Bánáthy wrote, "We aspire to reap the 'reflecting and creating power' of groups that emerge in the course of disciplined and focused conversations on issues that are important to us and to our society." Participants at International Systems Institute gatherings have since the original meeting organized by Bánáthy in 1982 organized them around this principle and referred to them as "conversations."
In 1984, he was co-founder with general evolution theorist Ervin László and others of the initially secret General Evolutionary Research Group A member of the Society of General Systems Research since the 1960s, he was Managing Director of the Society in the early 1980s, and in 1985 he became its president. He then served on its Board of Trustees. During the '80s, he served on the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Systems Research. In 1989, he retired from Far West Labs and returned to live on the Monterey Peninsula. He continued to serve as Professor Emeritus for the Saybrook Graduate School, counseling Ph.D. students. He also continued his work with the annual International Systems Institute international systems design conversations, and authored a number of articles and books about systems, design, and evolutionary research. He served two terms as president of the International Federation of Systems Research during 1994-98.
"He was our advisor, guide and human conscience... a source of inspiration to everybody, a person, a mentor in the best sense, a quiet, helpful person and a model teacher for many, many students." G. Chroust, International Federation of Systems Research, November, 2003
He coordinated over twenty international systems research conferences held in eight countries, including the 1994 Conversation on Systems Design conversation held at Fuschl Am See, Austria, sponsored by the International Federation of Systems Research. He was also honorary editor of three international systems journals: Systems Research and Behavioral Science, the Journal of Applied Systems Studies, and Systems. He was on the Board of Editors of Systems Research, World Futures, and Systems Practice, and served as a contributing editor of Educational Technology.
Bánáthy authored several books and hundreds of articles. A selection: