FOLLOWING THE coronation of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, the Emperor of Ethiopia; King of Kings; Elect of God and conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the storm clouds of WWII opened for Ethiopia. The War became an excuse for Italy to further her dream of a second ‘Roman Empire’ in the face of limited success at acquiring colonies, in a manner similar to Britain, Belgium, Germany, France and other European countries. Benito Mussolini became the instrument for carrying out the dream with the active support of allied and axis governments during World War II.
Mussolini’s declaration of war on Ethiopia followed the pattern of Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi (1887-1891) who attempted to implement the Treaty of Uccialli (1890) in Ethiopia. However, the Treaty was fraudulent because, the European version was written to create the deception that Emperor Menelik had given Italy territory. Contrary to the first version, the second version of the Treaty, written in Amheric, stated the need for cooperation with Italy if Ethiopia desired. There was no reference, in the second version, to extending Italy Ethiopian territory. It was Empress Taitu who challenged the deception of the Treaty before the Italian representative to Emperor Menelik and by becoming directly engaged in implementing military strategy against Italy. The failure of Italy to rectify her deception resulted in the Battle of Adwa and the defeat of Italy.
Inspite of this historical background Mussolini continued with his dream of making Ethiopia a part of his second ‘Roman Empire’. Mussolini followed a strategy of deception with Ethiopia not unlike that of his predecessor Crispi in that he claimed territory (WelWel) in Ethiopia that he demanded belonged to Italy. However this was not the case as WelWel was several miles within the boundaries of Ethiopia. Mussolini used this false claim to enter into a vicious campaign against Ethiopia. Italy’s actions led to vigorous diplomatic and military protests on the part of Ethiopia and Ethiopians of the Western Hemisphere.
Lloyd George’s biographer, Frank Owen wrote; “The British public had hardly finished voting enthusiastically for peace and the League of Nations, (voting organised by the League of Nations Union), when Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, resolved to defy it and annex Abyssinia (Ethiopia). He had no trouble in picking a quarrel with her over some wells on the frontier between Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland. It seemed that he would have even less trouble with the League of Nations.
For France, having done a deal with him (Mussolini-authors insert) whereby Italy withdrew her opposition to the French retaining Tunisia, was ready to let him have his own way over Abyssinia (Ethiopia). As for Britain, she was busy looking the other way. MacDonald and Simon, his Foreign Secretary, had gone to Stresa in April, 1935, to meet Mussolini and Laval, the French Foreign Minister. Although all of them were thoroughly well aware of what was developing, no mention had ever been made of Abyssinia, (Ethiopia), which led Mussolini to believe that both Britain and France would stand aside when he invaded that country...
The League responded by doing its feeble best to conciliate Mussolini. He replied arrogantly: “Italy will pursue her aims-with Geneva, without Geneva, or against Geneva.”
On 2 October, as the summer rains died, Italian troops advanced across the frontier while Italian aircraft showered bombs upon the open and undefended Abyssinian (Ethiopian) towns and villages. The League of Nations Assembly denounced this barbarous aggression...A week after the new House of Commons assembled, Sir Samuel Hoare, who had succeeded Simon as Foreign Secretary, signed in Paris the Hoare-Laval Pact whereby large tracts of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) territory were to be tranferred to Italy, and much of the rest placed under Italian "protection” for exploitation. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet endorsed this act of opportunism.”
The invasion was in the face of ‘weak’ protests from the League of Nations a forerunner of the United Nations. However; strenuous representation and military campaigns by Imperial Ethiopia were made against Benito Mussolini’s colonial expansion. Plans to justify his desire and that of his supporters to become the self styled ‘emperor of Ethiopia’ and rebuild a second ‘Roman Empire’ would eventually fail. During the 20’s ; according to Charles Burdett lecturer of Italian Studies at the University of Bristol; Italy and Mussolini, the Duce, had particularly favourable relations with the United States Government. It was the US who supplied oil to Italy in spite of the request by Ethiopia for sanctions to the League of Nations.
Stanley Baldwin was the Prime Minister of England at the time Italy invaded Abyssinia. Efforts to prevent the invasion were not decisive because, according to Baldwin’s biographer G.M. Young; writing in 1952; Baldwin based his position on the war to issues arising entirely from the ‘western alliance’. These issues included-the effects on the nation of World War I; the relationship with France; who declined to provide any support to England, because of her interests in Tunisia, and no clear policy of engagement in support of Abyssinia if war was declared. This is in spite of popular support for the League of Nations by the Unions and the British Public. “Baldwin never whole-heartedly believed in the League of Nations as an effective force in the affairs of the world, though he could speak beautifully about the Assemble.”
Following a debate in the House of Commons on the Abyssinian War G.M. Young describes observations from a member that were “…not even indexed in Hansard of truly prophetic import.”
“I would mention a case which…is before us even now. If the Government displays the same pusillanimity in this case as they did, in the case of Japan and Shanghi, we shall be presented with I know not how many more armaments votes. I refer to the Italian dispute with Abyssinia…If we fail there we shall alienate the support of every minor Power in the world. They will say. “What is the good of the League of Nations” and they will be justified in asking. Our attitude in the matter will have a very intimate relation to the policy of this country in preventing another war.”
Prior to this debate in the House “…Abyssinia had demanded at Geneva the application of Article 13 of the Covenant of the League, That article carried with it Article 12, and Article 12 led up to Article 16-the severance of relations with the Covenant Breaker; and the prohibition of all intercourse, and the use of armed force to protect the Covenant. If the clouds were thinning over the Rhine; they were growing darker over the Mediterranean”. The unrecorded remarks from the member of the house are applicable today with respect to the United Nations and similar bodies.
The build up to the war against Ethiopia, according to Emperor Haile Sellassie in his speech before the League of Nations in June 1936 took 14 years. When Italy declared war against Abyssinia. Britain had to ‘keep step’ with France which meant ‘moderate sanctions’. Therefore Baldwin’s remarks in the House of Commons regarding the threat of war against Abyssinia were never decisive. His biographer described Baldwin’s speech in the House as:
“…in the vain of high, impersonal persuasion. He asked for no votes, he announced no policy. Rather, one may say, and it is perhaps the essential achievements of the orator, he created a mood. One listener wrote. “It was like the first hearing of a great symphony.”
Neville Chamberlain was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1931-37 and a member of the English Eugenics Society. Chamberlain said of Baldwin and the Italian-Abyssinian War: "I will frankly confess that at times I have felt some transient impatience when it has seemed difficult to bring your thoughts down to the earthly decision I wanted. But when I read a speech like that I can only think of our good fortune in having a leader who can raise us so far above ourselves, and can express what we should like to believe we had convictions that the League could not stop the career of Mussolini, that France would slip out, and that without France we could not stop the career of Mussolini and that without France we could not hold our own in the Mediterranean and the Eastern Seas. We did not, could not, arm to the level of our needs in 1934. Therefore we depend on France in 1935, and France was faithless.” The result was disaster.
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