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Post Hitler's Material Support for Ethiopia in Abyssinian War
Created by John Eipper on 03/24/19 4:10 AM

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Hitler's Material Support for Ethiopia in Abyssinian War (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 03/24/19 4:10 am)

JE asked about Hitler's material and technical support for the Ethiopians during the Abyssinian war (21 March).

When he came to power, the new Emperor of Abyssinia Haile Selassie (1892-1975; in power 1930-36 and 1941-1974), started an energetic attempt to modernize his country, which was divided among various different ethnic and religious groups fighting each other. He even unsuccessfully thought of abolishing slavery. In the military field he invited a Belgian mission to train his army, as well as Greek doctors.

When the war with Italy started on early October 1935, he desperately wanted to receive arms from all over. Greece and Sweden sent medical teams. Various nations sent arms, the UK even supplied the infamous dum-dum bullets, which were forbidden by the Hague Convention of 1899. When they were used by the Abyssinians, Italy retaliated. Germany supplied 10,000 Mauser rifles, 36 antiaircraft and 30 antitank guns, plus advisory teams to instruct in their use.

Germany in reality was looking for friendship with Italy but rightly believed that the more difficulties Mussolini had in Abyssinia and consequently with his former Western Allies, the more he would have to seek a bond with the Third Reich.

Do not forget: a little more than one year had passed since the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss, which provoked the strong reaction from Mussolini, who in spite of no support from the UK and France, moved troops ready to fight against Germany for the independence of Austria.

This episode, the following Anglo-German Naval Agreement, the sanctions in spite of a previous apparent green light, not to mention Versailles--these all made Mussolini think that the Western Allies were untrustworthy. By the way, has anything changed in Europe now? It seems not at all.

Anyway, Hitler's trick was unfortunately successful, but as I write above, the former so-called Allies helped a lot to drive Mussolini to Hitler.

During the war many people around the world and in the US, especially among the Black Communities of Chicago and New York, talked about arranging international brigades to fight against Italy and/or Fascism, but it is reported that only 200 people made the trip to Addis Ababa, including one Italian and three Americans.

JE comments:  Eugenio, by "green light" are you saying that Mussolini had approval from France and the UK to attack Ethiopia?  I hope you don't take offense when I see a parallel with Saddam Hussein's excuse for going into Kuwait.

I came across this quote from Haile Selassie, who ordered the total mobilization of his population against Italy.  Imagine trying to "sell" the cooking and washing part to your spouse:

All men and boys able to carry a spear go to Addis Ababa. Every married man will bring his wife to cook and wash for him. Every unmarried man will bring any unmarried woman he can find to cook and wash for him. Women with babies, the blind, and those too aged and infirm to carry a spear are excused. Anyone found at home after receiving this order will be hanged.

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  • Mussolini's Justification for the Ethiopian War (Carmen Negrin, -France 03/25/19 3:07 AM)
    In Eugenio Battaglia's explanation of Mussolini's Ethiopia war (March 25th), there was no colonial fascist expansionism involved of course! Mussolini was the Ethiopian Deus ex machina!

    As the saying goes: love is in the eyes of the beholder.

    JE comments:  Point well taken.  We haven't addressed Mussolini's other justification, to abolish slavery in Ethiopia (which he did).  Doesn't this sound (gulp?) Lincoln-like? Or viewed from a different perspective, how can we view the Selassie regime with sympathy when it perpetuated slavery into...the 1930s?

    Did Ethiopian slavery function more or less the same as we understand it in the West?  Who can enlighten us?

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    • Ethiopian Slavery (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/27/19 4:21 AM)
      The Abyssinian-Italian war started on 3 October 1935. Just 11 days later, the commander of the Italian army, General De Bono, abolished slavery.

      From the most ancient times, slavery in Abyssinia was practiced in a kind of feudal sense.

      Most of the slaves came from the subdued ethnic groups. For instance the Semitic Tygrais were defeated by the dominant Amhara, despite the fact that they were also mostly Christians (it is reported that the disappeared Ark of the Covenant is preserved by them). After being subdued their name was changed by the Abyssinian Amharas to Tigre, which in Amharic means "under my feet." In 1987 their endemic rebellion caused the fall of the Derg communist military regime and the eventual independence of Eritrea, which for many years longed for its previous relation with Italy.

      Other oppressed groups may number as many 70 with 83 different languages. The larger groups are the Oromo-Galla, Karo, Mursi, Borana, Konso, Afar. The Oromo are found also in Kenya. The Azebo Galla immediately joined the Italian forces then during the war.  Other ethnic groups and the Ras left the Negus for the Italians. Some of these groups saw the Italians as "liberators."

      About slavery you can still find books on eBay such as Horror and Miseries of Slavery in Abyssinia (1933) by Lady Kathleen Simon. Lord Noel Buxton on 17 July 1935 stated at the Commons, "Ethiopia is still the main center of slavery in the world," while according to the Secretary of the British Parliament John H. Harris, "The Emperor of Ethiopia each year receive presents of slave children of both sexes."

      The League of Nations refused to accept Ethiopia because of its practice of slavery.

      JE comments:  This is a controversial topic.  That the Italians abolished slavery in 1935-'36 is true, but to say so somehow justifies the conquest.  It also clouds the image of Haile Selassie, who is revered by many as a semi-god.  See for example this article from the African Holocaust Society, which not only claims the Emperor abolished slavery in 1924, but also that slavery was rather benign in the first place.  Enslaved Ethiopians, we learn, were more like unpaid members of the family:


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      • Modern-Day Slavery (John Heelan, -UK 03/31/19 4:43 AM)
        In this discussion on slavery, we should not forget that it still exists in practice.

        Consider the implicit but relatively gentle slavery-by-choice of Saudi Arabia. Incoming slaves need to surrender their passports to their employers: the employers of outgoing slaves have to advertise their imminent departures in newspaper adverts and can withhold exit permission just in case the slave owes somebody money.

        JE comments:  Whose choice is it?  I suppose the idea is that the Saudis do not capture and export the victims from their countries of origin.  But the enslaved's experience "on the ground" is anything but gentle.

        Adrian College has a very active chapter of Not for Sale, a 501 non-profit foundation dedicated to ending exploitation and forced labor.  Its mission is a noble one:


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