May 5

This Day in History

World War II

May 5, 1941:

Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie returns to his capital

On this day in 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie re-enters Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, exactly five years to the day of when it was occupied by Italy.

Benito Mussolini had been eyeing Ethiopia (also known as Abyssinia) as an economic colony to be added to Italian Somaliland, in East Africa, since the 1920s. He hoped to resettle 10 million Italians in a unified East Africa. Despite Ethiopia's membership in the League of Nations, which provided it with recourse to other member nations in the event of invasion, Italy, also a League member, attacked on October 3, 1935. Selassie formally protested before the League Council, but the League responded with only mild sanctions, fearing that a more extensive embargo, or the closure of the Suez Canal, denying Italy needed supplies and reinforcements, would lead to war-and Italy simply getting its oil from the United States, which was not a party to League agreements.

Britain and France, both fearing that a general war would be harmful to their collective security, proposed secret negotiations with Italy, wherein Italy would be offered territory in Ethiopia's northeast; in exchange, Mussolini would end his aggression. Ethiopia would only be told of this negotiation after the fact; should Selassie reject the terms, France and Britain were off the hook, having made a "good faith" effort at peace. They could then oppose further sanctions against Italy, even propose that the ones in place be removed, thereby sparing themselves a confrontation with Mussolini. But the plans for the secret negotiation were leaked to the press, and both Britain and France were humiliated publicly for selling out a weaker League partner.

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