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

No. 135

Sir: Referring to the Legation’s despatch No. 128 of April 24, 1936,41 with which there was enclosed a broadcast speech by the Empress Mennen, I have the honor to transmit herewith, in translation, two statements made to the Press by the Empress on April 22 and 23, respectively, and one statement by Princess Tsahai, her 17-year-old daughter.

The statements of the Empress are said to have been drafted in part by the Emperor, while the one made by Princess Tsahai—who speaks English and French quite fluently—is reported to embody almost entirely her own ideas. All three are rather remarkable documents and are forwarded to the Department as part of the documentary history of Ethiopia’s most tragic hours. It is possible that they are not readily available elsewhere as the government radio station was so overburdened at the time that they may not have been telegraphed in toto.

What the Empress and her daughter meant to convey—couched in the calm and measured terms which have been so characteristic of all Ethiopian official utterances during the conflict with Italy—was that their country was war-weary from the struggle between utterly unequal forces and that their poorly armed soldiers were being annihilated by a great Power which had every advantage—including poison gas—that science and modern equipment could provide.

In recording these last pathetic appeals for help from a proud and ancient dynasty I cannot refrain from adding a few comments of my own regarding the hopeless failure of the League of Nations to save a member State.

While it was hardly likely that Ethiopia could expect complete satisfaction from the League, even the most skeptical observers were not prepared for the unedifying spectacle of seeing the League supinely permit an aggressor nation to exterminate its victim. A truly extraordinary situation has developed. Italy’s invading armies have seized an enormous territory from a fellow-member of the League; they have bombarded and destroyed some of Ethiopia’s largest towns; they have killed tens of thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, and many thousands of defenseless civilians—besides committing the unspeakable atrocity of using poison gas against them; and they have wrecked and burned millions of dollars worth of property. And yet no practical assistance of any kind has been forthcoming under the terms of the Covenant [Page 69] of the League which had been devised to cover precisely such a situation.

Ethiopia has been bewildered by the fluctuating character of the news from Europe. The attitude of the League and of the Powers individually evidently underwent several changes, but each time their policy appears to have become more conciliatory to Italy’s aspirations. Instead of trying to prevent the war of aggression or, if that proved impossible, to bring about a cessation of hostilities at the earliest possible moment by a resolute stand in favor of more stringent sanctions, the League seems to have been anxiously looking about for some way out that would save its face. That this produced a ludicrous discrepancy between fair words and real actions in Geneva does not seem to have mattered to the governments represented there.

A profound feeling of pessimism and disillusionment therefore began to creep over Ethiopia when it became known that no oil embargo would be imposed on Italy, even though it was obvious that a complete embargo on the principal raw materials was bound to strangle Italy and would have forced her to withdraw her troops from East Africa. This was followed by the Hoare-Laval proposals41a and Flandin’s peace offer—both moves of singular ineptitude—which seemed to be merely plays for time to delay as long as possible, and ultimately to prevent, the application of an oil embargo without interfering with Italy’s campaign in Ethiopia. All this dilly-dallying played directly into the hands of Italy and demonstrated the futility of a policy of sanctions as faint-heartedly applied by the League. As far as Ethiopia was concerned the League had practically ceased to function and the recriminations between members of the League in the Ethiopian crisis have made a mockery of the Covenant.

Small wonder then that Ethiopia felt herself betrayed and abandoned by the whole civilized world. Being completely unable to understand the cynical maneuvers of European diplomacy her faith has been shaken in the sanctity of international law and morality. She sensed dimly that the Powers were too preoccupied with the crisis in Europe to defend a great international principle in the abstract, and that so long as Ethiopia’s independence was not a vital national interest to, say, Great Britain and France it was vain to hope that a collective war would be waged against the peace-breaker. But even the untutored mind of an Abyssinian must have grasped the truth that if an instrument of so-called collective security cannot safeguard peace in Asia or Africa it can hardly be expected to safeguard peace in Europe. For it seems certain that if the path of the aggressor had been successfully blocked in Manchuria and in Abyssinia, the challenge of a remilitarized Germany could have been much more easily met.

[Page 70]

Whatever excuse the troubled atmosphere and the stark realities of European diplomacy might furnish for running away in the face of Mussolini’s defiance, the acquiescence of the world in a new and unprovoked aggression is sure to have unpleasant repercussions. Apart from the fact that the black races will wonder whether the white man’s flexible idea of justice is quite honorable, Western civilization cannot stand if the tearing up of treaties to satisfy the fantastic whims of dictators is not checked. We—including the United States—must all prepare to face the issue: so long as ruthless nations in the Far East or in Europe can bank on the pusillanimity of the law-abiding nations it is futile to expect the dawn of a new era in international relations. The peoples of the world are gradually realizing that a war of aggression is a wrong inflicted upon the whole community of nations. But no abject surrender to wrongdoing will ever make the world safe against the organized and refined form of barbarity to which we have just been treated in East Africa.

Respectfully yours,

C. Van H. Engert
[Enclosure 1—Translation]

Statement Made by the Empress of Ethiopia to Foreign Newspapermen at Addis Ababa, April 22, 1936

“In this, the most critical hour of my country’s history and while we are fighting against the most tremendous odds, I once more turn to the Press of the world in the hope of finding a channel through which we may state our case. There is yet time for those who desire justice to put an end to this most unjust of wars, this most immoral aggression against the rights of an independent and inoffensive people. All those who respect the principles which are intended to regulate the relations between nations must hide their heads in shame and indignation at the unfair and unequal treatment from which my country has suffered.

“For many months before the Italian Government began this war—but while its intentions were already clearly known—the transport of troops, war materials and munitions (including poison gas and aeroplanes) to the territories adjoining Ethiopia, was carried out on a large scale without a single practical effort on the part of any Power to prevent these flagrant preparations for the violation of international agreements.

“Nor is that all. For while Italy was thus arming, Ethiopia herself was denied by an embargo imposed by the other powers the right to arm herself for her own defense. And even after a criminal act of aggression by Italy this embargo remained in force. The result was that our soldiers were obliged to leave for the front—where they had to meet a heavily armed enemy—only inadequately equipped [Page 71] with rifles, many of which were obsolete, and with swords, spears, and even sticks. The raising of the arms embargo came much too late to enable our armies to receive the equipment and military supplies at a time when they would have been most effective in enabling us to meet the attack.”

[Enclosure 2—Translation]

Statement Made by the Empress of Ethiopia to Foreign Newspapermen at Addis Ababa, April 23, 1936

“Even after the League of Nations had unanimously denounced Italy as the aggressor, Ethiopia experienced innumerable difficulties in securing the arms and munitions to which she had an indisputable right.

“And yet, notwithstanding the overwhelming superiority of equipment of the Italian armies, the latter failed for many months to make any notable advance against our soldiers. The Ethiopian soldier made up for his inadequate arms by his bravery and skill as a warrior. Even machine guns and tanks were overcome and captured and heavy aerial bombardments did not stop our advance or break our front.

“It was only when the enemy resorted to that most devilish of all means of attack, by dropping poisonous and corrosive gases from the air—indiscriminately upon men, women, children and cattle—was he able to break through our lines and to secure any advantage.

“The enemy has won his advantage by means which are not only the foulest affront to humanity, but are a violation of the international agreements which he had signed with other Powers. Even if the sufferings of our defenseless people do not arouse compassion to the extent of bringing about action to stop this horror, the flouting of solemn treaties should surely be a ground for such action by all. Today the enemy is raining the foul products of his civilization on the hamlets of our distant country. What assurance is there that a similar terror will not soon descend upon the populous cities of Europe?

“Only collective agreement can protect the nations against aggression such as we are now suffering. My country is fighting for the independence to which she is entitled and which is guaranteed by the Covenant of the League of Nations, of which she is a member. We are not yet defeated and, come what may, we shall use every weapon we possess in defending to the end our just cause.

“Proud of our armies and the noble struggle our entire people is making, I ask for assistance by the enforcement of agreements which the justice of our cause demands. The postponement of action, on whatever grounds, at this decisive moment has the effect of favoring our enemy. We regret that even today the consideration of the application of further sanctions is being opposed by certain members of the [Page 72] League of Nations. I therefore appeal to France, the emblem of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, and to Great Britain, the defender of Freedom and Justice for all races, and to the whole world to abandon all further delay in saving my country from her ruthless adversary.”

[Enclosure 3—Translation]

Statement by Princess Tsahai, Daughter of the Emperor of Ethiopia, to the Press at Addis Ababa, April 27, 1936

“In the name of Heaven, do help us! Get something done that will really harm the Italian armies and not merely the Italian people. I wish you would make use of your numbers and power to organize mass meetings and prepare petitions in all parts of every country. Rally your brothers and sons and induce them to use their massed strength to oblige their Parliaments and rulers to take action.

“I do not ask you to do this for purely selfish reasons. No, we are only a small race. But I am seventeen and I know as well as you do, that if the world permits armies and gas to destroy my country and people, civilization itself will likewise be destroyed. We clearly have a common cause, you and I.

“Why, therefore, does not everybody do something to ward off this common danger to humanity, this agony and death by bombs, shells, and gas, before it entrenches itself in the world as it has here, presently, to spread with fatal effect to your homes and your menfolk, too? Italy’s aggression and her use of gas have set humanity a test. If you fail to help us now, we shall all perish together.

“If, instead of reading the papers and exclaiming how terrible it all is, you banded yourselves together and gave your governments no peace until they had taken effective action, you would surely get something done to save us all. That is why I urge you to hold meetings, send urgent petitions and write to all the leading men of your countries from Presidents, Chancellors, and Prime Ministers down. You should make your governments feel the weight of the power which is behind you. Keep on until they act, for they will have to take action. Only do be quick!

“They can, through their representatives, concentrate on Rome the odium of world contempt. They can, if made to through their representatives or the League, summon Rome immediately to destroy all its stocks of filthy gas in Africa, and then proceed and get the stocks destroyed in Europe and elsewhere. They can, if made to, call upon the League immediately through the Committee of Eighteen, to prevent the sale of war materials to Italy.

“All these things they could do quickly—but only if you make them. Do not wait until they start talking again on May 11, but make them do it now. Although we have but few modern weapons to help us, [Page 73] still we are doing our best; but if you do not help quickly with all your might, gas and aggression will have been found to pay, and will have taken such root in ‘civilized’ human conduct that you, too, will, like us, be overtaken by death.

“We are grateful for the sanctions which most of your countries have adopted. They may help, but obviously they alone are not enough. Therefore, in the name of Heaven, join together in getting something done that will really help us before it is too late.”

  1. Not printed.
  2. See British Cmd. 5044, Ethiopia No. 1 (1935), pp. 16 ff; see also Foreign Relations, 1935, vol, i, pp. 699 ff.