"The Ethiopian War"

Research Trip to London and Bonn
(July-August, 1997)

posted on December 15, 1997



From July to August in 1997, I revisited the Public Record Office at Kew in London and the political archive at the German Foreign Ministry in Bonn. This time I mainly conducted research on the Ethiopian War from 1935 to 1936. Ethiopia was at that time one of the unique cases of a nation maintaining its independence on the African continent. In addition, surrounded by the Islamic world, Ethiopia was also unique in proclaiming a Christian Empire with a three thousand year history.

Ethiopia in the 1930's was a symbol of the independence of the black people, and at the same time was a still remaining "empire" in the world. At the time of the Ethiopian War, there were many volunteers from the former empires, such as the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Russia which especially followed the Orthodox Church as well as Ethiopia. Not only because of the nostalgia towards an empire, Italian sources show Russian white officers came to Ethiopia in order to save the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia as is the case in Serbia now.

It was not so surprising that there were more volunteers from the Christian world rather than the Islamic world. Even the Vatican could not wholly praise Fascist Italy for attacking Ethiopia except for approving the civilization of "the uncivilized people", although they were so eager to provoke the anti-Communist crusade against the Spanish Republic in 1936. In addition, Fascist Italy itself organized "the black battalions" of Libya and Eritrea who were basically followers of Islam. It is ironic that the Vatican supported Fascist Italy using the "Ascaris" and Nationalist Spain using the "Moors" who consisted of an Islamic population. Especially the old colonial countries, such as Britain and France, had a psychological fear that "the biggest and most dangerous black army" was trained by Fascist Italy.

The future Italian allies, Germany and Japan, were also less sympathetic to the Italian adventure in Africa. Nazi Germany was eager to use the chaotic situation for its planned expansion in Europe. Therefore, they even let the Ethiopian situation deteriorate in order to prolong the war. In Imperialist Japan, there was a strong anti-Western nationalism at that time; therefore, the Western invasion against the independent African empire caused more repulsion. Moreover, the marriage between the Ethiopian imperial family and the daughter of a Japanese baron was attempted immediately before the war. Even Britain and Germany were cautious of Japanese influence in Ethiopia.

After the research trip to Europe, I am looking forward to finishing several articles on the Ethiopian War. The perspectives on this topic will be not only from the viewpoint of Italo-Ethiopian relations themselves, but also from the broader viewpoints as mentioned above.