Carl William Ackerman, a reporter, was connected with the Allied armies which were fighting the Bolsheviks in Siberia. Called the Siberian Intervention and/or the Siberian Expedition, this effort was underway between 1918 and 1922. Ackerman wrote a book on his experiences, Trailing the Bolsheviki, published in 1919.
“To Americans, Siberia was an incident, not an event; a playhouse, not a war theatre.”
Ackerman traveled west by ship from San Francisco to Yokohama at a time when the “war in France was rapidly approaching a climax…” Onboard the ship, the Nippon Maru, wireless reports came in telling how the Japanese and the Allies had landed in Vladivostok and were marching in pursuit of the Bolsheviki. They marched down the Ussuri Valley and fought the enemy near the Ussuri River. 7500 American soldiers under the command of Major-General William S. Graves had been landed at Vladivostok. The Allies in Siberia also included the English, the French, and the Japanese. “At that time the common impression was that the Bolshevists were German agents…”
Bolsheviki means “majority.” Another faction was the Menshevists. The Bolsheviki wanted extreme Marxism; the Menshevists wanted minimal Marxism. There were also the Monarchists, firm believers in the Tsar. In March 1917, Tsar Nikolas Romanoff had been overthrown and a provisional government was proclaimed.
From Tsuruga, Japan, Ackerman boarded a different ship, the Hozan Maru, destined for Vladivostok, the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway. There, the U.S. flag flew over the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force in Svetlanskaya No. 26. In Vladivostok, Ackerman began his journey north and into the interior of Siberia.
Land of Nitchevo
“Nitchevo” described Russia at this time, meaning “nothing” and also “okay”, in the sense of “not bad”, as well as “I should worry”. Nitchevo, writes Ackerman, “is the first Russian word the foreigner learns.” Russia at that time was “the land of Nitchevo.”
Bolshevism “was a programme for the destruction of civilization as it was known in Russia…” What did the Bolsheviki actually do once they had overthrown the civilization symbolized by Tsar Nicholas II? Almost their first act was to abolish the constituent assembly which they themselves had earlier been demanding “in the name of the people.” The Bolsheviki “opposed the right of representative government and substituted a class government, the very thing they condemned under the former Russian régime.”
On the other hand, when the Tsar had freed the serfs in 1861 there had been no concurrent grant of voting rights. The serfs were “free” but could not vote. “Education was restricted. Religion was not free. The minds of the Russian people were in bondage and their bodies were servants of autocratic politicians and factory owners.”
“Bolshevism succeeds only when governments fail.”
“The first [February 1917] revolution destroyed titles and distinctions and made every one a Russian citizen, but the counter-revolution [of October 1917] put an end to citizenship and made every one an animal.”
Siberia was cut off from European Russia by a “battle-line” running from Perm south along the Ural Mountains to Orenburg. Omsk was sort of a clearing-house for refugees. “To Omsk come the men, women, and children who have been fortunate in their escape from European Russia.”
American railway engineers had come to Russia with John F. Stevens to take charge of the Trans-Siberia rail line under the Kerensky government. Ackerman encountered them all along the way, from Vladivostok to Manchuria. But by then they were all men without a railroad due to the fall of the Kerensky government.
One day, one of these forlorn engineers glimpsed an American Red Cross nurse. He was ecstatic. “Won’t you please come over here a moment,” he begged. “I haven’t seen an American woman for nearly a year and have about forgotten what they look like.” This American engineer lived alone in a small town in Manchuria, “filling his place in Uncle Sam’s world-wide war programme; a program which will be, if it is not already, something of a world-peace programme also.”
Besides the Red Cross, also maintaining a presence in Siberia then was the YMCA. “It is a common sight to pass Y.M.C.A. freight-cars en route to and from the front, and in several cities along the line are American hospitals and relief organizations.”