Devoted to Abyssinian causes, and in late 1934 and early 1935, as it became evident that Benito Mussolini had designs on Haile Selassie’s kingdom, it was largely Col. Hubert Julian who brought this state of affairs to the attention of American blacks

By Jay Maeder (NY Daily News) |

From Italy’s standpoint, it was true, Italy had been fairly royally chiseled out of any substantive World War spoils. The Allies had promised the sun and moon and then left Italy with crumbs, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, nothing but barren desert. Some Roman Empire that was. Well, Italy had Albania, too, but of course Albania was worthless. So it was that Benito Mussolini cast Italian eyes again on the ancient cradle of the Kingdom of Abyssinia. Abyssinia was nothing but barren desert either, so far as that went, but at least there was more of it.

Italy was still relatively new to the world stage in the 1930s. Until 1870 Italy had been a medieval collection of poor duchies and poorer principalities, and its early attempts to expand across the Mediterranean into Tunis were contemptuously blocked by the older powers. The Italian armies were not particularly sophisticated, in any case: When in 1896 the dictator Francesco Crispi resolved to make a protectorate of Abyssinia, 8,000 Italian soldiers were slaughtered at Adowa by Abyssinians armed with sticks and spears. Great was this sting. Italy had been just mortified ever since.

Now, in 1935, Mussolini was determined both to avenge the old Adowa humiliation and to stake an emperor’s claim at last to Italy’s rightful colonial place in the sun. Now the Roman legions were mechanized, bristling with tanks and warplanes, and all the world knew that Italy would storm defenseless Ethiopia the day the September rains stopped. The great powers did not approve, but the slightest diplomatic misstep could easily mean another world war; now Haile Selassie, Ras Tafari, the Lion of Judah, came before the League of Nations to plead for deliverance, and the great powers all went deaf.

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