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Italy and the Abyssinia Crisis 1935-1936 IB Book Pages 71-73 Introduction The failure of the League of Nations to implement the principal of Collective Security is best illustrated by the Abyssinian Crisis But First Things First Background information: • The Oxford Debate, 1933 • The Stresa Front, April 1935 • The Anglo-German Naval Agreement, June 1935 • A review of America’s foreign policy, 1934-39 • Time-line Oxford Debate February, 1933 (England) Resolved: "That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country". It was passed by 275 votes to 153. The debate caused a firestorm Oxford Debate Foreign Reaction • MP Robert Bernays described a visit he made to Germany: I remember talking with a prominent leader of the young Nazis. He was asking about this pacifist debate motion and I tried to explain it to him. There was an ugly gleam in his eye when he said, "The fact is that you English are soft". Then I realized that the world enemies of peace might be the pacifists.” • Benito Mussolini considered the debate when he planned the invasion of Abyssinia. He was convinced that the debate resolution proved that Britain was just a frightened, flabby old woman. • Winston Churchill, after the war, wrote that Japan and Germany took note of the debate resolution which altered their way of thinking about Britain as decadent and degenerate. The Debate was Misunderstood Hitler and Mussolini were foolish to take the intellectual discussions of a few undergraduates so seriously. Neither were academics. One student wrote, "I believe that the motion was representative neither of the majority of the undergraduates of Oxford nor of the youth of this country. I am certain if war broke out tomorrow the students of the university would flock to the recruiting office as their fathers and uncles did." He was proven correct: when the WW II broke out in September, 1939 the War Office organized a recruiting board at Oxford which invited undergraduates and resident postgraduates under 25 to enlist: 2,632 out of a potential 3,000 volunteered. Stresa Front The Stresa Front was an agreement made at Stresa, between Benito Mussolini of Italy, France and Britain on April 14, 1935. • It reaffirmed the Locarno Treaties and to declare that the independence of Austria • agreed to resist any future attempt by the Germans to change the Treaty of Versailles. • Gave Benito Mussolini an opportunity to be viewed as a statesman and a keeper of the peace. Remember he had blocked Germany’s attempt at Anschluss in 1934 • Behind the scenes Mussolini discussed his plan to invade Abyssinia with British PM Ramsey The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (June, 1935) • Britain and Germany agreed to regulate the size of the German Navy in relation to the Royal Navy. The A.G.N.A fixed a ratio where the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis. The agreement was renounced by Adolph Hitleron April 28, 1939 • Awkward diplomatic maneuver by Britain because France and Italy were not consulted. Also, it exceeded the tonnage that Germany was permitted under the Treaty of Versailles! USA POV Revisited • The USA was not a member of the League • The USA was ‘in spirit’ isolationist • Yet, in the 1920’s the USA contributed to the peace/ disarmament process • However, during the Great Depression (1930’s) the USA lost interest in international events • The USA, like Britain, hoped to appease Germany and Japan. They did not object to German advances in the Rhineland, Austria or the Sudetenland. Recognized Italian conquest in Abyssinia • Like Britain they changed their mind when it was too late! USA Point of View (continued) The USA had regrets over World War I • The Nye Commission * see below • Neutrality Acts* (1937) see below. • World War I debts not repaid • Many felt that a strong Germany would be a good buffer against the Soviet Union. Many British agreed • Many American businesses were active in Germany. Didn’t want trouble But many Americans were concerned about the Jewish people and were alarmed by 1939 Nye Commission (1934) • Sen. Gerald Nye revealed that wartime profits of the banking and munitions industries to America's contributed to US involvement in WW I. Many Americans had believed that the war had been about democracies opposing autocracies. Nye named the arms manufacturers as "merchants of death" • The committee reported that between 1915 and January 1917, the United States lent the United Kingdom and its allies 2.3 billion dollars • He claimed that the US entered WW I because it was in American commercial interest for the United Kingdom not to lose. • The findings of the committee gave momentum to the Neutrality Acts of the 1930’s The Neutrality Acts (1935-1937) • In response to the Nye Commission Congress passed a series of Acts designed to keep America out of future wars. • Prohibited American vessels from carrying arms to belligerents • Prohibited loans to belligerents • Forbade US citizens from travelling on ships owned by belligerents • Kept the USA neutral in the Spanish Civil War These Acts only served to strengthen America’s future opponents – Germany, Italy and Japan Time-Line • March, 1935 Germany officially begins rearming* • June, 1935 Anglo-Germany Naval Agreement signed • October, 1935 Italy invades Ethiopia: Second Italo– Abyssinian War • October, 1936 Rome-Berlin Treaty (Treaty of Friendship) between Italy and Germany. • March, 1936 German army marched into the Rhineland* • March, 1938 Germany annexed Austria* (Anschluss) with Italian agreement • September, 1938 Hitler successfully negotiated with PM Neville Chamberlain in Munich for the Sudetenland region in Czechoslovakia* Time –Line (continued) • March 1939 Germany occupies all of Czechoslovakia* Britain ends appeasement policy • August 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact signed • September 1st 1939 Germany invaded Poland • September 3rd Britain and France declare war on Germany Background to the Abyssinian Crisis Italy had been defeated by the Abyssinians at the Battle of Adowa (1896). Italy withdrew its forces. Italy felt humiliated by this retreat because she was the only Western European power to be defeated by an African Nation in the 19th century. Benito Mussolini was determined to reestablish Italian pride and recreate a Roman Empire in Africa. Italy had other African colonies in the area (See map: IB book Page 73) Italy on the eve of the crisis, 1935 • It must be remembered that Italy was on the side of the allies in WW I. • Italy had signed the Treaty of Versailles. Not too happy but still a participant • In the early 1930’s Italy under Mussolini had opposed and participated in resisting Hitler’s aggressive attempts to rearm and to combine Austria with Germany (Anschluss). Britain and France appreciated his efforts! • Italy was a member of the League and signed the Locarno Pact. • Italy possessed a good navy and had considerable influence in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy at a Crossroads. • Before 1935 Italy felt that a resurgent Germany was a threat to their interests in those areas that had German speaking populations - the South Tyrol. They also feared Anschluss. Unification of Germany and Austria would make Germany the ascendant central European Power • Italian ‘POV’. If the League of Nations did their bit and controlled Germany and turned a blind eye to Italian ambitions in Abyssinia all would be OK! • But, what if the League showed itself to be weak regarding Germany and opposed Italy’s colonial dreams? • Perhaps, Italy might make new friends! (Germany, for instance) What were Italian aims in Abyssinia • The fear of German resurgence in central Europe may have encouraged to focus on expansion overseas – East Africa was a logical area because Italy had holdings there. • Fascism is an ideology promoted nationalism, militarism and aggression. Benito wanted to create a new Roman Empire. Anyway, Britain and France had large empires. Why not Italy? • Abyssinia was independent and available • Revenge for the humiliation at Adowa (1896) • Oil • Italians needed a place to emigrate – an Italian colony might provide an alternative to the USA and South America. Perhaps Italian policy makers were misled or confused regarding British and French reactions It is quite possible that Italy believed that their relationship to Britain and France would entirely inoculate them from any diplomatic League of Nations “blowback” 1. For example, The Stresa Front had shown Britain and France that Italy was “on the team” as far as constraining Hitler’s ambitions. 2. Also, Britain and France had both agreed that Abyssinia was in an Italian “Sphere of Influence.” Therefore, Mussolini could be excused for thinking that Britain and France might “let it the invasion slide.” Mukden to Wal Wal • The conflict between the Italian Army and the Abyssinians began with an “incident” at Wal Wal that gave a pretext for the Italians to begin the conflict. At first just a small military effort. • However, the Abyssinian Emperor, Haile Selassie, seeing that a large numbers of troops were assembling on his border appealed to the League for arbitration (September, 1935). • The Italians launched a full scale invasion in October, 1935. Second Italo–Abyssinian War (See U tube video IB file) Actions of The League of Nations Britain and France The League declared Italy the aggressor (October, 1935) • Economic sanctions were applied but they did not include oil or steel because non-League members (Germany and the USA) would be able to supply these vital materials. • Britain did not close the Suez Canal (see map). If Britain had closed the canal the Italian war effort might have failed. Why was Britain and France so reluctant to challenge Italy? *The IB book is excellent on this point (page 73). The British and French were caught in a bind! • Either the British and French compromised and placated Italy in order to maintain the Stresa front against Germany or the British and French “saved” Abyssinia and gave the League the respect it needed. In the end they did neither! • Britain believed that the Italian navy in the Mediterranean was as strong as their own • Therefore, France and Britain decided on a compromise: The Hoare-Laval Pact The Hoare-Laval Pact 1. The compromise gave Italy the most fertile 2/3 of Abyssinia. 1/3 remained independent /aka “the corridor for camels". 2. The agreement was leaked to the French and British public who were enraged. The British foreign secretary had to resign. Both nations backed away from the pact. 3. The agreement was abandoned and because the League did not intervene militarily Abyssinia was defeated by the Italian army. The general public, in Britain, were horrified that the Italian army used modern weapons (including gas) against tribesmen. The war was horrific. The Second Italo–Abyssinian War • The Italian’s won. The war was horrific. The Abyssinians being tribesmen often resorted to savagery. Castration of Italian prisoners of war. • The Italians utilized heavy artillery, machine guns and aircraft. Aircraft were used to spray poison and tear gas on Ethiopians. Phosgene gas may have been used. Aerial spray kills or injures everything – cattle etc. Poisons wells. • The Italians allowed the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Emperor, Haile Selassie, to leave on a British ship for England. • Haile Selassie later appealed to the League of Nations. He prophetically warned, "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.” • Japan and Germany were the first to recognize Italy’s new Empire. Italy had new friends. (You tube video) The Significance of the Crisis • The Abyssinian crisis had a far greater impact on the League and the concept of Collective Security than the Manchurian crisis. • It was clear to everyone that the leading League powers (Britain and France) would avoid war at all costs. They sensed that their populations would not support war. • Mussolini realized that Britain and France were resistant to Italian expansion but were “weak-willed.” He, therefore resigned himself to making an diplomatic arrangements with his fascist rival -Adolph Hitler. • Mussolini abandoned his opposition to Anschluss and his opposition to Hitler’s plans to undermine the Treaty of Versailles. In October, 1936 Rome-Berlin Treaty (Treaty of Friendship) between Italy and Germany was signed. The South Tyrol argument was shelved. Not a big deal to Adolph Hitler. • Hitler also observed the impotence of the League leadership and determined that it would be safe to pursue his goals of undermining the Treaty of Versailles provisions. The Significance of the Crisis (continued) The mishandling of the Abyssinian Crisis and to a lesser extent the Manchurian Crisis contributed to the perception in Germany, Italy and Japan that the League of Nations was weak. Moreover, it indicated that the major democracies Britain, France and the USA would not risk war. The Soviet Union was in the awkward position of being feared by the democracies and fascists. This led to Mussolini and Hitler forming the Rome-Berlin Axis (1936). Japan joined later.
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