Blood on the Canvas: African-Americans, Haile Selassie, and Italian Fascism

LL1It was a beautiful right cross, straight to the jaw. The big Italian folded up in the middle of the ring. He got up and fell to his knees and got up again but he was swaying.

Yankee Stadium was full of 64,000 people tonight. A scrum of men in suits and ties and hats plus a few women who didn’t mind getting blood on their mink wraps, all roaring down from their seats at a boxing ring the size of a postage stamp. The Italian-Americans were telling Primo Carnera to stay on his feet and keep his guard up, their black hair glossy in the lights. African-Americans shouted at Joe Louis to finish him, Joe, finish him and shadow-boxed with whatever fist wasn’t holding a cigarette.

Commentators ringside talked fast into their microphones for the folks at home. Photographers popped off another bulb in cameras big as a box of groceries. Louis stalked a glassy Carnera around the ring.

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Haile Selassie’s Foreign Volunteers

LLoJAdwa was a scar on Italy’s heart. Back in 1896 this parched market town in the north of Ethiopia saw the Italian Army humbled by warriors with swords and spears. Politicians in Rome thought they could carve an empire out of the last independent nation in Africa. Ethiopian warriors killed 7,000 men in one day and ended that dream.

The Italians wanted revenge. In 1935 they got it. The land of Dante and Caravaggio was now a boisterously aggressive Fascist state under Benito Mussolini. Provocations at the border late the previous year led to war talk and demands for compensation. European powers tried to intervene but could not afford to alienate Mussolini, needed onside to counter-balance the growing threat of Nazi Germany. In October Italian Fascist legions kicked aside the half-hearted diplomacy and marched into Ethiopia. Bombs, bullets, and mustard gas started raining down.

Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie knew his country was poor and underdeveloped. He needed expert foreign help. Forty foreigners ignored League of Nations resolutions on non-intervention and came to Addis Ababa to fight. Another sixty joined medical units or found other roles. The international press corps gathered in Addis Ababa wrote them up as heroes.

A few mercenaries were honest. A few were competent. The rest was a crazy gang of playboys, Nazis, and black crusaders who could barely shoot straight. Here’s a selection from my book Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com].

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WW2 Podcast & Lost Lions of Judah

haile-selassie-i-lion-adrienne-norrisHi friends. I had a long chat with Angus of the WW2 podcast recently about Ethiopia, mercenaries, Haile Selassie, and my book Lost Lions of Judah. He trimmed it down and tidied it up and now you can hear us discussing the Italo-Ethiopian war in glorious stereo through iTunes, Facebook, as well as the WW2 website. It’ll probably turn up on Youtube some time soon.

Tune in and take a listen, then get your hands on the book itself [or amazon.com]. It’s about the crazy gang of adventurers who helped Ethiopia fight back against the Fascist Italian invasion of 1935.

It was a war between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a bunch of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.

Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion tells the whole colourful, blood-stained story.

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Franco, Katanga, and Haile Selassie

Reading1Hi friends. This is a round up of stuff about my books and assorted matters i.e. a combination shill/boast. Let’s go.

An article I wrote for the Amberley website about Ethiopia and the Italian invasion is live. Check it out here. It’s a useful overview of the war and mercenary involvement. Also has a very nice photograph of Haile Selassie with book and Great Dane.

The BBC History website commissioned an article on my book, emphasising the role played by foreigners, both as soldiers and journalists. Article is done, checked, and lined up for publication. Should be live this month or the next. Keep an eye out or check back here – I’ll update when it appears. [Update: they’re taking their time. Hang in there].

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Lost Lions Of Judah Ebook On Sale Now

Lost Lions CopyThe ebook version of Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion is now available. If you prefer pixels to ink then hit Amazon and download.

So far it’s available from Amazon.co.uk but the US edition will be out in October 2017. Here’s a taste of the introduction to give you the flavour of the book:

When the first bomb exploded, Vienna’s finest trauma surgeon was elbow deep inside a patient’s guts somewhere in northern Ethiopia. Dr Valentin Schuppler kept his scalpel steady as shock waves blew in half the hospital windows. The Red Cross on the roof was being used as a target by Italian airplanes.

Dessie hospital was an unhygienic pile of bricks in a backwater town whose best feature was its juniper trees. Any patient mobile enough had gone running for the hills when the first Fascist planes appeared. Schuppler stayed in the operating theatre and worked on a patient who was going nowhere without a mile of stitches and a dose of morphine.

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Here Are 6 Non-Fiction Books You Need To Read

Library bookshelfI’ve been writing books, articles, and blog posts for a while now. My subjects are mercenaries and extremists, smugglers and peacekeepers, lost causes and short-lived countries, and the kind of writers who hammer out words on a busted typewriter with a 9mm in their belt and a bottle of vodka in the ice box.

Recently I wrote Lost Lions of Judahthe strange, untold story of the Nazis and adventurers who fought for Ethiopia against Mussolini’s invaders. And it’s all true.

That’s one of the revelations in non-fiction narratives. Almost everything that appears in a novels has already happened to someone real somewhere else. And it was weirder and wilder than you can imagine.

There are plenty of non-fiction writers out there with the talent to take all their research and interviews and summon up a living, breathing, technicolor world. Here’s six non-fiction books that do the job very well.

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Lost Lions Of Judah Published 15 June 2017

Lost Lions of JudahMy book about the foreign mercenaries, adventurers, and crusaders who fought for Ethiopia against the Italian Fascist invasion is out on Thursday 15 June. Here’s a taste of the introduction … .

When the first bomb exploded, Vienna’s finest trauma surgeon was elbow deep inside a patient’s guts somewhere in northern Ethiopia. Dr Valentin Schuppler kept his scalpel steady as shock waves blew in half the hospital windows. The Red Cross on the roof was being used as a target by Italian airplanes.

Dessie hospital was an unhygienic pile of bricks in a backwater town whose best feature was its juniper trees. Any patient mobile enough had gone running for the hills when the first Fascist planes appeared. Schuppler stayed in the operating theatre and worked on a patient who was going nowhere without a mile of stitches and a dose of morphine.

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