You know one thing I hate about being me (other than not being able to reliably pull off a Dragon Punch despite 17 years of practice)? It’s that most of the things that really fire me up are things I hate. War? Check. The Daily Mail? Check. Circus skills? Check check check. Can it be right to take so much pleasure from the act of hating stuff so damn hard? Anyhoo, the circle of hell that I reserve for the bizarre dichotomy of paramount hatred yet total fascination is dictators and related historical nutters. Seriously, since I was kid pretty much all my reading has been geared towards Histories Greatest Shitheads, their associated wrongs and how the hell we ever let them get to positions of power. So imagine my surprise and weird mix of seething anger/boundless joy when I stumbled across this guy: Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg.
Right from the get go, this guy is ticking boxes left right and centre. His name is appropriately weird, right up there with the likes of ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, Saparmurat Niyazov (who will definitely get a post of his own at some point) and Slobodan Milošević. A solid start. Every dictator needs some form of childhood ostracisation in order to truly live up to their potential and a bat shit crazy name ensures the best possible start in life (although you can tell the really hardcore ones are those who change their name to something even battier….Stalin/Pol Pot, I’m looking at you guys). Next in line is his appearance. Does he look mental? Bet your sweet ass he does! Check out those eyes…someone’s been skewing his X-Axis and that is a sure fire sign that this guy is just full to the brim with atrocious awesome. But names and looks alone don’t cut it. I want to see some deeds. Devious deeds, hopefully of the blood drenched variety. Can you help out here, Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg? You bet he can!
Like the bulk of the uber-brutal genocidal maniacs, the Barons early years are marked by fully fledged losserdom. Despite coming from an aristocratic family, he made fine work of being expelled from numerous distinguished institutions and finally ended up in the army (after transferring from the navy, a time that was characterised by disobedience and drunkenness….recurring themes throughout his life) and was sent to the notorious shit-hole-of-a-posting that is Siberia. Given that the best entertainment on offer at the arse end of the Russian Empire amount to little more than massively extended rounds of ‘Spot The Tree’ and ‘Huddle For Warmth’, Ungern managed to pass his time doing what he did best: Drinking, disobeying orders and fighting with fellow officers. Good times. Obviously, this sort of thing didn’t really endear him to his peers so he spent most of his knocking about with native Mongols and Buryats. So far, so meh. But wait, what’s this? The Baron starts describing his religious outlook as ‘Military Buddhism’? Now this I gotta hear! Basically, the Baron’s worldview panned out something like this:
Monarchism – Yay!
Hoi Poloi – Boo!
God – Awesome! Not even bothered about which God it is!
War – Super Awesome!
Wimmin – The what now?
Pinko-Commies – Sub Prime
Jews – Dangerously sub-prime
Meshing together all these weird beliefs with a hint of Eastern Mysticism and lashings of fanatical devotion – Fuck yeah!
It’s this sort of crazy that really sorts your common garden psychopath from your top-flight pro-athlete maniac and the Baron really pushed the boat out on this front. Unfortunately, when you start to reach this level of insanity, people start to notice and what with all the boozing/flogging/duelling and all that, he soon found himself being shunted from one bottom-of-the-barrel posting to the next. Finally, he got the message, asked to be transferred to the reserves and spent a year or so buggering about in Mongolia (as you do).
The story could well have ended here with Ungern as an oddball who simply fades into obscurity but as luck would have it, indescribable carnage was just round the corner in the shape of World War 1. Most sane folk tend to try and avoid war. It has a nasty habit of killing and WWI was about to crank up the horror a fair few notches. Not Ungern. To him, this was Christmas, Birthday and a pogrom all folded up into one marvellously horrific ball and without a moments hesitation he blagged himself back into active service. Unsurprisingly, he turned out to be a natural, happily descending into the swelling tide of carnage and even going to the pains of continuing to fight on horseback, despite the epic number of machine guns pointed at him. Whilst no-one debated the fact that he was a stone cold solid super soldier, it does seem that his fellow officers were just a tinsee bit wary of him. Accordingly, he was promoted very slowly, despite numerous awards for bravery and you get the feeling that pretty much everyone in the Russian Army (apart from those who served under him….they apparently loved him and his Terminator-esque skill set and tolerance for his men getting absolutely blinding drunk…more on that later) would do absolutely everything in their goddamn power not to be stuck in a room with him. Not that he gave a shit, no sireee. He had way to much killing to do, although he did find the time to send back his coat, riddled with bullet holes and blood stains to his family (nothing says ‘I’m fine’ like blood-drenched apparel). Another measure of just how chuffing good he was at this war business was by taking a look at the regiment he served in. Now, the Russian Army have never really been known for their touchy-feely attitude towards human resources, but Ungern got an even shittier end of the stick by being assigned to a regiment that was notorious for getting an absolute hammering where ever it went. So bad was their luck that the casualty rate in that particular unit was 200%. That’s right, 200%. That means that not only pretty much everyone who signed up at the start of the war ended up coming to a sticky end, but also the guys who replaced them. Nice.
Unfortunately for Ungern, all good things have to come to an end and Russia’s involvement with the war came to an abrupt halt with the Revolution (even though I’m quite sure that he would have single handedly carried on fighting the German Army if given half a chance). Luckily, this new turn of events meant that Ungern had a whole new war to dick around with (the Russian Civil War) and could now turn his attention to slaughtering Commies, Jews and anyone who wasn’t entirely on board with his own trademark brand of absurdity. This is when the story starts getting really loopy. Seriously, all that craziness above? Just the tip of the lunatic iceberg. From here on in we’re talking conspicuous madness practiced with heroic dedication and an unerring eye for detail. Sadly for you guys, you’re just going to have to hang on until I’ve finished the rest of James Palmers “The Bloody White Baron” (from which I’ve cribbed most of these chosty factoids). If you’re into history with a wild streak of insanity, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re not, then this conversation is over. OVER!
Also, Barontastic info can be found from these interweb pixel pushers:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Ungern_von_Sternberg http://militaryhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/themadbaronofmongolia http://newdawnmagazine.com.au/Article/The_Bloody_Baron_von_Ungern-Sternberg.html
Or you can be a real man and JFGI. See y’all in a week or so with the rest of this sorry tale.