“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’.”
“THE DAILY LIFE OF THE EMPEROR
There is probably no ruler in the world who has so hard a task as the Emperor Haile Selassie. He is the head executive of every department in the State, one of the few rulers who can say with truth: L’Etat, c’est Moi ! Many observers have born witness to his constant devotion to duty and have pictured him in time of peace working a sixteen hour day, while in time of war he goes frequently for forty-eight hours or more without sleep. Lately, indeed, some of those close to him have been afraid that he was overtaxing his endurance, but his sleep, though scanty, is of satisfying depth and he rises after only a few hours completely refreshed.
This is a gift of special interest since many great administrators have possessed it. So also is the fact of his extreme frugality at table. The food which is served is of the highest quality, but the Emperor is always sparing, especially in the consumption of meat dishes, while as far as wine is concerned although he has a cultivated palate and a very respectable cellar he is moderate to a degree. His mind, which he he works to its utmost, is never clouded; his eye is always clear, his hand always steady. At heart he is a lover of ease, meditation, and aesthetic pleasures; but he is unswerving in his devotion to duty.
Between the hours of four and five in the morning he is called by his personal servant, who ofter finds the Emperor already awakened and in prayer. Having completed his devotions he passes at once to his study where the Ministers of State attend him. The first consideration is news. There are reports from every seat of government which is connected to the capital by telegraph; there are the verbal messages of runners who have been sent by faithful chiefs who are watching the Emperor’s interests in the more isolated districts; and there are confidential reports of happenings in and around Addis Ababa. Any replies which may be necessary are at once dictated, the Emperor glancing through the completed drafts and sometimes making additions and alterations in his own neat hand. (…) He has made himself as it were the centre of a sensitive network of nerves. When anything happens he feels it. Pain is transmitted. Then later comes the knowledge of what caused the pain. That is perhaps the best way to describe a state of affairs rather puzzling to the European mind. (…)
But to return to the Emperor’s study. The orders for the day are given. There is now an interval while the Emperor drinks coffee, consumes bread and fruit and glances at the latest issue of his newspaper ‘Light and Peace’, the leading article of which is possibly his own handiwork, written with scrupulous weighing of words last night after a day of exacting duties. (…)
One of the sights on which the visitors never fail to remark is the lions of which there are many round about the palace. Often the Emperor strolls in his gardens accompanied by two playful cubs. (…)
Early in the afternoon the Emperor lunches sparingly, perhaps entertaining European visitors, and they enjoys a deserved rest. This respite is usually brief, however, for there is an endless round of inspections awaiting him. His troops, his schools, his hospitals – all these need his personal attention. Though he has twenty ministers they are really secretaries rather than executives. The Emperor is active head of every department.
Those who know him are surprised at his varied knowledge. Books come to him from Europe on every subject and he never ceases to amass facts. Before the war cut short all his civic endeavours he had begun to study botany in search of methods by which the productivity of his country might be increased. (…)
During the eary evening he consults with his financial advisers, comparing the records of tax returns and enquiring the cause of fluctuations. He has rapidly absorbed the principles of sound economics and understand very well the theory of taxation. In his early years as ruler he did not sufficiently oppose the principle of taxing imports, especially luxuries, as much as possible. It was the old tradition of ‘squeeze’. In the years prior to the war a very great change was observed by those familiar with the country. While the need of money still necessitated the imposition of dues the Emperor’s enquiries were directed to schemes by which these might be lessened and in private conversation he revealed himself as a Free Trader, saying that it was the ceaseless erection of barriers to trade by governments who should rather bend their efforts to removing them that had caused the world slump.
Dinner may be a ceremonial meal with many visitors and elaborate courses or a comparatively brief affair if the Emperor is not entertaining and has work to do. In the event of a State banquet, or even entertainment on a much less scale, all the conventions of Europe are strictly observed. Invitation cards of plain design but excellent quality all bearing the royal crest in gold are delivered with due formality well in advance. The menu is printed sometimes in Amharic only, but often with the normal French names with which the European is perfectly at home. The guests assemble in a long anteroom and when all are present the Emperor appears to head the procession to the table having first received the salutations of the party and having spoken a few words of welcome to the guests.
The Swiss chef is a master of his art. It is his duty to taste all the food which comes to the royal table. The imperial family are not often together but when the only remaining princess dines with her father she wears a simple Paris gown in the most perfect taste. (…)
For all State occasions the gold plate purchased during the visit to England is used. Champagne is the wine most in favour, but though it is plentifully supplied by tall footmen in red coats and white breeches who are trained to perfection and stand behind every chair, the Emperor’s glass is not often refilled. Frequently when the banquet is ended he goes straight to his study, lights the large reading lamp which stands upon his desk, and works there till morning guarded only by a single servant who stands outside the door.
The Emperor is air-minded. When he first visited Aden in 1923 he asked to be allowed to make a flight and did so in a seaplane while his suite held their breath. (…)
No one who has given the Emperor frank and disinterested advice has ever been forgotten by him. It may be some time before the opportunity offers, but always there is kindly and adequate recognition of the help received.
The Emperor has always been very accessible to foreigners and journalists have never had any cause to complain of his treatment of them. (…)
His relations with the Empress Manen are an index to his simple, unchanging character. He married her twenty years ago before he began his struggle for the throne and has never had cause to regret his choice. Sha has been a loyal helpmate in countless ways of which the outside world knows little, and it is perhaps most to her credit that where she could not help she has not hindered. (…)
The Emperor shows her great respect, and by his considerate treatment of his wife and his high moral standards has set a fine example to his people. Even those who like him least can have no ground for criticism in his marital life. In the midst of pressing affairs Haile Selassie would always give priority to a letter from his wife and he would deal with her requests with generosity and with scrupulous attention to detail. (…)
The Emperor loves clocks. He knows that they measure the most important thing in life. He knows – and to his cost – that he is almost the only man in Ethiopia aware of that fact. He realises, too, the importance of training everybody to the use of the clock. In modern Ethiopia time is money. (…)
That is the great personal tragedy of the Emperor – he can foresee so many consequences to which his lighthearted warriors are blind, and he cannot explain to them the reasons for his actions.”
(Taken from “Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia”, Princess Asfa Yilma, London 1936)
“Possibly you have read that when the Emperor goes out shooting the official who accompanies him always shoots first and misses while the Emperor then brings off the winning shot. This sort of anecdote though true enough in uninterpreted fact gives a very wrong impression. To begin with a second shot is often a good deal more difficult than a first – and Haile Selassie is admitted by all who know him to be a very fine shot indeed; while it is incorrect that the ceremonial – a very ancient prescription – is carried out whenever the Emperor shoots. A young Frenchman of my acquaintance, an almost miraculous shot, told me how some years ago he had the pleasure of a few hours informal shooting with the Emperor whom he paid the compliment of treating simply as a fellow sportsman and beating at the game – though by a very small margin.
‘When it was all over’, he said, ‘I watched for signs of sulkiness, or alternatively that glassy politeness which is even more indicative of the bad loser with whom the fault is inborn. I will swear that I saw no such sign. The Emperor was genuinely glad to have found an antagonist willing to meet him on equal terms and being beaten in a fair trial of skill perturbed him not in the least.’ “