Waugh in Abyssinia: Was He Right or Wrong?

 

Earlier in November, in Italy, the mayor and two town councillors of the town of Affile near Rome were sentenced to prison for using public money in 2012 to commission a memorial of Rodolfo Graziani, the Marshal in charge of the Italian invasion in Abyssinia in 1936 who later became a minister of defence to Benitto Mussolini’s fascist government from 1943 until the end of the Second World War.

Evelyn Waugh met Graziani during his war correspondent visit to Abyssinia in the summer of 1936. He described the meeting in Addis Ababa During the First Days of the Italian Empire, Part 2 of Chapter 6 of his travel book Waugh in Abyssinia (1936):

‘He gave me twenty minutes. I have seldom enjoyed an official audience more. His French was worse than mine, but better than my Italian. Too often when talking to minor fascists one finds a fatal love of oratory. …There was no nonsense of that kind about Graziani. He was like the traditional conception of an English admiral, frank, humorous and practical. He asked where I had been, what I had been, what I wanted to see. Whenever my requests were reasonable he gave his immediate consent. If he had to refuse anything he did so directly and gave his reasons. He did not touch on general politics or the ethics of conquest. He did not ask me to interpret English public opinion…I left with the impression of one of the most amiable and sensible men I had met for a long time.’ Waugh also wrote about the meeting in his diary: Thursday 27 August 1936, ‘Very fresh and business like. No Fascist speeches about the Roman civilization and the wickedness of sanctions. (The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie, 1976).

Graziani was sentenced to nineteen years imprisonment for war crimes in 1948 but served only two years and died in 1955. His memoir, which covers the invasion of Abyssinia, Una vita per l’Italia was published in Italy in 1998. Historians continue to argue about the extend of the damaged caused by the use of chemical gas in Abyssinia on his orders with the exact number of victims remains unconfirmed to this day with some claiming they were thousands. Evelyn Waugh wrote: ‘Gas was used but accounted for only eighteen lives.’ (Waugh in Abyssinia, 1936).

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