More Speeches of Haile Selassie I

Interview with Gordon Gaskill – “Images” 1942

“Images” (Egyptian Weekly Magazine in French), September 21 1942
Interview by Gordon Gaskill / Translation from French

After the shaking of hands, the monarch invited me to sit. I asked him if He preferred to speak in French or in English. He said that for an official conversation He prefers to use his mother-tongue. There was his secretary/interpreter, who took care to translate the Emperor’s statements.

– What does Your Majesty think about the current organization of the world ?

‘My answer might shock you. So before I let you know, I want to assure you that I know how horrible war is. I saw it six years ago, when my country fought alone and was conquered. I saw it only a few months ago, when my country fought alongside the Allies and achieved victory.

Above the words, above the tears, I see the whole world plunged into the bloody chaos of war.

And yet, I dare to say that in at least one area, the world today is better than that of a few years ago. Before everything, it is honest. Perhaps this honesty was imposed on it. But it remains a certain fact that today excuses, renunciations, compromises no longer exist. Today, a man, a nation can raise its head and say: <<I fight with you>>, or <<I fight against you>>.

Yet the world was honest a few years ago. I am convinced that in 1935, when Italy invaded my country, almost all the nations of the world recognized that we were the victims of a flagrant injustice. But no power dared openly to help us. We were drowning, and no helping hand was extended to us.’

– Do you think that the world has learned the lesson ?

I think the world has finally recognized its past mistakes. And I would like to be sure that these faults will not be forgotten after the war is won. This savage slaughter will have served some purpose, if we know how to draw from it the just appreciation of the value of international unity. For lack of international unity, my country was conquered by an aggressor. Thanks to international unity, which intervened because of the war, my country regained its sovereignty and independence. I do not speak with bitterness, but with the hope that the lessons of the past will serve to guide humanity into the future.

The League of Nations fought for a great ideal. But his efforts were limited into the realm of words and actions without energy. Never a word could stop a tank. Never has a platonic gesture been able to prevent a dive bomber from throwing itself into a mad dive.’ 

– When do you think this war started? Who triggered it?

‘This conflict began twenty years ago, when Italy invaded the Greek island of Corfu. It began when Japan successfully attacked Manchuria. It became inevitable when Italy invaded my country and succeeded in carrying out its aggression. Then it was the Rhineland, Spain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and finally, in September 1939, the abscess burst and the war spread like wildfire across the wide world.

What would the great democratic powers not give to be able to go back and relive, with the experience of the present, the lost years from 1920 to 1939, the years of relaxation! At every turn in the bloody road that led us from Corfu to Poland, the war could have been prevented.

In those moments, it was perhaps not necessary to make war: it would have been enough to show the will to face the uncertainties of a conflict, to defend a just cause.

But none of the great powers thought to realize that those events, taking place in remote corners of the world such as Corfu, Manchuria and Abyssinia, could one day have some influence on their own existence. Who, in America for example, would have thought of establishing any link whatsoever between the Corfu affair and that of Pearl Harbor?’ 

– According to your opinion, what form of international organization should be established after this war ?

A few years ago, political leaders had developed a program of general disarmament. Each nation would have kept only a small police force. The League of Nations would have instituted a great single army, a world court, in a word, a sort of general super-police. This is, with a few variations, the system which is in force in your North American federation. The small nations subscribed to this project with enthusiasm, but the great powers refused to accept it. From that time on, I no longer had any doubts about the inevitability of a general conflict.

Personally, I am convinced that a system based on this principle would be the best guarantee of a peaceful peace. I have no illusions concerning the difficulties of putting such an organization into practice. Many problems of race, language, traditions will have to be overcome. But if this idea is unattainable, let us at least stay with each other, let us unite, as far as possible, by a close cooperation based on a mutual sympathy. The union of all the nations of the world will only be possible through much creative imagination, strenuous effort and sacrifice. But won’t all these efforts and all these sacrifices be less painful than a new war?’

– Do not think that the plan You suggest requires much altruism and chivalry from the nations ?

‘Chivalry ? I don’t suggest or expect it. Egoism, alas! seems to be part of human nature. Every man thinks first of himself; each nation contemplates exclusively the interests which are proper to it. But the point on which I insist, and which I hope one day the world will appreciate, is that international cooperation is only intended to serve the interests of each nation effectively.

If, in 1935, the great powers had intervened decisively in favor of Ethiopia, they would not have performed a gesture of pure chivalry. Their action would undoubtedly have prevented today’s war. It was not out of sheer altruism that Britain helped to liberate Abyssinia. Nor is it in the name of this feeling that Ethiopia is currently forming a brigade made up of its best soldiers, who will go to fight alongside the allies. We know perfectly well that only a British victory will allow us to stay free.

Too many nations have lived in the belief that it is in their interest to stay away from the problems and injustices of the world. It is necessary that this war – you hear well, it is necessary – make us understand that the policy of egoism is useless, that it can be fatal just for the egoistic nation. This war must teach us that the only coherent form of egoism is that which will contribute to establishing and maintaining justice within humanity.’ 

– Are you personally optimistic about the post-war world? Do you think the lessons of those dark years will be put to good use?

‘I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but I must solemnly warn you of the dangers that await us. Today, the leaders of democracies have laid the basis for grand plans for the reconstruction of the world and the establishment of lasting peace. The gravity of the hours in which we are living, the community dangers which we are facing, have united the masses of the people behind these leaders.

This unanimous good-will allows us to nourish the most optimistic hopes, but we must not for a single moment think that the task at hand is easy. I ask you to go back twenty-five years. Then, as now, leaders spoke of grand, humane, righteous programs. But when the war ended, the world forgot. The world wanted nothing more than pleasure and comfort.

I declare that we must always fear the danger of falling back into the same tragic mistakes of twenty-five years ago. To avoid the pitfalls of the future, it will be necessary to carry out a work of titans. The future organization of the world will be more difficult than the victorious conclusion of the war. During the present conflict, everyone is stimulated by very violent feelings: love of motherland, hatred towards the enemy, and the basic desire to survive. But all that state of mind will be upset as soon as the last shot is fired. Then the world will be, as it was a quarter of a century ago, exhausted, bled white, inexorably weary of struggle. Once again we will eat well; steel will be used to make tractors, not tanks; planes will carry passengers and no longer bombs. Then it will be tragically easy to rest, forget, sleep and do nothing. Too easy to forget the wonderful solidarity between the Allies. Too easy for each man to forget his brother, for each nation to forget another nation, for each one to follow a different and solitary path.

Yes, it will be precisely the day when each being, pushed to the limit, will cry through their tears, to ask for rest, that it will be necessary, in the four corners of the world, to make the supreme effort. This will be the most critical epoch in the history of the world. This will be the moment of great sympathy, of great understanding, of great sacrifices, of great collaboration.

Although we will have won this war by arms, we will lose it if peace and prosperity make us forget the lessons for which we will have paid such a high price. Let us therefore swear general solidarity. Let us swear, by the blood of our sons, that if ever in the future a nation is attacked, the whole world will rise in its defense and draw its sword.

And if we manage to live united, firmly united, the sword will never be drawn again’.” 


By Ras Matyas

Author and Writer

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