Mussolini in Ethiopia



1919-1935 The Origins of Fascist Italy’s African War by Robert Mallett. Cambridge University Press (2015), 238 Pages

History books are not easy to read; even when you are reading one for the first time. And while leafing through the pages you will feel a sense of déjà vu like you have already read part of the book somewhere else which would make you lose interest. Of course, historical facts often remain the same but it can be highlighted, distorted, or interpreted from different angles to fit one’s own personal views or political agenda. As a result you either agree to flick through the pages or continue to argue with the book. This makes reading history books challenging.

However, reading “Mussolini in Ethiopia 1919-1935 The Origins of Fascist Italy’s African War” by Robert Mallett, 2015, Cambridge University Press, was gratifying to say the least.

While reading the book, two important historical facts prompted me to review it.  The first was the role of France in pre-invasion of Ethiopia and the second is the British government’s attempt to bribe Benito Mussolini to stop the invasion of Ethiopia. I felt these historical facts are not widely known.

Additionally, the book is different for the following reasons:

  1. It is easy to read with excellent flow. It feels like reading a novel, with lot of plots, conspiracies, betrayals, bravados, prejudice, military planning and political intrigues.  
  2. The book has new facts and quotations that you do not find in most books to keep you interested.
  3. Most historical books about the Second Italo-Ethiopian War are from the perspective of the theatre of war and maybe a few more pages about the failure of the League of Nations, but this book is different because it was written based on primarily data such as communication, memos,  diaries, speeches and  meetings between Mussolini and his generals, Mussolini and France’s Foreign and Prime Minster Pierre Laval , Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, Mussolini and the British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, and others players in Europe in pre-invasion of Ethiopia.

The book makes you feel like watching a Second World War movie, where you vividly see military planning, mobilizations, views and prejudice, conspiracy, competition, fear and power alignments in pre-second world war preparations.

Most of the facts presented in Mussolini in Ethiopia were new to me and it might even surprise well-read historians of the Ethiopian history.

I was also amazed to learn, in tragic ways, Ethiopia, a black country in Eastern Africa, was at the epicentre of the birth of the Second World War. Of course, we all know the prophetic speech of Emperor Haile-Selassie I at the League of Nations but the plan for invasion, conspiracy, and competition started at least 12 years before the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.  For example, on July 25, 1925, ‘Mussolini ordered the Minster of Colonies, Pietro Lanza di Scalea, to prepare for a future offensive against Independent Ethiopia’ pp 50.

That is probably why the author starts in 1919 when Benito Mussolini took power and end up on 3rd of October, 1935 when Italian Air force began to rain “internationally banned chemical weapons such as Mustard gas and Phosgene” and “500 kilogram” bombs on the Ethiopian civilians by the Fascist invading force to (pp. 163)

These chemical warfare were banned but used extensively with in Ethiopia, which happens to be a pre-cursor for Hitler’s gas chamber.

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