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International Crisis #1: Italy Invades Ethiopia, October 1935 It is October 1935, and you are in your study after a long afternoon at the League of Nations headquarters when you get a phone call from the foreign minister of the country you represent. It seemed as though the League of Nations was working just fine, but after you hang up the phone you realize things are not as good as you thought. You are facing the first international crisis: Italy has invaded the independent African nation of Ethiopia. You call your good friend President Roosevelt about the crisis. During your conversation, you are able to get this information about the issue. During Roosevelt’s tenure as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I and throughout the 1920s, he advocated American membership in the League of Nations, the international organization created to maintain the peace through the idea of collective security (that all nations would go to the aid of any nation that was attacked). But when running for President in 1932, to counter claims that he was “an international adventurer,” Roosevelt backed away from League membership and from forgiving the World War I debts of Britain and France. Roosevelt believed that the economy would be helped by promoting disarmament (which would reduce expenditures) and free trade (which would open markets to American exports). Following this paradigm, Roosevelt, after carefully surveying public opinion, extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union–the world’s first Communist state. The Soviet Union–isolated from the rest of the global economy and in the midst of a forced industrialization campaign engineered by Josef Stalin–was practically the only country not suffering from the Great Depression, so it offered the possibility of significant overseas markets. Roosevelt’s other early foreign policy initiative along these lines was the “Good Neighbor Policy,” a conscious effort to improve relations with Latin American countries. Benito Mussolini became the fascist dictator of Italy in 1922 in the wake of public unrest about postwar inflation and of public dissatisfaction with what Italy had received as one of the Allied powers in World War I. Mussolini was famous for “making the trains run on time,” but by October 1935, with the Great Depression plaguing Italy, Mussolini sought to distract the Italian people with foreign adventures. After all, the League of Nations had essentially done nothing in response to Japan’s invasion of Manchuria four years before (condemned its actions and called for its withdrawal). And Mussolini had been promising to restore “the glory that was Rome”–to restore the Roman Empire. But “il Duce” knew that his military wasn’t particularly strong. So he picked as his target the African nation of Ethiopia, one of the only independent countries remaining on the continent after the period of European imperialism in the nineteenth century and a country that bordered on the Italian colonies of Somaliland and Eritrea. Ethiopia at that time was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie and lacked anything resembling a modern military or even a modern economy. But the Ethiopians fought valiantly to preserve their nation’s independence. As the fighting continued, the League of Nations debated what to do. Emperor Selassie passionately addressed the assembled countries, reminding them of their obligation to Ethiopia, as a League member: The Ethiopian Government never expected other Governments to shed their soldiers' blood to defend the Covenant when their own immediately personal interests were not at stake. Ethiopian warriors asked only for means to defend themselves. On many occasions I have asked for financial assistance for the purchase of arms. That assistance has been constantly refused me. What, then, in practice, is the meaning of Article 16 of the Covenant and of collective security? . . . I assert that the problem submitted to the Assembly today is a much wider one. It is not merely a question of the settlement of Italian aggression. It is collective security: it is the very existence of the League of Nations. It is the confidence that each State is to place in international treaties. It is the value of promises made to small States that their integrity and their independence shall be respected and ensured. It is the principle of the equality of States on the one hand, or otherwise the obligation laid upon small Powers to accept the bonds of vassalship. In a word, it is international morality that is at stake. Have the signatures appended to a Treaty value only in so far as the signatory Powers have a personal, direct and immediate interest involved? In the United States, Roosevelt has secured much of his Second New Deal and has his eyes on securing re-election in a year. But despite all the New Deal legislation, the economy is still lagging. Additionally, the American people are in no mood for international adventures. Widely publicized Congressional hearings (of the Nye Committee) that had begun in 1933 and continued until 1936 largely convinced the American people that a conspiracy of big business and big banking–“the merchants of death” as one writer called them–had pulled the United States into World War I, during which more than 50,000 American boys had died to ensure the profits of U.S. banks and businesses. Obviously, this left a bitter taste in the mouths of American citizens; it also prompted Congress to pass the first of a series of neutrality acts in August 1935 that prohibited the sale of “arms, ammunition, or implements of war” to all belligerents in overseas conflicts. Roosevelt had wanted to leave the decision to embargo arms to the discretion of the President or to limit the embargo to aggressors, rather than all belligerents, but he reluctantly signed the bill into law on 31 August 1935. As a representative of your country what should you do? Do you join by the League embargo hurting trade efforts that could potentially get you out of your economic slump? Do you want your country focused on foreign or domestic issues right now? Also, will government officials of your nation support your action? Do you think the general public of your country would support action to help the Ethiopians preserve their freedom? Why or why not?
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