The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
The Shadow of War
Germany's Rising Power
The World Prepares for War
America Prepares for War
American Neutrality
Failure of the League
Failure of Versailles
England's Failures
Ambiguous Russia
Plight of the Jews
Humanizing Dictators
Americans All
War Zones
Italy Seizes Ethiopia
Japanese Conquests
Chinese Resistance
Spain's Civil War
The Mediterranean
Pearl Harbor

Italy Seizes Ethiopia

August 26, 1935: Italian-Ethiopian Crisis Play audio

This segment offers an example of Mussolini daring his European counterparts to challenge him and begin a war. A London Daily Mail reporter acts as a narrative foil as he interviews Mussolini, and his reactions to Il Duce's blustering indicate what listeners reactions should be as well. Mussolini announces that if the League votes against his cause in Ethiopia, he will leave the League.

Reporter: "And that will mean of course..."

Mussolini: "War. It would not be my choice, but the League of Nations. Whoever applies sanctions against Italy will meet the armed hostility of my people....No nation can accuse [Italy] of desiring warfare."

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While Mussolini speaks, an order goes out from Great Britain's admiralty that cruisers should head to the Suez Canal, Egypt, and other locations, and be ready for action on September 2.

The scene returns to Mussolini: "Our cause in Ethiopia is a just one. In a few days it will be laid before the League's counsel. It will be laid before the whole world—proof that the Ethiopians are a barbaric people, sunk in the practice of slavery.

"Before any other nation talks of penalties against Italy, let it think well upon the consequences of such folly."

As Britain's Mediterranean fleet closes around the Suez Cnal, Il Duce flies to meet troops in the northern Italian Alps who are conducting a gigantic battle exercise in Italy, "ostensibly as training for the mountains of Ethiopia," the narrator explains. But Europe sees the mock war as a declaration that Mussolini will have troops ready to fight in the north, as in the south in Ethiopia, if Europe or the League joins forces against him.

August 27, 1935: Mussolini's Son Play audio

["Dance of the Sugar Plums" from "Nutcracker" sets the children theme for the scene] Mussolini's obnoxious eight-year old son Romano wants to join the fight in Ethiopia. "Salute. I am a soldier. Hail Il Duce!" he exclaims. He wants to be a captain, since "all the men in our family are going!"

"The arm of Italy must crush out slavery in a barbaric country!" the boy exclaims. This "son of the Roman wolf" hopes the war will last long enough for the class of 1927 to be called.

August 28, 1935: Marconi's Ray Gun Play audio

This clip shows The March of Time radio show's goofier side, while still casting Mussolini as a war-hungry tyrant. Radio innovator Guglielmo Marconi reveals a conversation he had with Mussolini in Santa Margarita, Italy about Marconi's latest work. When a wireless ray Marconi has crafted is directed at a gas engine, the engine will stop. Mussolini asks: "It would mean that all motorized war machines would be useless, that foot soldiers and cavalry will be the whole strength of an army?" Marconi responds, "I believe the ray will also be invaluable for medical treatment." Mussolini is eager to know when it will be ready for use. In response, Marconi cautions that to make it useful he needs to test it in the field. Marconi's motives are shown to be scientific and virtuous (helping medicine), while Mussolini is interested in its military uses.

 Lake Tana dam
(1) Ethiopians build the dam to Lake Tana and (2) location of the dam on a map of Ethiopia.
Map of dam
(3) Mussolini, looking imperial and (4) the real Selassie.

"Ethiopia," September 20, 1935 Play movie

This film explains the strategic reasons Italy wants Ethiopia, suggesting that the conquest might tighten Italian control of the world's waterways and lead to further conquests by Italy. The film also heavily emphasizes America's determination to remain neutral despite attempts to draw the country into helping Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia "lies a lake seldom visited by white men, yet of vital importance to at least one great white nation....Out of it flows the eastern branch of the Nile." England needs the Nile for trade purposes and helps Ethiopian Emperor Selassie (4) build a dam to control the Nile's flooding (1-2). Once again, Italian aggression interrupts the peaceful agreement: "Eying England's plan for years, but with plans of his own in mind, is the most imperially minded man in Europe today—Benito Mussolini (3). Needing room for at least 3 million of Italy's bursting population, and seeking to restore Rome's ancient imperial glory, he sends his troops down through the Suez Canal, into Italian Eritrea. For six months this movement continues before the world takes it seriously."

Italians move toward the capital of a nation never conquered in 7,000 years of its history.

With rain delaying action, newsmen have little to do but read about attempts to stop the coming war. England tries to line up American support to curb Mussolini, but has the effect of spurring neutrality legislation. "In Washington a tired Congress suddenly awakens to the popular demand for some kind of neutrality legislation." Intertitle: "The Neutrality Bill is passed, making sure that the U.S. will not be involved in other nation's quarrels for at least six months."

Selassie actor Meeting re-enactment

(5) An actor plays Selassie in a re-enactment of an agreement to deed half of Ethiopia to U.S. and British interests. (6) The long shot masks the identity of the actor, continuing the illusion and (7) the actor playing Selassie is almost off-camera in this medium shot. (8) The results are reported in newspaper headlines.

Click on the photos for a larger view.

meeting re-enactment Half Ethiopia Deeded to Standard Oil

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"Nobody Wants to Go Back to the Ethiopia Front, Newsreels Dilemma."

Word gets out that in a last-minute attempt to get America involved and save Ethiopia from invasion, Selassie has deeded half of Ethiopia to U.S. oil and British interests (8), so America may have to defend those interests. But Secretary of State Cordell Hull steps forward and has the oil deal canceled. The Voice of Time is reassuring that America will not get involved. "Ethiopia waits, ready to go down fighting in a war that could become a world conflict. But between Abyssinia and the United States, between America and the world war clouds, roll 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean. Time marches on!" Americans can take solace in their distance from war, the narrator suggests—out of sight, out of mind.

April 17, 1936: Ethiopia Play audio

In this clip Ethiopia is in the midst of being attacked, and it further shows Italian belligerence in the face of threatened League of Nations sanctions. In the opening scene, Italian bombers attack Ethiopian capital Adis Ababa. At first natives fear it is gas, but it turns out to be mere rocket flares designed to "taunt the frightened blacks." The narrator proclaims the Italians "playful fascist war hawks"—here the word choice of "playful" seems placed at the expense of the Ethiopians.

In Geneva, an Italian baron mocks the League for threatening sanctions: "Which does the League prefer—peace or another war to end war? If the committee of 13 will only be patient a little while, it can meet in perfect safety if it wishes, even in Adis Ababa...I assure you, peace is eminent." Italy "taunts" the peace committee, the narrator explains, which is "frightened by the awful alternative of accepting or defying Il Duce's unconditional conquest of Ethiopia. And today League effort to enforce peace collapses entirely, and the committee passes the buck to a full League council Monday." When Haile Selassie learns that Italian forces are within 93 miles of Adis Abawa, he says he is ready to abdicate and let the crown prince take over as "puppet emperor." The narrator concludes, "Italy claims to have won its six-and-a-half months campaign, and the undeclared war is over."

May 7, 1936: Learning the Fascist Salute Play audio

The March of Time follows the conquest of Ethiopia as an example of the threatening spread of fascism. In Adis Abawa, the Last of the Imperial Guard asks an Italian soldier to teach him the right way to make a fascist salute. He appears willing to accept the Italian conquest and become a "trooper" himself. The Italian gladly explains how how to do the salute.

The narrator gets in a jibe at Mussolini's quest for power, calling the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, "Italy's forgotten man." Emmanuel confers upon Il Duce Italy's highest honor because he "planned and won the greatest colonial war in history."

May 11, 1936: Selassie Discusses poison gas Play audio


This segment, as do future segments on Ethiopia, focuses on the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie's fall from glory. Selassie is a favorite supporting character for The March of Time; he acts as a tragio-comic foil for Mussolini. In the opening scene Selassie talks to reporters in Jerusalam, Israel, where they comment on how his hands look "burned raw."

"Yes, the poison gas, but it is nothing. I was fortunate to escape with my life." He explains that he left the country to "save my people from extermination by Italian poison gas."

Selassie discloses that his dog was given to him by the Italian King Victor Emmanual a few years ago. (March of Time loves ironies for added drama). Despite being an exile, Selassie reportedly has a treasure worth $5 million. He was recently offered an engagement in Ft. Worth, Texas for $150,000 to appear at the state centennial, his adviser notes. The adviser reveals that Selassie began to listen to Mussolini's speech proclaiming Emmanuel emperor, but "he turned off the set himself in the middle of Il Duce's speech."

May 14, 1936: A Glorious Adventure Play audio

The March of Time radio show at times seemed to cast Ethiopians in a negative light, undermining American interest in the war. There was some prejudice against the native Ethiopians, and the war was not portrayed as being full of atrocities, as this clip shows, but rather perhaps beneficial to the Ethiopian people—at least the Italians and newsmen believed so. In the segment, news "hawks" prepare to leave Ethiopia because the war has wrapped up. They talk with Italy's viceroy, Pietro Vidolio. Vidolio notes,"My friends, it was a glorious adventure you and I had together, all the way to Adis Abawa." He promises to bring three weapons to Ethiopia: doctors, teachers and roads. The newsman replies, "Well if you ask me, Ethiopia could use all three—if you can make them like it." The Ethiopians are shown as too foolish to even accept what Westerners consider a good thing.

Vidolio continues his reduction of the war to a vacation: "I want you all to go away with the memory of Italians as good soldiers, who did their best for the country over tremendous odds. [Years from now] I hope you will think of it, if not with nostalgia, at least as a pleasant memory." The Voice of Time interrupts: "As Marshall Vidolio puffs romantically over his military epic, genially tosses a forget-me-not for departing news hawks to treasure," Ethiopia's Turkish military adviser discloses that Ethiopia was not conquered because of gas, bombs or other modern weapons, but because its chieftains succumbed to bribery. The March of Time acknowledges a certain amount of spin on the part of the Italians, who view the war as a "military epic" fought at "tremendous odds." At the segment's conclusion the radio show tries to take back some ground from the Italians through portraying the Ethiopian spin.

MAY 15, 1936: League sanctions Play audio

The League half-heartedly pursues sanctions against Italy, but the action is "monstrous," according to Mussolini: "There is only one means in the world of imposing culture on backward people: force." If the League "revengefully" continues to pursue sanctions, "I warn you, I am ready to go to war in Europe. The Italian people have created an empire with their blood, and they will defend it with their blood." The Voice of Time notes that "as war minister Benito Mussolini bellows his blunt ultimatum to distant Geneva and London," the Pope is asked to crown Italian King Emmanuel Emperor of Ethiopia. Before the Pope will consent, Ethiopia's legal status must be cleared up in the League first.

DecEMBER 31, 1936: Last appearance of Selassie Play audio

The Voice of Time in Europe exclaims that acts of man in the year 1936 have "turn[ed] solemn treaties and covenants into ashes" as Germany rearms and Ethiopia is conquered. In this "last" appearance of the Ethiopian emperor, Selassie mourns that eight months ago he had "absolute confidence" in the League of Nations, but now the League has been beaten by a sole aggressor, Italy. The Voice of Time tackily calls Selassie the "conquered black man of the year" as a cheap segue to talk about the "triumphant black man of the year," Jesse Owens.

November 18, 1937: Selassie's Poverty Play audio

Selassie now lives in England and is being interviewed by a reporter. The interview slowly reveals the former Ethiopian leader's financial hardships. The segment highlights the show's fascination with Selassie himself rather than the potential plight of Ethiopians under Italian rule.

1 Selassie photo from Wikepedia. 23 July 2004. <>