In the 1930s, the Italian dictator Mussolini wanted to build an Italian empire. The African country of Abyssinia was next to the Italian colony of Somalia. The area was desert. In December 1934, Italian soldiers attacked a party of British and Abyssinian investigators at the oasis at Wal-Wal, in Abyssinia.
In January 1935 Abyssinia asked the League of Nations to arbitrate. Mussolini refused League of Nations arbitration. Instead, four days later, he made a treaty with France – France would let Italy conquer Abyssinia if Italy would support France against Germany. The Italians army got ready to invade.
Haile Selassie, the emperor of Abyssinia, asked for a meeting of the League. In July, the League banned arms sales to either side (this hurt the tiny Abyssinian army much more than the Italians, who had tanks and bombers, and were ready to attack).
At the League, Britain talked about ‘collective security’ and said the League should defend Abyssinia. In September, the League appointed a five-power committee to arbitrate in Abyssinia. It suggested that Italy should have some land and power in Abyssinia. Both Haile Selassie and Mussolini refused to accept the League’s plan. In October 1935, Italy’s 100,000 strong army invaded Abyssinia.
The Italians used tanks and flame-throwers. The Abyssinians had camels, war drums and 12 planes. They were massacred. A British cartoon of the time showed a happy African village with the word ‘Barbarism’ under it. Next to it was a destroyed and burned village, with the word ‘Civilisation’ underneath.
The British delegate to the League, Mr Hoare, said that the world would face ‘danger and gloom’ if the League failed to act. But the French refused to do anything, because of their treaty with Italy. And Britain refused to do anything without France. In December 1935, news leaked out of the Hoare-Laval Pact, a secret plan made by Britain and France to give two-thirds of Abyssinia to Italy, without telling the League.
The League did agree to some sanctions (on rubber and metals), but it did not stop oil sales. Most importantly, Britain did not close the Suez canal to Italy, fearing that Italy might declare war on Britain – so Mussolini sent men and supplies to Abyssinia through the (British) Suez canal!
Italian troops used poison gas and attacked Red Cross hospitals. This broke the Geneva Convention, but even then the League could not agree on what to do.
By May 1936, it was too late. Italy had conquered Abyssinia.