Italy's Ethiopian massacre finally comes to light.

Author:Makinde, Adeyinka
Position:Bookends - The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy's National Shame - Book review


IAN CAMPBELL (2017). FIRST EDITION. LONDON: HURST PUBLISHERS. 30.00 [pounds sterling] ISBN 978-1-849-04692-3.

One of the greatest desecrations of modern times, the massacre of Ethiopians by Italian colonists in 1937 has, for various reasons, remained largely hidden. A new book by Ian Campbell exposes the truth and shows the tragedy was on a par with other global atrocities. Review by Adeyinka Makinde.

The 20th century is often remarked on by historians as having been one of the most tumultuous periods in human history. Some would go so far as to assert that it was the most violent century in modern times. Certainly, the advances in technology ensured that human life could be destroyed in far greater numbers and with more rapidity. And in an age of warring empires, colonial repression and the coming to power of regimes adhering to the ideologies of totalitarianism, episodes of the mass murder of innocent civilians are abundant.

The loss of life during the massacre of Nanking and the bombing of Guernica, for instance, are tragedies that are as emblematic of the troubled times leading to WWII, as are the names of the death camps and mobile killing units associated with Nazi Germany during that conflict.

Less well-known, if known at all, is the massacre which was initiated by Fascist Italy in the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa in February 1937. This savage event, staged as a retributive measure, after an assassination attempt on Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Benito Mussolini's viceroy to Italian East Africa, is essentially a half-forgotten one.

The fact that an atrocity of this magnitude was not thoroughly documented, dissected and memorialised until recent times may strike the observer as somewhat surprising.

This amnesia persisted in regard to both perpetrator and victim. There was no war crimes investigation and little scholarship was directed at it. The reasons for this are manifold and are revealed by Ian Campbell in his book The Addis Ababa Massacre: Italy's National Shame, the fruit of two decades of research.

The task of setting out the chronology of events while striving to maintain accuracy, as well as reach empirically valid conclusions pertaining to the controversial matter of an overall death count, was an onerous one.

For instance, the author had to contend with the large-scale destruction of evidence. This relates both to the destroying of official records as well as to the physical elimination of Ethiopian witnesses.

Thus, he needed to find alternatives to the use of archival documents as historiological sources.

Most notably, this Involved painstakingly tracking down and interviewing eyewitnesses over a considerable period of time, recording their recollections and then embarking on a laborious process of cross-checking and cross-referencing.

He also assembled and reproduced a vast array of photographic evidence. Many of the shots were originally...

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