Italians Expel A Powerful Voice Denouncing Their Misdeeds In Abyssinia

Sunday 17th May 1936

The Italian authorities tightened their grip on Abyssinia following the proclamation of direct rule. The Italian commander General Badoglio proclaimed that his policy was to show "maximum generosity towards the peaceful and loyal population ad maximum severity towards the unruly." The latter was more in evidence. Since the occupation of Addis Ababa 1,500 Abyssinians had been arrested and many had been executed. According to Badoglio they had been convicted by military tribunal of capital crimes, which as of recently had included the possession of arms. Carrying weapons had long been a feature of a country still plagued by brigandry. The executions were conducted in batch shootings of 30-40.

The Italians acted to choke off news of their misdeeds. George Steer, The Times correspondent who had done much to bring Italian atrocities notably the use of poison gas to world attention, was expelled along with three other foreign journalists. He went on to cover the Spanish Civil War and was the first to report the full story of the bombing of Guernica, for which his memory is still revered in Basque Spain. His views, though, were unwelcome at the pro-appeasement Times and he was dismissed. During World War Two he was one of the British soldiers and administrators who restored Haile Selassie to power.

The literary classic of press coverage of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia is undeniably Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. It is adored by journalists as a hilarious and self-deprecating portrait of their profession but it should not obscure the work of journalists like Steer. His satyric tale was anything but balanced. Waugh had neither the skills nor inclination to excel as a foreign correspondent. He was also singularly lacking in sympathy for the Abyssinians.


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