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Pete Belli
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Warsaw 1944 and Addis Ababa 1936: a study in the ruthless restraint of military power





Contributors to this Forum are probably familiar with the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and the lack of support given to the Polish resistance by the Stalin regime. There were several different narratives offered by the Soviets to explain this inertia. However, a ruthless tyrant like Stalin could always provide justification for his actions or an excuse for not doing something.

It is certainly fair to say that the destruction of Polish leadership cadres and the Polish freedom fighters was beneficial to Stalin's post-war political plan for Poland. There were obvious propaganda benefits to be gained by the "liberation" of Warsaw by the Red Army. A halt on the outskirts of the city matched the goals of Stalin quite well.





I have been reading Haile Selassie's War: The Italian-Ethiopian Campaign 1935-1941 by Anthony Mockler while preparing a Memoir '44 scenario depicting the crucial battle of Mai Ceu (or Maychew) in 1936. The chapter describing the fall of the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa offered a strange parallel to the events in Warsaw during World War II.

After the defeat at Mai Ceu the feudal Ethiopian army began to collapse. Haile Selassie fled the country and the resulting leadership vacuum left each regional warlord (or ras) without any central authority. Addis Ababa was practically undefended and mobs began looting and pillaging. Europeans were attacked and killed. The various embassy compounds were under siege while armed bandits (or shiftas) roamed the streets.

An infantry brigade of Eritrean troops (the legendary Askari, African soldiers attached to the Italian army) reached the outskirts of the city. The unit was ordered to encamp there. Instead of entering Addis Ababa the Askari remained immobilized while an Italian mechanized column (the famous Colonna Celere) struggled to moves its tanks across Ethiopia's primitive roads. The triumphant entry into the enemy capital was led by Italians.

This delay served a number of purposes. The already fractured Ethiopian command structure was given more time to dissolve. As with Stalin and the Red Army entering Warsaw, Mussolini gained significant propaganda benefits as newsreels around the world showed Italian armored vehicles rolling into Addis Ababa. There may also have been a more sinister objective.

Mussolini already planned to incorporate Ethiopia into his Italian empire. To avoid excessive protests at the League of Nations it would be helpful to demonstrate how European civilization (under Italian guidance, of course) could reduce the barbarity of the Abyssinians. Having the Italian army restore order in the capital as part of their "civilizing mission" would provide that demonstration. In the words of the Italian commander Badoglio, any doubts that still remained about the state of barbarism in Ethiopia were dispelled by the events in Addis Ababa.

So here we have two examples of how the calculated restraint of military power provided ruthless leaders with political advantages... at a tremendous cost in human suffering.
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