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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I



CHAPTER 35

We proclaim mobilization



In all the civilized world, if one state seeks to wage war against another, it announces its intention of doing so. After such an announcement has been made, the diplomatic representatives of the two sides return to their home countries. If their citizens so desire, they may also leave.

But Italy continued making announcements that she had no intention of making war, while in fact she had long meant to wage war against Ethiopia, and for the past three years had decided upon it and had begun preparations. However, at some time, when the occasion arises, revelations are bound to occur, and so General de Bono has now spoken of it in the book which he has published about the war. And since this has been confirmed by Monsieur Mussolini’s signature, it is not possible to claim that it is a lie.

When We heard of the despatch by Italy of war materials and large numbers of soldiers to her colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland, up to the realization of the time-table she had fixed to start the war, We made enquiries through Our Charge d’affaires at Rome; a reply was then issued which no-one can accept as true, i.e. that it was as a safeguard against a surprise attack the Emperor might be launching against their colonies and that there was no other reason.

Since this was allegedly the reason, We made it known by radio to Italy and the whole world that We on our part were not thinking of a scheme of this kind.

Although We made this announcement, Italy did not interrupt the despatch of military equipment and troops. There were no factories to produce war materials in our country, in order to make preparations on our part. We did not have enough money to make purchases abroad. When We asked for loans, Italy's resolve to make war being well known, We did not find anyone who would lend to Us. Furthermore, since Ethiopia and Italy had signed, with approval, what is laid down in the covenant of the League which the nations of the world had set up at Geneva, it seemed to Us that, if any kind of dispute arose between us, the matter was to be looked into by the League in accordance with the covenant with a view to being settled peacefully. Over and above this, if a dispute that arose between the two governments could not be settled by diplomatic negotiations on the basis of articles 5 and 7 of the Treaty of Friendship which the two governments specifically concluded on 21st Hamle 1920 (= 28th July 1928), then the matter was to be disposed of by arbitrators, but in any event there was to be no war between them for at least 20 years. Italy had claimed to be one of the great civilized nations, and it, therefore, seemed to Us that she would not violate the covenant of the League. Moreover, by virtue of the fact that We did not suspect that Italy would start a war without notifying her decision to engage in hostilities, as the heathen of olden times used to do, We had not proclaimed mobilization from the moment of the Walwal attack, on 26 Hedar (= 5 December 1934), until 22 Maskaram (= 3 October 1935} when she began the war with her attack on Adwa.

But the Italians were well aware of the disposition of Our troops, in remote places and in the fringe areas of the country. As We entertained some suspicion that they might await the rainy season, when no-one would be able to march on the roads, and then launch an attack, We directed that a certain number of reserve troops from each unit should come to Addis Ababa.

Because their homes were very far in the West and South of Ethiopia, the rainy season had started by the time they were ready for their journey. As rain and mud made things difficult for them, they began to arrive at Addis Ababa only by the middle of Maskaram (late September), although they had set out in the month of Hamle (July).

But while the Italians were offering deceptive words to the League of Nations and pretending, on one hand, to seek conciliation, they despatched, on the other hand, war materials and troops. After they had completed all their preparations, crossed the border by aeroplane, on 21st Maskaram 1928 (= 2 October 1935), without informing either us or the League of Nations of their decision to begin the war; they flew to Adwa and dropped bombs on the city, slaying old men and children, women and priests; they also set fire to the principal buildings.

Perhaps thinking of it as a precaution, We had given orders for a Red Cross Society station to be set up at Adwa; and this, too they set on fire.

In the civilized world of the present time, when one state intends to wage war against another it will not do so without notification. But Italy, without regard to her honour and good name, apart from some ephemeral advantage to her, began the war without any declaration whatever; it cannot be doubted that this will bring shame to her history.

Apart from this, the Italian Minister at Addis Ababa, Count Vinci, caused Us great difficulties. If it were a government like the states of the civilized world, it would have been right for Italy to instruct her Minister to notify her decision to go to war and then to recall the Minister. We would then have informed all Our subjects, via Our Charge d’affaires in Italy and Our Consul at Asmara, that they should leave Italian territory. Had Italy recalled her Minister without declaring war, it would undoubtedly have been in order to stop us preparing ourselves and proclaiming mobilization, yet we would have recognized that it was for the purpose of war. Or again, if we did not expel her Minister by force and he had been involved in some major incident, it would have been Italy’s intention to have us condemned in the eyes of the world, claiming that Ethiopia had acted with violence of this kind against the Italian Minister.

While we had begun to follow the path of international civilization, We were convinced that it would not be proper to engage in lawlessness and to retrogress like Italy; We therefore notified the Minister and consuls, their agents and all their other subjects, to return to their country by the nearest possible route when no harm of any sort would befall them. Hence it was arranged that they should leave by the route nearest to them: those in the east by way of Jibuti, those in the south via Mogadishu and Kenya, those in the west through the Sudan, and those in the north by way of Asmara.

Even if we had detained as prisoners till the end of the war the subjects of a state which had unleashed the violence of war, without a declaration, and infringed the covenant of the League of Nations, we would not have been reckoned wrongdoers. But as We intended to seek peace, We were unwilling to do this. However, although We pursued the path of peace, the (Italian) Minister, without taking this into account at all, refused to depart until the consuls, agents, and Italian citizens who were resident in the various provinces had all left. Thus, to make things really difficult, he summoned the Magalo agent to Addis Ababa instead of going by way of Mogadishu which was not far from him.

Worse than all this, the Italian Minister abandoned his erstwhile habit of going about Addis Ababa by car and now went on horseback instead—having a servant, also on horseback, follow him holding the (Italian) flag and carrying a revolver in his belt. He even started to go on ordinary roads on which no ministers of foreign countries, nor even the important people of our own, would venture. The soldiers who had been ordered to come for protective duties had just begun to arrive at Addis Ababa, and when they saw this Minister of an enemy power going about the capital in such a procession, We heard that their blood was boiling and they began to look upon this with hostile eyes. We were concerned, therefore, that, if by any chance he got involved in an incident, everything We had hitherto patiently endured for the sake of peace would be in vain. We informed him, through an intermediary, that he was to stay quietly in one predetermined place until the agents who had been summoned arrived, and accordingly it was arranged that he should remain at a certain place. But what We had done for the sake of peace and security they interpreted in an unfavourable sense and spread the rumour that we had detained their Minister in prison.

Later on We received reliable information that the Italians had crossed the frontiers in the north and in the south and had dropped bombs on several of our cities, killing people and burning houses. As We felt that it was right for us to defend our country’s independence as far as possible, although we did not even possess adequate modern equipment for defensive purposes, We directed the following proclamation of mobilization to be issued on 22nd Maskaram 1928 (= 3rd October 1935):

‘The Lion of Judah has prevailed.
Haile Sellassie I, Elect of God,
King of Kings of Ethiopia.

People of my country Ethiopia! You know Ethiopia’s ancient tradition since the days of Menelik I and that she is well known and honoured for her independence.

Forty years ago today, Italy, boasting of her ability and strength, had wanted to acquire our people as slaves after destroying Ethiopia’s independence. When she came into our country to fight us, our God who does not like violence helped us, and when He gave us victory we did not seek to recover our land that had gone. As Italy violated the borders in the Hamasien and Somali regions and took away our patrimony, your eye can see and your ear can hear the yoke of serfdom which our brothers, who live in the areas she has usurped, have had to bear.

While We are sad at the violence wrought against them and while We do not seek to recover Our lost lands, Italy is now thinking of imposing the yoke of bondage upon the people who live in the whole of Our country. Having brought war, surreptitiously, to the Ogaden region, she is killing Our people who do not seek conflict and she is violating the treaty which we had concluded. We for our part had entered a League of Nations that was established for the sake of world peace and, therefore, We informed the League with the intention that the offender be identified once the Walwal conflict had been looked into by the arbitrators according to the law.

Even before the matter could be examined and adjudicated by the arbitrators, Italy had brought the war close to the frontiers of the Tigre and Ogaden; We, therefore, had to notify the League of Nations once more, and it issued a verdict in our favour, deciding that the matter was to be looked into by the arbitrators. When the latter had investigated the matter, they found in our favour, determining that the Ethiopian Government had done no wrong and carried no responsibility for the attack which had taken place at Walwal. As all this was going on, Italy did not for the time being abandon the continuation of warlike activities in the direction of our borders. While Italy was reckoning to corrupt with blandishments every intention of Ours to have the matter peacefully settled by arbitral verdict, she coveted Our venerable country—meaning to deprive her of her liberty and to destroy it—which was well known for her antiquity and which has lived in freedom for more than 3000 years. I would be very distressed if we were to be thought of as being defeated; therefore, people of my country Ethiopia, help me, you who have strength with your strength, you who lack strength with your sympathy! The reason for which you are to help with strength and with sympathy is that you know it to be for the sake of your religion and your freedom, for your Emperor who, in mutual thought and assistance, is like a father and like a son, and for the sake of your flag which proudly manifests independence.

A nation without freedom is tantamount to a people driven from its land being pushed like cattle by the hand of the enemy, one that lives in bitter affliction and in humiliation as a tenant watching its inheritance in its own country in the hands of other men, which has no control over its possessions and its livelihood, not even over the soil of its grave, and which exists by inheriting serfdom that passes on to the next generation. With other people at least, when a king or a bishop dies—being human—his descendant is substituted for him. But when a country’s independence is extinguished there is no replacement; while serfdom passes on from one generation to the next, it is an eternal prisoner living with a name that does not die; and however proud Italy may be of her equipment, she too is known to share in death.

1) If you withhold from your country Ethiopia the death from cough or head-cold of which you would otherwise die, refusing to resist (in your district, in your patrimony, and in your home) our enemy who is coming from a distant country to attack us, and if you persist in not shedding your blood, you will be rebuked for it by your Creator and will be cursed by your offspring. Hence, without cooling your heart of accustomed valour, there emerges your decision to fight fiercely, mindful of your history that will last far into the future.

(2) Let your levy of troops, without men being separated from their leader and servants from their master, be mobilized on 12th Teqemt (= 23rd October) at Mika’el near Dessie. If on your march you touch any property inside houses or cattle and crops outside, not even grass, straw, and dung excluded, it is like killing your brother who is dying with you; you will then be punished by paying twice over for his property.

(3) You, countryman, living at the various access routes, set up a market for the army at the places where it is camping and on the day your district-governor will indicate to you, lest the soldiers campaigning for Ethiopia’s liberty should experience difficulty. You will not be charged excise duty, until the end of the campaign, for anything you are marketing at the military camps: I have granted you remission.

(4) You, country-squire, take your sons who have reached military age and set out with your district-governor, while the deputy district-governor gives you a stand-in who will be responsible for the protection of your land. But you who are unable to go on a military expedition, owing to old age, guard your district; let your sons set out with the district-governor!

(5) Sons of chiefs and soldiers, if you have reached military age and have not hitherto joined a military unit and have not entered the service of a master and remain without taking any work in the country, yet if you possess a rifle I will assign to you ammunition and your provisions; if you do not possess a rifle I shall let you have a rifle, ammunition and your provisions; and then join your district-governor for the military campaign.

(6) All you soldiers who have come back and stay in your respective districts, having left your army unit after enlisting in it earlier on, rejoin your officer and your regiment and go on the military campaign. You servants of noblemen and of soldiers who live in the country, if you stay there because you have quarrelled, make your peace and join your master in the war. But if you claim that you have been gravely wronged and therefore cannot be reconciled with your master, may you then come quickly to Addis Ababa, consigning to your master, before a War Ministry judge, the equipment and any property you had received in the regiment; and then get an officer and a rifle from the War Ministry, in order to get back to the military operations.

(7) You, who are peasants and traders, are to obey the orders which the deputy in charge of the district gives you and to assist him in any difficulties he may encounter, having enumerated before your district-governor’s village chief and noted down in a register any metal or rifles you possess.

(8) If you are a trader, a peasant, or a priest in your own particular district, I shall pay you the cost of transportation; so bring things to me at the place of mobilization, loading up even what is usually set aside for grain tithe.

(9) After you have been ordered to go to war, but are then idly missing from the campaign, and when you are seized by the local chief or by an accuser, you will have punishment inflicted upon your inherited land, your property, and your body; to the accuser I shall grant a third of your property.

(10) If previously you have murdered someone and fear the avenger, or if you are a brigand and have set a house on fire, or have robbed a man of his money and have fled and now live in the forest or the mountain precipices, I grant you a pardon; so enlist with your superior officer by 5th Teqemt (= 16th October). When you enlist with your officer and as you are inscribed in the district governor’s register, I shall entrust you to a mediator Ligaba, and with him or with your officer you are to go to war. But if you fail to surrender on the day fixed for you, you will be hanged in the district where you have been apprehended. You who are the family of the deceased, I shall pay you the blood-money; hence excuse your avenger for my sake.

(11) If, after the campaign proclamation has been issued, you are found committing acts of brigandage or supplying to the enemy provisions or anything at all, you will be deprived of your patrimony and property. You will be punished mercilessly and have the death penalty inflicted on you.’

We arranged the order of battle as is described here below: In the north, Ras Kassa was to be Commander-in-Chief in defence against the enemy coming by way of the Tigre. Under him were Ras Seyum Mangasha, commander of the entire Tigrean army, Ras Mullugeta Yegazu, Ras Kabbada Mangasha, Ras Emru Hayla Sellasse, Ras Getatchaw Abata, Dajatch Ayalew Berru, Dajatch Mashasha Walde, Dajatch Bayyana Wandemagagnahu, Dajatch Mangasha Yelma, Bitwaddad Makonnen Damsaw, Dajatch Admasu Berru, Dajatch Abara Tadla, Dajatch Awraris Dullu, Dajatch Walda-Maryam Baddada, Dajatch Balaynah Dabalqaw, the Crown Prince’s army com­mander Dajatch Wadaje Webe, Dajatch Ambatchaw Gassasa, the army commander of Wag, Dajatch Haylu Kabbada, Dajatch Wand Bawassan Kassa, Dajatch Abara Kassa, Dajatch Haylu Tasfaye, Tsahafe Te’ezaz Afa Warq Walda Maryam, Bajerond Latyebalu Gabre, Qagnazmatch Dahne Walda Maryam.

Ras Kassa had, before the rainy season, gone to his governorate of Bagemeder and had spent the rainy season there; We therefore transmitted to him orders to set out at once and go to join Ras Seyum. We directed that Our War Minister, Ras Mullugeta, should proceed in advance from Shoa, together with the army commanders enumerated here above.

On 8th Teqemt (= 19th October 1935), when he took leave of Us by parading the army in front of Us, We gave him (since he had to proceed with the troops) and the army mustered before Us the following precise orders:

‘It gives Us pleasure watching your departure, determined to shed your blood for your country’s independence and for Us, your Emperor, and his honour.

Because it is to the servant he trusts that a master commits his property, so have We instructed you to resist the enemy—placing your faith in God, while you take care of Our army and help everyone in whatever their difficulties may be.

The enemy who has now come upon us is not a new or unexpected enemy but he is our mortal foe of old. Everything he has now achieved by virtue of Our refusal to send Our army preventively to the front—trusting as We did the peace-seeking efforts of the League of Nations—has been through cruelty, not even killing excluded, and he cannot be suspected of tenderness to soldiers, to the old and to women and children. We have already heard about the early stages of his mercilessness to women and children.

As death can in any event not fail to occur, it would be wrong to forget that it is of great advantage having it said that someone died shedding his blood for his country’s liberty, his King’s honour, and for the good name of his generation rather than that he died of a cough, a head-cold or of typhoid. If someone dies in war he is said to be extraordinary, but to be stunned at someone’s death is to debase the dignity of valour.

It cannot be doubted that to a soldier, a peasant, or a trader his country’s independence is his greatest pride. It is, therefore, important to convince you to the utmost extent possible that quarrels and deceitfulness amongst you should disappear, that love and unity should spread, and that a servant should acknowledge obedience to his master and a soldier to his officer. If the Italians are proud of their weapons against us, we on our part are proud that our greatest weapon against them is the help of God. Our flag, red, yellow, and green, and our seal with the legend "the lion has prevailed" are the symbol of our independence; lest this symbol of our freedom should perish, it is a great honour for our good name and for our history if we die shedding our blood to the very last drop.

The reason why We have told you this is that it would suit the enemy if you were to enter the war simply in order to die, without taking precautions and like a butterfly in the flame, rather than save Ethiopia from the hand of the enemy as you are fighting a war according to contemporary fashion.

What exactly you should do is set out as follows:

(1) When you set up tents, it is to be in caves and by trees and in a wood, if the place happens to be adjoining to these—and separated in the various platoons. Tents are to be set up at a distance of 30 cubits from each other.

(2) When an aeroplane is sighted, one should leave large open roads and wide meadows and march in valleys and trenches and by zigzag routes, along places which have trees and woods.

(3) When an aeroplane comes to drop bombs, it will not suit it to do so unless it comes down to about 100 metres; hence when it flies low for such action, one should fire a volley with a good and very long gun and then quickly disperse. When three or four bullets have hit it, the aeroplane is bound to fall down. But let only those fire who have been ordered to shoot with a weapon that has been selected for such firing, for if everyone shoots who possesses a gun, there is no advantage in this except to waste bullets and to disclose the men’s whereabouts.

(4) Lest the aeroplane, when rising again, should detect the whereabouts of those who are dispersed, it is well to remain cautiously scattered as long as it is still fairly close. In time of war it suits the enemy to aim his guns at adorned shields, ornaments, silver and gold cloaks, silk shirts and all similar things. Whether one possesses a jacket or not, it is best to wear a narrow-sleeved shirt with faded colours. When we return, with God’s help, you can wear your gold and silver decorations then. Now it is time to go and fight We offer you all these words of advice in the hope that no great harm should befall you through lack of caution. At the same time We are glad to assure you that in time of war We are ready to shed Our blood in your midst for the sake of Ethiopia’s freedom—as indeed We have explained to you in the speech We delivered 11th Hamle (= 18th July 1935).’


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March 18, 2017