365D.1163/21: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Ethiopia (Engert) to the Secretary of State

690. Department’s 399, December 10, 8 p.m.77 Marshal Graziani asked me to call this morning and referring to a letter I had written to him on December 6 requesting postponement of requisition of Sudan Interior Mission, he stated that the decision had not been his own but had been taken in Rome. He then handed me a telegram from Lessona78 dated December 16 which said: “Please send for the American Minister and tell him that after showing him certain documents you hope he will not insist upon his request.”

Marshal then gave me some five or six typewritten pages containing alleged quotations from private letters sent to their families by three members of the mission. Two of them are not American citizens. The third is Miss Jean Trout, an American citizen, but the only excerpt under her name consisted of three or four lines in which she made a rather harmless reference to “Alice” which obviously stood for the Italians. None of the quotations contained anything that was not common knowledge such as references to the cutting of the railroad, attacks on Addis Ababa, confused exchange situation, et cetera.

In handing the papers back I said I wished first of all to express surprise that an official and rather serious decision should be based on purely personal remarks alleged to have been made by missionaries in private letters which I assumed could have been obtained only by the clandestine opening of such letters by the authorities although the latter had always denied that a censorship existed. The Marshal merely shrugged his shoulders and made no comment.

I then said that only a small fraction of the evidence submitted to me concerned an American citizen and that even if all quotations had [Page 328] been taken from American letters I should still feel that they did not warrant what virtually amounted to the expulsion of the writers. The Marshal asked me if I did not consider the passages I had read as anti-Italian. I replied that he and I had always conversed with the utmost frankness and that today too I would ask him to let me talk to him unofficially and not as the representative of my country. He said he was no diplomat but only a soldier and therefore always liked to hear the truth.

I began by telling him (what he did not know) that American missionary activities throughout the Near and Far East were nearly a century old and that they had a very fine and universally recognized record of achievement. Never in all this time had they taken part in any political movements or been guilty of intrigue against the legally constituted authorities. But I would ask him to remember that they were very human and shared many of his and my frailties. The very fact, for example, that their actions were totally devoid of political motives and that in our country we were accustomed to complete liberty of speech and conscience, might cause them to be less discreet and guarded in expressing their personal views. I begged the Marshal to bear in mind the psychological factor. Although Ethiopia was one of the most pressing fields for American missionary efforts much money had been spent and amazing results had already been achieved with hospitals, schools, et cetera, throughout the country. I then quoted the following passage from my personal letter to him of December 6th:

“I believe Your Excellency will agree with me that the American missionaries connected with the Sudan Interior Mission and Leprosarium, as well as at Baku, generous philanthropic supporters in the United States are devoting their unselfish labors to precisely those tasks of a civilizing nature which the Italian authorities themselves profess a desire to see carried out for the uplift of the natives of this country. They would, therefore, seem to be entitled to the greatest sympathy and consideration at the hands of the authorities.”

In view of all this, I continued, what was more natural than that the personal sympathies of the missionaries should be largely on the side of the people among whom they were working and who had gained their affection, rather than with the strangers, whose virtues they had not yet learned to appreciate. It was in this light that any indiscreet observations they may have made should be considered.

The Marshal said he understood me perfectly but apparently the policy of his Government towards missionaries had been determined by a variety of considerations and that he was powerless. He then asked what reply he should make to Lessona. I told him I had no [Page 329] objection to his reporting our conversation so long as he made its truthfulness quite clear. He said he had already telegraphed to Rome my letter of December 6th including the paragraph I had just read.

Later I had a talk with the Chief of Cabinet, Colonel Mazzi, and asked him whether he thought the decision to close the mission headquarters in Addis Ababa meant that the mission stations in the interior would also be requisitioned. He replied that this was undoubtedly the intention of the Italian Government. To my further question whether similar action was contemplated with regard to other American missionary institutions he said that he did not think so, at least for the present.”

Since my 665, December 2nd, no attempt has been made to apply the decree of November 27th.

  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Alessandro Lessona, Minister of the Colonies.