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The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I - Volume 2



CHAPTER VIII

MUSSOLINI'S THREAT TO THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA-CHANGING BRITISH POLICY REGARDING THE ETHIOPIAN AFFAIR-THE GENERAL COMMENTS WE GAVE TO A DAILY NEWS REPORTER



The Italians worried that the straits leading into and out of the Mediterranean sea might fall under the control of Britain and France. Afraid that in the event of a war these democratic countries would close the straits and block Italy's shipping, Rome sought equal status in the control over the Mediterranean sea. She consequently supported... [General Francisco Franco] in Spain, providing him with weapons and men and by conducting some clandestine operations. If Italy gained some kind of authority over the entrances into the Mediterranean... the larger democratic governments would feel threatened by a possible blockade in the event of a war, as the sea was the only [easy] passage to their Asian and African colonies. Hence they were forced to oppose Italy in their own interests. Nevertheless, in order to avoid war... [Neville] Chamberlain and Mr. Mussolini began a correspondence to come to reconciliation at the expense of Ethiopia. The British government suggested to Mussolini that it would recognize his claim to Ethiopia if he stopped supporting Spain, which Mussolini rejected.

Mussolini used force to find his way out of the intricate situation and to alleviate his problems. His... submarines... harrassed ships moving about on the sea. [Britain and France] understood [his goals] and called Mussolini to a meeting in Nyon [on September 10, 1937] to achieve some kind of rapprochement; but, in the meantime, the Russians charged that Italian "acts of piracy are responsible for the sinking of our ships and we demand compensation." Mussolini's reply was that he would "not come to Nyon as a litigant." Nevertheless other governments, excepting Italy and Germany, met [at Nyon] for discussions and agreed that French and British warships would safeguard the Mediterranean Sea; and... that any submarine that attacked ships... [there might] be sunk in retaliation. They also decided that Italy should secure her own coastal waters and notified her of their decision.

Italy on her part rejected the resolution on the grounds that she should be made an equal partner in safeguarding the whole of the Mediterranean.... Italy felt encircled and her movements restrained. Mussolini, therefore, went to meet Hitler to discuss future plans with the German government. After his return from his trip he transmitted the following speech to the British people:

Italy is an island molded out of the Mediterranean Sea. I am addressing this subject to the British public who are listening to us on the radio. The Mediterranean Sea is not only a seaway for the British, but also the shortest route to her colonial territories in the area.

When an Italian called [Luigi] Negrelli first thought of the idea of digging the Suez canal, it was the British who considered him crazy. If this seaway is a highway for others, for Italians it is our lifeline. I repeat a hundred times, that we have no intentions of blocking this seaway. We ask that our... interest, to which we are entitled, be safeguarded. It is necessary that... reasonable Englishmen should understand that this position of ours is firm and inalterable. It is wrong to think that the two countries or the European powers are going to clash over this. In any case, there is one way in which we can come to an agreement. It would be in the interest of all of us to reach a genuine agreement immediately. If this is not done, and there is a desire to deny the Italians access to the sea that once belonged to the Romans, the people of Italy would stand united and whole-heartedly prepare for a war unprecedented in recorded history.

* * *

After this the political situation in England began changing, shifting, and taking new directions. Mr. Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister since February, 1930 [E.C. or 1937], began preaching to the British public, emphasizing the necessity of concluding a peace treaty with Italy. Some disagreements arose between the Prime Minister Mr. Chamberlain and the Foreign office Secretary Mr. Anthony Eden, with regard to the relations between Britain and countries governed by dictators. This [divergence] resulted in Mr. Anthony Eden's resignation [on February 20, 1938]... caused over the question of whether or not it was an appropriate moment to undertake negotiations in order to reach an agreement between Great Britain and Italy. Mr. Chamberlain was in favor of immediate rapprochement, while Mr. Eden's views were very far from this position.

After concluding an agreement with Italy ending the Spanish civil war, Chamberlain openly announced that he would take the Ethiopian issue to the Council of the League for a debate. Consequently, We dispatched the following telegram to the General Secretary of the League of Nations indicating that We would be sending envoys in order to discuss Ethiopia's case from a position of equality:

I understand that the Ethiopian case will be on the agenda of the May meeting of Council of the League of Nations. As indicated in the League of Nations' charter, any member, even though not a member of the council, has the right to be present during council discussions when the meeting has to do with the country in question. Therefore for the benefit of my gallant people who are fighting for their freedom, I soon will notify you of the names of the Ethiopian representatives authorized to discuss Ethiopia's case both at the council meeting and at the general assembly.

There were rumors coming from [all] directions that the rapprochement between Chamberlain and Mussolini was intended to hand over Ethiopia to the invaders. In order to clarify the situation, we issued the following statement from Bath on April 10th, 1938:

If, as some sources have indicated, the British government's letter to the Secretary General of the League was sent to ease the League's obligations that binds member nations so as to grant recognition to the Italian occupation, We oppose the decision in its entirety. It should be known that this decision has no connection whatsoever with the basic charter of the League, particularly with the resolution approved by all members and passed by the General Assembly in July 1936 prohibiting the granting of recognition to a country occupied by force.

Next, since We had determined to appear at the council meeting, several politicians offered their opinions on the matter. For example while the Manchester Guardian newspaper remarked that, "the presence of the Emperor at the meeting again will probably create an amazing drama," the Daily Express on its part stated, "The Emperor has demonstrated in many ways that he would push his case and fight for it up to the last minute; the present decision to appear at the assembly will be another testimony to that effect."

After this, the British delegation headed by Lord Halifax held an urgent meeting and decided that "the presence of the Ethiopian representatives at the assembly is appropriate and rightful." The reason why it reached this decision, as far as We understood it, was that the British public was not then supportive of the aim of its government.

* * *

Earlier, in response to questions posed to Us by the Daily Mail reporter called G. Ward Price, We had explained in detail the unswerving confidence We had in the League of Nations. The reporter's aim was to confirm [Our] confidence in the League of Nations... notwithstanding Our failure to reach agreement [with Italy]... We replied as follows:

I have always taught and explained to my people the benefits of accepting Western Civilization as it is or with some modifications. Moreover, I have emphasized that becoming a member of a family entails the responsibility of respecting the rules and regulations of the family; and if these are properly pursued, one should be entitled to the benefits that the shared membership brings. I leave to your judgment as to whether the fatal luck that has befallen my people attests to the instruction I have given my people. I made an effort to explain this belief to my people because I, as an individual, had full confidence in the League of Nations. A conspicuous proof of this is that I had not prepared any alternative course, as I should have, in case the League failed to save me.

After We submitted to the League of Nations the full evidence of Italy's military preparations to invade Ethiopia, We foolishly thought that We would receive the guarantee of freedom and unity that the League was supposed to give all its members. Nevertheless my own trust in the League did not vanish. We continued to believe in what an American president had said, 'we have learned that we can secure victory by helping each other': and that support would grow as time passed. I have observed that all those who stood up for the principle of non-violation of written agreements, were prepared to put this belief into practice.

The reporter again asked, "During your long ordeal, has the British government encouraged you in any way?"

We answered that "as a member of the League of Nations, Great Britain has strengthened my belief in the League but, beyond this, has not given me any help."

Again he asked: "The situation in Ethiopia has aggrieved Your Majesty. If Your Majesty advised those who, up to now, have not submitted to the enemy, to yield, would it not save them from further agony?"

We answered, "Do you think that a people who have had three thousand years of independence would give it up so easily?"

He asked again, "how much will the resistance and refusal to accept Italy contribute toward victory?"

We answered all his questions, saying, "Many war leaders ready to defend Ethiopia's independence have emerged. We have the means of communicating with them... We receive information on the general situation and events in the country."

* * *

On March 8, 1938 talks were started between the governments of Italy and Great Britain in order to solve long-standing problems and to establish the relationship between the two countries on a lasting basis. The talks went on throughout March to the beginning of April. At their end... the Egyptian [Foreign] Minister arrived in Rome... [and] was assured that no agreement that would affect [his]... government would be concluded during the talks.

These talks led up to the agreement which was signed between the two countries on April 16, 1938... and was written in English and Italian. The two versions were validated and put into force. The agreement stipulated and delineated the trade interest areas between British colonies and the area called Italian East Africa.


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