Tag Archives: League of Nations

Drunk with Power

Drunk with power

The first major international conflict to occur after World War I took place in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria, a region then governed by China. Following this event, the League of Nations, a coalition of nations functioning to prevent war, failed to take action to punish Japan for committing this act of war. In May of 1936, another member of the League of Nations, Italy, conquered Ethiopia, a weaker, less influential ally of the League of Nations that had been a member since 1923 (“League of Nations”). As in Manchuria, the League failed to protect Ethiopia, discrediting the League. Ultimately, Italian victory in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War destroyed the global perception of the League of Nations in the years leading up to World War II, especially creating tension among prominent League members like England and France.

In John Knott’s political cartoon titled “Drunk with Power,” published in May of 1936, Knott clearly demonstrates this tense dynamic between England, France, and Italy. In this cartoon, Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy at the time, sits drinking wine from a bottle that says “African Victory Celebration.” He drunkenly gestures to Britain and France and says “You ‘pologize an’ we’re all frein’s again- am I right?-”  Britain and France are standing together off to the side, looking back at Mussolini with eyes of resentment. Hitler sits alone at a table in the background, drinking alone (Knott). Mussolini’s statement alludes to Britain and France’s desire to maintain positive relations with Italy in spite of Italy’s divisive decision to enter war with a League Ally. Additionally, the caption reads “The Prodigal Son Returns,” which is also the title of the accompanying editorial, published alongside Knott’s cartoon in the May 8, 1936 edition of the Dallas Morning News, which examines Italy’s foreign policy after conquering Ethiopia, and disobeying the fundamental doctrines of the League.

England and France receive clear representation in this cartoon because they were perceived as the most powerful members of the League of Nations by many countries, especially after their victory in World War I, and their active role as “big four” members in forming the League of Nations (Nichols). Correspondingly, both nations were expected to use the established framework of the League of Nations to resolve the growing conflict between Italy and Ethiopia; however, Britain and France instead chose to work outside of the League, fearing that “decisive action by the League would result in pushing Mussolini into an alliance with Hitler,” (Wemlinger 36). In early 1935, both nations chose to privately assure Mussolini that they would not attempt to prevent him from using military power to carry out his Ethiopian conquests; Mussolini soon after conquered Ethiopia.

This event served as a decisive moment in the history of the League of Nations, and key point in understanding the causes of World War II. Britain and France, founding members of the League, a coalition created with the purpose of “providing avenues of escape from war”, failed to prevent a powerful ally from conquering a smaller ally (“League of Nations”). Although these actions were carried out with the strategic intent of pacifying Italy, they sent a message to the world: the league would not fulfil its obligation to protect any nation or prevent war.

However, international perception of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict strongly favored Ethiopia, which placed Britain and France in a difficult position (Wemlinger 39). In late 1935, the British Foreign Secretary stated that “the League stands, and my country stands with it, for the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety, and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression,” (Wemlinger 39). This disparity between Britain and France’s public support for the League’s obligations, and private negotiations with Italy, is cause for the tense dynamic presented in Knott’s cartoon “Drunk with Power.” By May of 1936 when the cartoon was published, Britain, France, and the League of Nations had conceded to Mussolini’s power-hungry objectives.

For this reason, Mussolini becomes “drunk with power” from his African victory wine, accompanied by two particularly sober figures representing Britain and France. Mussolini had succeeded in forgoing his obligations to the League without consequence, whereas Britain and France had only narrowly avoided losing their necessary alliance with Italy to Germany and Hitler; Italy was “ready to quit” the League “if the council [interfered ] in her dispute with Ethiopia”(Associated P). Knott includes the image of Hitler in the background, distant from Britain, France, and Italy, with an unhappy look on his face and a glass that has a swastika on it in his hand. For Hitler, who may have been seeking to weaken opposing European alliances, the preservation of the alliance between the three nations may have served as upsetting news; he is not drinking to celebrate, but instead to mourn his diplomatic loss. Britain and France, similarly unhappy with the League’s failure and Italy’s victory, stand off to the side of Italy. By 1936, both nations had to accept Italy’s victory, and welcome Italy back into the League, as if the nation were a “prodigal son,” returning home after doing wrong, and claiming to reform their actions in the future. In the editorial that was published alongside Knott’s cartoon, “Prodigal Son Returns,” the writer outlines Italy’s claim that it only “[wanted] peace and [wished] to strengthen the league,” even after taking several actions to undermine the League. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand the complex dynamic depicted in the cartoon. Italy expected Britain and France to “‘pologize” for the times they publicly opposed Italy’s actions in Ethiopia, and Britain and France did so, but begrudgingly. The League of Nations had been disgraced, and Britain and France from there on would have to face the consequences of this outcome, all while catering to the whims of a “drunk with power” Italian ally.

After Italy’s victory in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, the League of Nations was made ineffective in the eyes of nations all over the world. This outcome resonates in modern society, as many view the United Nation’s attempts to prevent humanitarian crises in nations like Syria with anything more than sanctions and ceasefires. In evaluating the events of the past, we must look to present times, and gain understanding of our future.

Works Cited

Associated P. “League is Told to Stay Out of African Tilt.” The Washington Post (1923-1954): 1. Jun 21 1935. ProQuest. Web. 29 Nov. 2016 .

Knott, John. “Drunk with Power.” The Dallas Morning News 8 May 1936, sec. 2: 8. Print.

“Prodigal Son Returns.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News 8 May 1936, sec. 2: 8. Print.

Nichols, Christopher McKnight. “Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations.” Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History. Ed. Robert D. Johnston. Vol. 4: From the Gilded Age through the Age of Reform, 1878 to 1920. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010. 383-387. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“League of Nations.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 1628-1631. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

 

Suggestion for Historical Mural

Suggestion for historical mural

Going against the wishes of the League of Nations, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and his italian army invaded Ethiopia in an effort to gain an advantage in the imperialistic race Europe found itself in at the time. This increased tension between Italy and other members of the League of Nations, particularly England and France.

In the Knott cartoon, a man is dressed in Ancient Roman robes and a laurel wreath. He is labeled as Mussolini and Caesar. Mussolini rides a horse drawn chariot through the street under an arch labeled “Roma”, surrounded by an enormous crowd and people leaning out of windows waving flags. The design of the town is evocative of ancient Rome. Being marched behind him, attached to the chariot by the neck with a rope, is a bedraggled black man wearing nothing but a large barrel, labeled Ethiopia.

This cartoon references the Italo-Ethiopian war, an armed conflict which was one of the leading causes to world war II and ended in the subjugation of Ethiopia by the Italian forces.One of the reasons for this conflict was imperialism. Before World War I, European countries were racing to colonize Africa — this competition was a major inciting factor for the war. One of the reasons for the creation of the league of nations after the war was to settle disputes between nations and avoid further war. They pushed for the disarmament and demilitarization of nations involved in the first war in an effort to seek and maintain peace. However, during this time Benito Mussolini and his movement of fascism rose to power in Italy. He became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 and focused on the expansion of the Italian military forces. By the late 1930s, he had used his military to invade Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Albania, making Italy a force to be reckoned with in the Mediterranean area.

The Italo-Ethiopian war was a significant one of Mussolini’s conquests. Ethiopia was one of the few independent countries in the European colonized continent; Italy had tried and failed to acquire it as a colony in the late 19th century. A small border conflict between Ethiopia and the Italian controlled Somalia gave Mussolini the justification for invading Ethiopia. The rationale was that Ethiopia was to be held accountable for the conflict, but the real motive was to gain the resources and boost Italian prestige.

This was exactly what the league of nations wanted to avoid. It denounced Italy’s invasion and tried to impose economic sanctions on Italy, but it was ultimately ineffective due to lack of support. The conquest of Ethiopia angered the british, who had colonized East Africa and worried about maintaining their control, but other major powers had no real reason to interfere with Italy. Supporting the rise of fascism within Europe, this war contributed to the tensions between fascist regimes and western democracies.

Equally important to understanding this political cartoon is the reference to Julius Caesar. The ancient politician and eventual dictator of Rome bears similarities to Mussolini: both were ruthless Italian dictators bent on expanding Italy’s control through military force and who were eventually killed by those who opposed them. Although in the present day we know of Mussolini as a dictator, at the time the cartoon and editorial were published that was up for debate, as he was still accumulating power. By likening him to Caesar, someone historically known as a tyrant, Knott made a strong political statement about the ethics of Mussolini’s conquests. This is further emphasized by the title of the cartoon, “Suggestion for Historical Mural”. Murals are a large, public, accessible artform. Since they reach such a wide audience, they have the capability to sway public perception. By suggesting that this unflattering depiction of Mussolini be a historical mural, Knott is making a statement about the way he wants history to remember Mussolini.

The cartoon shows Mussolini on top of a chariot, crowned with a laurel wreath, while the Ethiopian man is dragged below by the neck, wearing only a bucket. Mussolini’s stature is one of power: he is in possession of technology that allows him to be swifter and stronger, he stands above the other man, and he wears a crown that is symbolic of victory. Meanwhile, the barrel the Ethiopian man wears signifies destitution, and the rope around his neck helplessness. Mussolini and his army reign over Ethiopia with formidable strength, and this is reflected in the positions the people in the cartoon find themselves in.

The editorial accompanying this cartoon is titled “A Hot Time in the Old Town”. This title is drawn from a popular song from the time period of the same name, “A Hot Time in the Old Town” (also referred to sometimes as “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” after a memorable refrain in the chorus) composed by Theodore A. Metz in 1896. This march was popular in the military, associated with the Spanish American war and Theodore Roosevelt’s rough riders. Although the song was created before the 20th century, a popular rendition of it was recorded in 1927 by Bessie Smith, a notable singer of the era. This would have made the song a relevant reference in the 1930s, when the editorial was written. In regards to the article, the “hot time” would be the conflict between Italy and Ethiopia, and the “old town” would be a reference to Rome, a city in Italy with an ancient history of conquest, and fits in with the parallels the cartoon draws between Ancient Rome and Italy during the 1930s. The fact that this song was popularized with the military emphasizes the militaristic nature of the conflict in Ethiopia, drawing attention to the fact that Italian armed forces were sent in to occupy Ethiopia.

By equating Mussolini with the tyrant Caesar and showing him subjugating the Ethiopian man, Knott draws attention to the situation between Italy and Ethiopia, as well as making it clear he believes Mussolini is a dictator wrongfully conquering Ethiopia.

Works Cited

“Italo-Ethiopian War.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“Italy’s Invasion of Ethiopia.” Italy’s Invasion of Ethiopia | History Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

History.com Staff. “Julius Caesar.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

History.com Staff. “Benito Mussolini.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“WW2: Italy Invades Ethiopia.” Anonymous. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“WW2: Italy Invades Ethiopia.” Anonymous. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Kalinak, Kathryn Marie. How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford. Berkeley: U of California, 2007. Print.

Knott, John. “Suggestion for Historical Mural” Dallas Morning News 18 Apr. 1936. Print.