I have the honor to refer to the Italo-Abyssinian difficulty and to attempt some observations thereon as regards its effect upon the present status of European politics and its possible relationship to future alliances.
As was indicated in my despatch No. 1209 of September 12th, our information is that preparations continue for amplification of British forces, both naval and land, in the neighborhood of the Eastern Mediterranean and that the Italian naval and air forces are concentrated. The propaganda which has been developed in the Italian press against England during the last three or four months has been very intensive. The expedition against Abyssinia in itself was not particularly popular in Italy during the fall of 1934 and the winter and spring of 1935. Various attempts were made in the press to attribute to it characteristics of popularity but as a matter of fact the project was not very warmly received by the people. However, as soon as the attack was commenced on England in the Italian papers there was noticeable a distinct change in the attitude of the people. As this propaganda has continued and has increased in intensity, the people have responded to it and today are united, as far as can be judged from the various contacts and reports which come to me, in their entirety and to an extent which is tantamount to a fanatic adherence to Mussolini and his plans, with an antagonism against England which each Italian seems to take personally.
I had occasion to watch Mussolini's review of the Ballila and the Avanguardisti last Sunday evening. Some 20,000 youngsters from the ages of six to eighteen passed before the reviewing stand. Each one carried a rifle with bayonet affixed, was in uniform, and was unusually Well drilled. Even the very youngsters showed evidences of personal attachment to the Duce and time after time elicited the applause of the crowd by the rigor of their salutes. In the reviewing stand was the British Military Attaché. There was no open manifestation of antagonism toward him but it was quite noteworthy that among the crowd in front of the stand he was constantly the object of their attention. Time after time groups of three or four would look at him and engage in close conversation and it was equally noteworthy that there was not one single friendly gesture or look in his direction.
When that part of the parade which consisted of the young sailors passed, it was the occasion for a wild outburst of enthusiasm.
I cite this as just one instance. But on every side and from every quarter, one hears the antagonism amongst the people which has been engendered by the propaganda and one becomes definitely conscious of the distinct feeling of hostility toward England.
As it is well known to the Department I will only refer again to my various despatches during the last two years which have carried reports of bitter attacks on other Governments. Noteworthy among them was the attack upon Germany, which commenced shortly after the murder of Dollfuss. There was then the attack upon France in the midst of the Stavisky scandal and aimed at the parliamentary system of government but against France in particular. That was followed by the most bitter campaign against Yugoslavia, preceding the murder of King Alexander and continuing with fitful spasms thereafter. There was then a bitter attack against Switzerland because it closed the border against Italian goods at the time of the imposition of the import restrictions by Italy last winter. In the meantime there have been violent but not such prolonged attacks against Russia and Japan. A few months ago it broke out in all its fury against England, upon which I reported at the time including conversations with the British Ambassador about his intentions in the matter and the conversation I had with Mr. Suvich when the attack commenced in the TEVERE.
The relations of all of these countries and Italy remained strained except in the case of France. The sudden volte-face of Franco-Italian relations occurred last fall and was preparatory to Laval's visit last January, which was such an important incident in modern Italian history. It may be argued from the changed relationship with France, one of extreme friendliness following a state of bitter antagonism, that the press in Italy can also change the attitude of its people toward England and that the all-powerful and omnipresent hand of the Duce can change the sentiment of his people over night from one of bitter antagonism to one of sweet friendship. No doubt there would be some truth in that observation. The press is powerful and the Italian people are volatile. But none of the campaigns except that against Yugoslavia has continued so long or been so bitter and I am reasonably sure that it would be practically impossible to eradicate from the minds of the younger people the personal animosity against England which has been inculcated in their hearts and in their minds. They might as a matter of stoic obedience, assume a different trend, but the see that has been planted has had the ground so well cultivated and ha been nurtured to such a young growth that it seems impossible in my mind that its influence could be eliminated in a short time and highly improbable that it could be changed to a feeling of friendship in the course of a generation.
But it must not be considered that the effect has been only upon the people of Italy, for the Italian campaign has made a marked impress upon the people of England who are without the scope of Italia propaganda and not subject to its influence.
The effect of this situation is that it has created a relationship between Italy and England which marks the end of their long years o friendly cooperation. It is impossible to conceive today that Italy and England will in the next few years proceed to a friendly cooperation in any degree consonant with that which characterized their relations for the past decades. Even if Italy were willing and the people of Italy could be brought to a realization of the necessity of a change, attitude toward England, the British Government would have difficulty with its own people in establishing close cooperation with the Government which has manifested such bitter antagonism and I might say hostile intentions, and in inducing the British people to reassume their former friendship toward Italians.
So that I am tempted to fear that it will be generations the situation now
existing can be cured and as a corollary to the situation there is the necessity
for England and France, or one o the other, in view of the diminishing importance
of the League of Nations and the system of collective security, to seek other
support from Governments in central and eastern Europe to supplant the reliance
they had upon Italy and to establish on a new basis a system of balance.
I have dealt up to this point only with the situation as it exist today. I now venture upon the very delicate ground of speculation
Any consideration of the effects which the present situation will have on the future must be based on one or the other of two premises The first supposition is that force will be applied to Italy in sufficient strength to stop its bold adventure and to impose upon it a definite defeat at arms. In this case there would no doubt be terrible trouble in Italy. Whether the Fascist regime could continue is quite speculative but even if it did continue it would be with an increasing lack of confidence and with trouble. Nevertheless, in case there was im posed a crushing military defeat, it would leave the eastern Mediterranean and Africa in its present status and would simply place Italy without the pale of friendly association with other nations in Europe.
The other premise is that Italy proceeds to attain her objectives in Ethiopia. In this case there is only trouble for the future. There can be nothing else. Those who consider this to be the high expression of Fascism and the end of their ambitions are entitled to no confidence. If the regime in Italy were successful in this venture it would but embolden them to proceed to other ventures. From time to time in the past Mussolini has made speeches which have been duly reported and commented upon in which he said that he had no European ambitions but that he did have ambitions in Africa and Asia. It was one such speech that caused the changed relationship between Turkey and Italy because Turkey thought that he had ambitions upon some of her territory. There is no doubt in my mind that if he obtains Ethiopia, or even a great part of it, he will proceed to establish himself there and will send millions of colonists. If the Suez Canal assumes an importance as great as it has today when Italy has: south of the Canal 250,000 soldiers, how much greater significance would it assume in case Mussolini had south of the Canal 2,500,000 people. The answer in my mind is definite. The Suez Canal would assume a political importance to Italy comparable to its importance to England, and considering the fact that the lease on the Canal ends in about thirty years and England's supposed control over it will terminate in that length of time, it would be the object of competition between the two Governments. It must be conceded that, in circumstances such as I have indicated, with a large Italian population in Ethiopia, it would be necessary to have direct communication with Italy.
An examination of the map will disclose a large Italian colony, Libya, running the entire length of Egypt and most of the length of the Sudan on their western borders. East of the Sudan is Eritrea. With the Italians in Ethiopia they will be also south of the Sudan. An alternative route of communication between the Italian East African colonies and the mother country can be established across the Sudan by joining Ethiopia with Libya. There is no doubt in my mind that shortly after Italy, should she become settled in Ethiopia, would begin a program to establish communications between Libya and Ethiopia. The oasis of Cufra in the southeastern part of Ethiopia has already been largely developed by the Italians as an air base. I shall always regret that when I visited Libya last spring an illness prevented me from accompanying Balbo on an air flight to But from what I saw and heard even though I was unable to visit Cufra or the other air bases of Italy, I became convinced that extensive preparations had been made in Libya to establish air communications and air bases both along the French border to the west of Libya and the Egypto-Sudanese eastern border.
The Italian air fleet is only two and a half or three hours from its Sicilian base to Libya; from eastern Libya it is only a short distance by air to Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said. There is a large Italian colony in Egypt . . . The Italian colony there is subject to a press propaganda similar to that carried on in Italy through the agency of an Italian newspaper there and other organized Fascist groups. It would be very easy for Italy to strike from two directions at the nerve centers at the control of Egypt, i. e., the three cities in the northern part of the country.
So that if you place Italy in control of Ethiopia you have continuing threat to British control of Egypt and the Suez Canal and a continuing threat to the British Empire as regards its communications to the east. It is also equally true that Italian presence in Ethiopia would threaten British communications with the south by the effort to join up Libya with Ethiopia across the Sudan.
The inference I draw from it as to the future is that Italy must either be
defeated now and prevented in the realization of her ambitions in East Africa,
or the trouble will continue on through for a generation as an additional irritation
to European politics and an additional menace to world peace. And if she is
not defeated now it follows that we will have the menace of a highly organized
and militarized state threatening the eastern Mediterranean and from its synchronized
bases in Africa challenging the British Empire, with the turmoil it will bring
from time to time into international politics through a period of years.
While I realize that this is all speculative, I think the possibilities have a bearing upon the present situation and that they may indicate what we may expect in the way of international relations for some time in the future.
Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 278-282
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