He stood in front of the entire world — and no one listened.
The consequences of apathy, in a world that is always on the edge of ruin, always lead to predictable consequences. The second world war could have been averted if the plea by Haile Selassie had been listened to by the League of Nations. But which are the events that led to one of Haile Selassie’s most memorable speeches?
The Italian Invasion
By 1935, most of Africa was chopped up and given to the imperial powers. Ethiopia, on the other hand, was a lone island in a sea of sharks. The French, Italians, and British had surrounded the empire then known as Abyssinia.
Italy had a small share of colonial land and decided to exert its newfound military powers on Ethiopia. When Mussolini got an excuse to invade, he did so with full malice and went all the way to the capital.
In front of the League of Nations, Haile Selassie proclaimed the following:
Also, there has never before been an example of any government proceeding to the systematic extermination of a nation by barbarous means in violation of the most solemn promises made by the nations of the earth — that they should not be used against innocent human beings the terrible poison of harmful gases.
Above were the accusations of Italians utilizing chemical weapons against the civilian population of the Ethiopian empire. It was a direct violation of the 1925 Geneva protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. Such a bold action proved that Italy was willing to go to any lengths to gain a larger colonial legacy and exploit resources from Ethiopia.
The Abyssinian empire fell into the hands of Fascist Italy in 1936.
Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, went to exile and tried to gather all the support he could from the League of Nations. They soon came to learn that the League was only effective up to a point, as the world powers decided not to sanction Italy for its actions.
Highlights of The League of Nation Speech
In 1936, Haile Selassie made the bold move of standing in front of the League to appeal for his country. Before he started speaking, Italian journalists started booing him for his persistence against Italian aggression.
Even with such a start, he held his dignity and soldiered on with his appeal, which ended up landing on deaf ears. He mentioned the fascists’ belligerent actions and unfair treatment of innocent people — people that had no role in the entire saga.
He highlighted that Italy was adamant to kill every living thing via continually spraying gas over their lands with planes:
It was thus that as from the end of January 1936 soldiers, women, children, cattle, river, lakes and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain.
Haile Selassie then went on to say the words that would haunt the world less than three years later in a constant torrent of warnings:
It is my duty to inform the governments assembled in Geneva responsible as they are for the lives of millions of men, women and children of the deadly peril that threatens them by describing to them the fate which threatens them.
Shortly after, he went on to say:
That is why I decided to come myself. To bear witness against the crime perpetrated against my people and give Europe a warning of the doom that awaits it if it should bow before the accomplished fact.
Haile Selassie was irked by the League's apathy and boldly asked them why the league should even exist if they couldn’t do their job. He was even brave enough to ask whether the League should undergo reform for the improvement of the people who were part of it:
Is it the covenant that needs reform? What undertakings can have any value if the will to keep them is lacking?
Again, he reiterated that Italian aggression will eventually turn on Europe and the world in one of history’s simplest yet most haunting statements:
It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.
In the end, he pointed out the unfortunate nature of his speech:
Representatives of the world, I have come to Geneva to discharge in your midst the most painful of the duties of the head of state. What reply will I take to my people?
The Deaf Ears of The League
The amount of terror that the fascist nations brought upon the earth is yet to be forgotten. The Axis powers attacked on many fronts and changed the dynamics of the entire globe so much that a new world emerged from the ashes of the old one.
If the world powers had curbed the expansionism and aggression of Italy at that particular time in history, then an entirely different story would have been told today.
The world learned a valuable lesson on why it should not take warnings lightly — particularly those coming from the ones who have been stepped on.
It took soldiers goosestepping on the majority of Europe and a power-thirsty empire tearing through the Asian continent to completely allow real change.