New Book ‘Prevail’: Personal Stories From Mussolini’s Invasion of Ethiopia
In a new book entitled Prevail: The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia’s Victory over Mussolini’s Invasion, Jeff Pearce, a journalist based in Toronto, focuses on rarely told and fascinating personal stories from the war, each of which is worthy of a big screen movie. Take, for starters, the account of Ambassador Imru Zelleke, 90, who now resides in the U.S. and whom the author interviews extensively about his experiences witnessing the first horrible incidents of Yekatit 12, the Graziani Massacre, and then was taken to an Italian concentration camp the next day. Imru’s narrative is paralleled with other Ethiopian heroes including General Jagama Kello; Ethiopian activist Dr.
Melaku Beyan who led and forged close relations between African Americans and Ethiopians as part of his awareness and fundraising campaign in the 1930′s in the United States; and African American fighter pilot Colonel John Robinson (the Brown Condor) from Chicago who volunteered his services and commandeered Ethiopia’s only plane for the duration of the conflict. And, of course, the role of Emperor Haile Selassie, whom the author observes is held in high esteem today by foreigners, ironically, than his own people.
“This is no time to eat ice cream or peel bananas!” Pearce quotes a speaker shouting from a wooden platform in Harlem, New York, where it is said that over twenty thousand people had turned out for a rally in support of Ethiopia. Closer to home, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela recalled in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: “I was seventeen when Mussolini attacked Ethiopia, an invasion that spurred not only my hatred of that despot but of fascism in general. Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined.”
As Pearce points out Mandela was hardly alone in his sentiments. Across the Atlantic in New York City “people were told to listen to the speeches and donate as much money as possible. Cheers went up as the Ethiopian tricolor of green, yellow, and red was waved in the crowd.” Pearce explains that “For New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit — the capitals of black consciousness in 1935 — Ethiopia indeed mattered. It held a spiritual significance for black Americans as an African kingdom where Christianity had flourished since the fourth century. And it was defiantly independent, smack in the middle of the colonial map.” Pearce notes in his introduction that “The Ethiopia crisis could be felt as far away as South America and even touched Asia. The news was everywhere, inescapable, and the word was going out that Haile Selassie’s soldiers would not simply roll over and accept the inevitable.”
Imru Zelleke was a teenager when the Italians tanks rolled into Ethiopia. “It was no longer a vintage scene of colonial warfare; it was a grotesque tableau of anachronism,” Pearce says. “This was not a page out of the Book of Empire from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. This was December 1935. At first, the more ignorant warriors took these strange, lumbering metal things for monsters and ran. But one of them, fearless and proud, circled around and jumped onto a tank, pounding on its tin shell casing. Machine guns were blazing away and slicing men in half, and still the Ethiopians swarmed and flooded their numbers into the narrow gorge of what is called Dembeguina Pass, overwhelming the enemy. When it was finally dusk, the men and their brilliant commander, Imru, would slip away with fifty captured machine guns.”
Read More at Tadias