A Prelude to Total War? The Abyssinian War (1935–36) in the Eyes of Foreign Military Observers

in International Journal of Military History and Historiography
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The conflict between Italy and Ethiopia in 1935–36 has been framed as a prelude to the Second World War and as a watershed towards ‘Total War’. One perspective has so far been neglected: the assessments of foreign military observers. This article examines American, British, German, and Austrian views on the operations and thereby also analyses the mindset of European officers at the time. The core argument emerging from these reports is that the war was perceived as a rather ‘normal’ colonial conflict. Neither the use of gas, nor the employment of aircraft against civilians was seen as a taboo or created significant outrage among the military observers. Instead, they lauded the Italians’ steady logistical efforts and employment of artillery and airpower to overcome nature and the enemy’s resistance.

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