From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.

 


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the Sunday Sun, 6 October 1935, three days after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. The headlines reflect public horror at what was seen as a barefaced grab for land and resources launched on a cooked-up pretext. Pity the world's mainstream press couldn't manage to report the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq with similar clarity. More front pages below.

From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

27 March 2007

Finally, the whole boring state election charade was over. My own role was confined to trying to get at the truth behind the little-known Pru Goward Breathalyser Incident. I had a client who’d dearly like to know what happened at Goulburn Police Station on Friday 16 February. The facts were that the Howard acolyte and Liberal candidate for Goulburn was breath-tested after being pulled over at 10.50 pm for failing to stop at a stop sign. It seems she was asked to accompany the officers to the station for a second test. As it turned out, Pru wasn’t charged with DUI and she claims she was well under the limit at 0.02.

Which may well be true, except that the cops don’t normally ask you to do a second test unless you were over the limit on the first.

It was all a bit of a mystery. My police contacts wouldn’t talk and I could only conclude that the coppers who pulled Pru over had left their reading glasses at home, or couldn’t count to ten.

So the investigation ran pretty completely into the sands and I went back to renovating my little office kitchen. I thought it had been fitted out in the 1950s but I got a shock when I peeled back the second layer of old linoleum covering the floor.

The newspapers underneath had last seen the light of day seventy-two years ago. My eyes fell on the front page of The Sunday Sun of 6 October 1935, where – in the fashion of the time – several decks of headlines recounted Fascist Italy’s attempt to create a “New Roman Empire” on the Horn of Africa.

BOMBERS MENACE ADDIS ABABA
HEROIC LAST STAND BY DEFENDERS AS PINCERS GRASP ADOWA
Desperate Struggle Against Tanks, Aerial Bombs
Abyssinians Hold Up Thrust In Danakil Desert

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

Despite being massively outgunned by the Italians, the Abyssinians fought heroically. Spears and old rifles were pitted against tanks, artillery and modern bombers dropping poison gas and high explosives. Civilians were massacred and villages laid waste.

Around the world, the public were outraged, but the anger bothered Mussolini not at all.

The Italians prepared for the war with lies and provocations. They unilaterally redefined the internationally-agreed border between Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland and started to build roads into Abyssinia. When, in 1935, their incursions were resisted with force, Mussolini had his casus belli. The Italians invaded with 125,000 troops on 3 October and captured Adowa three days later. The League of Nations declared Italy the aggressor, but sanctions were imposed very slowly and didn’t include oil – the one thing that would have brought Italy to heel – because the British and French argued that if they didn’t sell oil to the Italians, the Americans, who weren’t members of the League, would. And Stalin’s Russia continued to sell oil to Italy.

But, gee, at least you’d have to say that the League actually got itself together to condemn blatant imperialist aggression against a hapless Third World nation and introduced some sort of sanctions, an action the gutless United Nations couldn’t bring themselves to when the coalition illegally invaded Iraq four years ago. In fact the UN had imposed brutal sanctions on Iraq and approved a decade of Anglo-US bombing of Iraqi civilian infrastructure before the 2003 invasion.

The British and French shamefully abandoned Abyssinia. The Hoare-Laval Plan, a “peace deal” advanced by the foreign ministers of the two countries offered Mussolini control of two-thirds of Abyssinia. The British public exploded and Hoare resigned, but it made no difference because Mussolini’s plans were supported by the 1930s equivalents of today’s neo-conservatives.

The foreign editor of Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail, argued that if Britain opposed war on “one of the last and most backward of independent nation states, we should be hindering the progress of civilisation”.

The Abyssinians were “a savage and barbarous enemy”, Lord Hardinge opined, and British under-secretary of state for foreign affairs, Lord Stanhope, told a foreign office official that Britain couldn’t sell Abyssinia arms as that “would be going back on the white man everywhere”.

These sentiments weren’t confined to the British ruling class. In a remarkable piece commissioned by the Australian Smith’s Weekly (19 October 1935), US newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst wrote:

I personally do not think that the nations of the Old World can be blamed for expanding. They may have selfish motives. Most of us are motivated by intelligent self interest. But they are carrying the light of civilization into the dark places of the earth.

It was thus that America was rescued from savagery.

The conventional–type war ended in May 1936, and the Abyssinian Emperor, Haile Selassie, fled the country. Mussolini declared the equivalent of George Bush’s “mission accomplished”, but small guerrilla bands fought on and eventually their brave stand prevailed when the British, after Italy entered World War II on the side of Hitler’s Germany, decided they’d get behind the Abyssinian “terrorists”. The New Roman Empire in East Africa came to an ignominious end in 1941.

The Telegraph (Sydney) 25 September 1935. The fourth deck headline speculates that Mussolini may only have been playing for time when Rome hinted that it might be prepared for a "compromise" solution to the border crisis it had deliberately created. But Mussolini was indeed playing for time to complete invasion preparations. Shades of the diplomatic manoeuvres leading up to the invasion of Iraq!

The Telegraph, 10 October 1935, a week after the invasion, Abyssinian troops and irregulars continued to put up a brave resistance to the Italian Fascist steamroller.

The Sun, 10 October 1935. A week after the invasion the Italian 'shock and awe' campaign continued with an aerial offensive using what is described as "a chemical substance resembling powdered sulphur" that attacked the eyes and lungs of Abyssinian victims. "They call us savages, yet this is Italy's first contribution to the new civilization in Abyssinia" said Demjazmatch Nazibu, an Abyssinian commander. Shades of the Anglo-US use of DU munitions, napalm and white phosphorus in the Iraq war and the widespread use of cluster bombs in the Zionist blitzkreig in Lebanon.

Smith's Weekly, 19 October 1935 (Sydney). In this specially commissioned piece, US newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst got behind Italian imperialism (see article above) and opined that the US should stay neutral ... after all, similar treatment had been meted out to the Native Americans and that was A Good Thing. Note the Indian chief looking accusingly over Uncle Sam's shoulder and the inclusion of a countervailing view to Hearst's in the US-sourced cartoon showing Mussolini stepping onto Abyssinian territory and holding a pistol to the head of a hapless native. In the box at the centre of the page, Smith's Weekly distances itself from Hearst's views.

LAST MONTH's WHISPER:
Petrol at $1.20 a litre? Say goodbye to all that
27 February 2007
It was raining when I drove through Newtown late on Sunday afternoon. King Street was teeming with people from the Soundwaves concert in Sydney Park and the cafes and pubs were full of laughter. Soon the street lights would come on and the restaurants would start filling up and the neon signs would lend a tawdry glamour to the old town.
It will look like this on the streets of Tehran just before the American blitz starts. They say Iran is a beautiful place, but bright lights will probably not burn there for many years, and the country, like Iraq before it, will be poisoned by radiation from DU munitions, if not actual nuclear bombs, for thousands of years to come.