When Italy joined the war in alliance with Germany, Great Britain did not appear to have enough power to defend herself both in East Africa and the Middle East.
Nevertheless, she gradually became stronger, owing to the inexorable wisdom of her leaders and the work of her great generals, who were well versed in military strategy. The forces of the United States and the Soviet Union also joined ranks to fight the common enemy. When the preparations for war reached a reliable stage six months after We arrived in the Sudan, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Churchill, on December 23, 1940, broadcast the following message to the people of Italy revealing that the real cause for the outbreak of the war was the Ethiopian affair.
I broadcast my speech from London, the capital of the British Empire…. Now we are at war. It is tragic and strange. Until the recent pathetic years, who ever thought that the peoples of Britain and Italy would attempt to destroy each other?
We were always friends. We provided support in the struggle of the Italian peoples for unity and freedom. We were supporters of Garibaldi and admirers of Mazzini and Cavour. The British people and parliament supported the movement for the unity of the Italian peoples, who were the light of the nineteenth century. Our forefathers supported the Italian quest for independence from the Austrian yoke and wished to see Italy overcome all her obstacles and occupy her respected place in the European Christian community as one of the great countries of Europe.
Until now we have never been enemies. We were your allies in the First World War. We had been your friends for fifteen years after the conclusion of the war. Although we believed that the institutions you built up after the war were different from those of ours, and not consistent with the internal ideology of Italian unification, we could still live in peace and good faith. Thousands of people of Italian descent live with us. With them we have had friendship, mutual support, and respect.
Now we are at war We busily search for the means of mutual destruction. Your pilots have attempted to drop bombs on London. In Africa, our soldiers are tearing your imperial territories apart. Alas, we are now opening a new chapter of history covered by darkness. No one knows where the end will be. Currently we are being forced to obliterate each other. What is the source of all these? Why did this happen?
Behold, people of Italy, I will tell you the truth. All these happened because of one person. Only one person has lined up the Italian people to sacrifice them on the territories of the British Empire. He has also alienated the United States away from its… good will and closeness toward the Italian people. I will not deny that he is a great man. No one will also deny that, after enjoying unbridled power for 18 years, he has led your country toward a tragic destruction. It is only one person who organized you in a ferocious war ostensibly to make you the inheritors and keepers of the Old Roman empire. He did all these against the wish of the Italian royal family, the Pope and the Vatican Roman Catholic Church, and the people of Italy, who have no desire for war.
The history of Italy has reached this sad moment. The criminal who is about to commit this mistake and humiliation stands right beside you. How does he justify what he has done? Let us review, Britain and Italy were signatories of the Treaty of the League of Nations, which was signed at the conclusion of World War I. According to the treaty, member countries were not to war against each other, or invade the other. It also required member states to come to the defense of another, if assaulted. Ethiopia came in search of membership. We the British spoke against her admission. We suspected that Ethiopia was not civilized enough to be a member of the sanctified League. It was then Signor Mussolini who argued for her admission. Therefore, it is he who got you, us, Ethiopia, into abiding by the laws of the League. It was in this way that the conflict started and our age old friendship was negated.
The Ethiopian crisis, which resulted from breaking the law which we both had vowed to respect, has now brought Britain and Italy to the verge of death and destruction. The conflict between us, which started because of Ethiopia, will not be a lasting one. My words will stand the test of time.
Meanwhile, the great war broke out because of Germany’s military attack and Nazi feeling of superiority. What made Italy get involved all of a sudden? Or else, what was the reason which made her attack the fallen France? And what was the reason for declaring war on Britain? What was the reason for attacking Egypt, which was under British protection? We had been delighted at Italy’s neutrality. During the eight months to the outbreak of the war, we had respected the territorial integrity and wealth of Italy. However, this was construed as cowardice. We were told that we were weak and fearful and talking in an outdated nineteenth-century language. In fact, we had no fear, and we were not weak.
Surely, the French republic has fallen for the time being. But France will rise again. The British people and the people of the Commonwealth Nations, and I dare say all English-speaking countries, have risen indignantly. The forces of modern civilization and the culture of antiquity have lined up with them.
Why have you chosen to follow a misdirected and poorly conceived policy, which already has started to unravel, while you could be our friends and brothers? Let me ask you this, what is the reason for invading Greece and causing tragedy? Perhaps, you may be asking the same question? But you do not know the answer because Mussolini has never consulted you. The Italian people have never been given the chance to express their opinions. One person alone ordered the Italian army to loot the vineyards of its neighbors. The time has surely arrived for the King of Italy, who is also the Custodian of a Christian capital, and the people of Italy to give their opinions with regard to the dangerous phenomenon and the tragic consequences it entails. Indeed, the Italian army, which periodically has fought courageously, but whose courage is currently lost, should be concerned for the life and prospects of Italy.
I, Churchill, would like to make it known to you that I have done everything within my power to avert this war between Italy and the British Empire. As a proof to this I will read out the message I have sent to Signor Mussolini:
I have now assumed the powers of the Prime Minister and Secretary of Defence. Let me call your attention to the meeting we had in Rome and remind you, as the leader of the people of Italy, of my inclination toward peace. Can we not stop the stream of blood about to be spilled between Italy and Britain from flowing? There is no doubt that we will inflict a terrible loss on you and you on us, as a result of which the Mediterranean sea may sink into an agonizing darkness. Well, if you would like this to happen, let it happen. But I would not like to pass without mentioning that I have not been opposed to Italy’s greatness, and that I have not antagonized Italian authorities. Try to weigh the consequences of this great war, which is about to dismember Europe and which benefits no one. Whatever is to happen in the continent of Europe, Britain is ready to fight to the end.
Be that as it may, I want you to know that my plea for peace is not the result of fear or weakness. A certain protective caution was present lest the inheritors of Latin and Christian civilization destroy each other. And now, before the declaration of war has been issued, I plead with you respectfully to listen to this voice.
I sent this message on May 16, and Mussolini answered on June 8, 1940:
I am responding to your statement just to let you know that I am aware of the historic but ephemeral effort that you have made so that our two countries would not confront each other in battle. Without going deeply into history, I would like to remind you that your government, solely to safeguard its own interests in Africa, spear-headed the initiative to impose economic sanctions on Italy in 1935.
I would also like you to recognize Italy’s standing in the area of her own sea. If your government’s declaration of war on Germany was prompted by the need to honor its commitment, likewise, I am ready to protect the honor of Italy’s policy in alliance with Germany.
This was his response. I refrain from commenting on it. It was a clear-cut response. It was self-explanatory. Anyone can understand who the peace-seeker was. Anyone can understand who was the belligerent. After all these tiresome and trying years, only one person dragged Italy into war. Today, where does Italy stand? After eighteen years of dictatorship, where is the Duce leading his loyal people? And now, what other options do the people have? Is it to withstand British firepower on the territories of the British empire, in air and on sea as well as in Africa?
Only one person has led you to this catastrophe. Until the time when the Italian people will decide on their own destiny, and I hope it will be soon, I will leave this clear history there.
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