Traveling Through Siberian Chaos


[Originally published in the November 1918 issue of HARPER'S MAGAZINE]

I was walking down the main street of Vladivostok one morning when I noticed a large crowd collected on the sidewalk just ahead of me. Soldiers and sailors came running from every direction. A few civilians, happening along, stopped at the outskirts of the mob, to see what it was all about. But the soldiers and sailors held first place.

A young Chinese had snatched a purse from a lady as he passed her. He had been caught in the act and handed over to some soldiers. They were asking the boy all kinds of questions without waiting for any answer. They were abusing him with filthy phrases. They were beating him over the head and kicking him with their heavy boots, until I thought they would surely kill him. Finally, the woman who had been robbed appealed to them to spare the victim and take him away for trial. But nobody seemed to know where to take him. I wondered where the police could be, to allow such disgraceful scenes on the main thoroughfare. I asked a man who was standing a little apart.

"Police?" he replied, amazed at my ignorance. "There aren't any police now, except those brutes you saw abusing that poor devil. They don't even know where the lock-up is. Yet we citizens of ‘Free Siberia’ have only them to depend upon for the protection of our persons and our property. It is the soldiers and sailors that say what shall be done here in the East. And this is a sample. They claim to be policing this city efficiently. Bah!"

While he was talking, a half-dozen ringleaders were arguing in a loud voice as to the proper procedure in such a case. Finally, two soldiers sauntered up, claiming to be of higher civic authority, and, with the noisy throng following, they dragged the prisoner off up a side-street.

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