The Bloody White Baron

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Authors: James Palmer
horseback has a romanticism which has not quite disappeared from the Western consciousness, 17 and Ungern would remain eternally enthusiastic, to his later tactical disadvantage, about the possibilities of the cavalry charge and the lightning raid. He had other diversions too; one report mentions his interest in ‘general’ as well as ‘military’ literature and European philosophy.
    Ungern would make an extraordinary claim about his time in Dauria:
    In Transbaikalia I tried to form the Order of Military Buddhists for an uncompromising fight against the depravity of revolution [. . .] For what? For the protection of the processes of evolution of humanity and for the struggle against revolution, because I am certain that evolution leads to the Divinity and revolution to bestiality. 18
    The Order apparently had strict rules, which Ungern’s companions were unable to live up to. In response,
    I introduced the condition of celibacy, the entire negation of woman, of the comforts of life, of superfluities, according to the teachings of the Yellow Faith; and in order that the Russian might be able to live down his physical nature, I introduced the limitless use of alcohol,
hasheesh, and opium. Now for alcohol I hang my officers and soldiers; then we drank to the ‘white fever’, delirium tremens. I could not organise the Order but I gathered round me and developed three hundred men wholly bold and entirely ferocious. 19
    Â 
    A bunch of supposedly Buddhist officers wandering around the Transbaikal, drunk and stoned and preaching the ‘Yellow Faith’ is a wonderful picture, but that Ungern actually organised such an Order seems unlikely. One would expect somebody else to mention it, for one thing. The witness to this speech of Ungern’s, Ferdinand Ossendowski, was not always the most reliable of storytellers. The account is repeated in one other memoir, where ‘Nikolay looked at me with the wide, staring eyes of a fanatic. I knew he was a Buddhist, as were Baron Ungern and some three hundred of the others around them,’ 20 but this in turn is probably culled from Ossendowski.
    It may be that Ossendowski made up the story himself, but it seems more likely that it was a later fantasy of Ungern’s, perhaps rooted in some drunken scheme. The language is distinctly Theosophical, with its talk of ‘the evolution of humanity’, and perhaps it reflected his thinking and reading at the time - or perhaps it reflected Ossendowski’s own esoteric interests. The close connection of war and religion was certainly part of Ungern’s later thinking; perhaps he was considering, even then, how Buddhism could be harnessed to raise an army for a holy war.
    One trait that certainly wasn’t fictional was drunkenness. Alcohol was a staple of garrison life everywhere, and Ungern developed a ferocious love of it. The toast to the ‘white fever’ sounds worryingly plausible for a group of young, bored soldiers. Ungern was not a gentle drunk, and his drinking led to his departure from the Transbaikal Host. The circumstances are unclear, but he got into a duel with another officer, which resulted in no serious harm to either party - it may not have actually been fought at all - as a result of drunken insults, most probably at a ‘wine party’. As a result he felt obliged or was pressured to resign from the regiment so as not to serve with the man he had fought. That it was Ungern who resigned, and not his opponent, suggests where the fault lay. Using family influence, he found a new posting easily enough with the 1st Amur Regiment of the Amur Cossack Host, in the extremes of the Russian Far East near Blagoveshchensk. It was another bleak garrison
town, even further from civilisation than Dauria. The Chinese border was close by, and raids by Chinese bandits commonplace.
    Before Ungern set out from Dauria, he made a wager with the local officers that he could ‘travel the

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