Editorial by Marcus Garvey
in the Black Man

[London, May/June 1936]


        Haile Selassie I, last Emperor of Ethiopia, has surrendered the ancient sceptre wielded for ages by an historic line of black sovereigns.3  He was forced to do this because of the unpreparedness of Ethiopia to meet the onslaught of the brutal spirit of Europe - the spirit made manifest by the barbarian Mussolini.


        History will record the barbarous manoeuvres and actions of this Italian mad man, whom every Negro must learn to despise and hate.  For the next five hundred years the blacks of the world must hold in their memories the brutal invasion of Ethiopia by Italy.  The French did not forget 1870, the Germans will not forget 1918, the blacks of the world cannot forget 1936.   A new chapter is written in the history of man and this chapter of 1936 concerns the Negro deeply.  Every paragraph of the chapter written by Mussolini and the League of Nations records deeds that no Negro can forget.  The Emperor was betrayed by the League.  Mussolini knew well that the League would not hinder him, but would only stall to give him time to carry out his design for the satisfaction of his gaining more territory in the desire of Italy for Colonial expansion.


        Africa had to pay the price, and because Ethiopia was not ready to defend herself with barbarian equipments she was given as a prize to Italy by the other nations.  What happened to Ethiopia could not have happened to any white country in the world.  The nations in 1914 refused to allow Germany to conquer Belgium, and so a war was staged that wasted the wealth of Europe and the blood of mankind everywhere, so that Belgium could be free.  The European nations sacrificed nothing to help Abyssinia, even though Italy carried out a more brutal campaign in that country than Germany did in Belgium.


        Haile Selassie is an exile from his country.  He is a sadder, but a wiser man.  In looking over the countries of Europe he will see the "high civilisation" of the white man.   He will see how the masses of white people in Europe exact from their Governments the best of conditions and opportunities for existence, and how the Governments stop at nothing to grant these with satisfaction.  He will be able to contrast European civilisation with Ethiopian backwardness, where 99 1/2 per cent. of the population was kept in ignorance, where the people were unable to read or write and knew nothing about the civilised practices of an outer world, where men in a democracy secure rights to which they are entitled.


        We are not blaming Haile Selassie for the present backwardness of Ethiopia, because he has had but a very short time to show his statesmanship and to help his country.  For the time that he was head of the Empire he started to do good reform work, but it was the very attempt of these reforms that caused Italy to become impatient, feeling that if these reforms were allowed to continue the desire to conquer the country would not be fulfilled.  So while Haile Selassie was endeavouring to do his best, Italy struck the blow under Mussolini, with the assistance of the other European nations who connived with him as by indications.


        The refusal of the nations to apply sanctions in the severe form can be interpreted as nothing else but a tacit encouragement to the aggressor.4  The Emperor of Abyssinia did not understand this.  He was not accustomed to that kind of diplomacy and so he fell for the hypocrisy of the League of Nations, and has suffered the loss of his country.


        Mussolini has raised the standard of might being right.  It is now the understood policy of the world that to possess anything you must first have might, and you must use it against those who do not possess it, and take for yourself the things that you want.  This has been well proved by Italy, with the support of the civilised nations of Europe in the conquest of Abyssinia.


        We are satisfied, however, that we have not heard the last of the Italo-Abyssinian affair.  We know well that within another 500 years the world will return to the very scenes of operation that give Italy her triumph to-day in Abyssinia.  We will hear more of Adowa, more of Addis Ababa, more of Harar, more of Dessye.  The future is dark and gloomy, but only the people of might will be able to survive it.  Those races that depend upon anything else but might must expect to be destroyed.  The Emperor of Ethiopia had no might and he and his people have been destroyed.  NEGROES BE MIGHTY!!

Printed in BM 2, no.1 (May-June 1936): 4-5.

        3.  After his armies were forced into retreat at Mai Chew in early April 1936, Haile Selassie began a zigzagging route back to Dessie, hoping to regroup and continue the war effort from there.   The Italian air force launched a massive campaign against the retreating column, striking with bombs, strafing, and gas "day after day along the entire route southward until [the Emperor's] army simply dissolved into nothingness, leaving only a trail of corpses and equipment beside the roads" (Thomas M. Coffey, Lion by the Tail: The Story of the Italian-Ethiopian War [New York: Viking Press, 1974], p. 324).   Haile Selassie's party traveled by night on secondary roads through the mountains, stopping for two days of prayer and fasting in the ancient city of Lalibela.   Meanwhile, the Italians captured Dessie on 15 April 1936.  When the Emperor's party reached Magdala on 18 April, they encountered "friendly" fire from snipers and villagers who had become accustomed to defending themselves against looting by retreating Ethiopian troops.  Avoiding Dessie when warned of the Italian presence there, the emperor reached Addis Ababa on 30 April 1936, where he found little support from his councilors for his desire to regroup.  Under pressure from his wife, his chiefs, and his religious advisers, he left the capital by train on 2 May 1936, traveling to Djibouti, and from there sailed to Jerusalem on the British cruiser Enterprise. In the wake of his departure Addis Ababa was first ransacked by Ethiopian ex-soldiers, then occupied on 5 May 1936 by Marshall Pietro Badoglio's troops.
        From Jerusalem Haile Selassie and his entourage sailed to Gibraltar on the British cruiser Capetown, where they were asked to change to a less officially sanctioned passenger liner, the S.S. Orford, and on 3 June 1936 arrived in Southhampton.  No official reception was given the monarch by the British government, but cheering citizens lined his route to the Ethiopian embassy.   He shunned a black greeting party that attempted to honor him upon his arrival at a London train station.  He soon traveled to Geneva, where, on 30 June 1936, he addressed the Eighteenth Plenary Session of the League of Nations assembly, eloquently pleading on behalf of his country for respect for international treaties, for active maintenance of the ideal of collective security and protection, and for the continued viable existence of the League of Nations itself.
        In the following years his warnings against the member nations allowing the aggressor to triumph would serve as portents of future tragedy.  It was the desire for continued territorial conquests that eventually provoked British declaration of war in 1939.  In the midst of that war (January 1941) Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia with British expeditionary units and joined forces with the still active Ethiopian resistance, Tekur Ambassa ("the Black Lions"), defeating the Italians and ending his five-year exile.  On 5 May 1941 his forces reoccupied Addis Ababa, where he remained in power until he was deposed by military coup on 12 September 1974.  (Peter Schwab, Haile Selassie I: Ethiopia's Lion of Judah [Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979]).

        4.  Following the Wal Wal incident in December 1934, Ethiopia appealed to the League of Nations to censure Italy for its threat to Ethiopian independence, citing Article 10 and Article 15 of the League of Nations covenant.  Action on the issue was forestalled by the activities of British and French officials who were pursuing a policy of appeasement toward Mussolini.   Fearful of an Italian alliance with Hitler, of an Italian blockade in the Red Sea, and of helping Ethiopia set a precedent of effective independence from - and diplomatic equality with - imperial powers (which could effect their rule over their own colonies) the British and French boycotted the sale of arms to Ethiopia while making friendly diplomatic overtures to Italy.
        Faced with this embargo on the part of fellow League of Nations members, Haile Selassie appealed to other sources, including Japan and the United States, while continuing to plead his case with London and Paris.  News photographs of the period contrasted pictures of Ethiopia's meagerly supplied soldiers, armed with second-hand materials of archaic manufacture, with Italy's well-equipped and organized modern forces.  The United States, meanwhile, took an official stance of neutrality.  American oil interests, however, continued to supply Italy, while the State Department encouraged the Standard Oil Co. to cancel its leases in Ethiopia and notified American citizens resident in Ethiopia to evacuate.  In July 1935 Haile Selassie was informed that Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Denmark had all cancelled promised deliveries of armaments in deference to France's and England's 16 May 1935 embargo.   It was not until eight days after the 3 October 1935 invasion of Ethiopia that the League of Nations assembly voted, 50 to 4, to condemn Italian aggression against the African nation.  One month later it also voted for limited economic sanctions against Mussolini's country.
        These actions did little to deter Mussolini, however, leading Haile Selassie to comment to one of his advisors while watching "the bombing and machine-gunning of his troops" that "I fail to understand the role of the League of Nations.  It seems quite impotent" (Coffey, Lion by the Tail, p. 323).  On 6 July 1936, after the emperor was driven into exile and had appealed to the League of Nations directly in his 30 June 1936 speech, the League voted to lift all sanctions imposed against Italy in October, clearing the way on a diplomatic front for Italy's annexation of Ethiopia (New York Herald Tribune, 22 March 1935, 9 August 1935; New York Daily News, 12 June 1935; New York American, 5 August 1935; NYT, 7 August and 9 August 1935; New York World Telegram, 16 August 1935; George W. Baer, The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967]); Coffey, Lion by the Tail, pp. 3-9, 24, 36, 55, 57, 62, 87, 101, 111-112, 172, 202, 323, 345; Schwab, Haile Selassie I, pp. 68-72).

The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert A. Hill (University of California Press 1983), vol. 7, pp. 682-684.

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