CHAPTER XLIX
EXIT LAVAL; ENTER FLANDIN

The farce was resumed at Geneva under the impact of the Italian victories (January 20).

The Committee of Thirteen (i.e. the Council of the League minus Italy's delegate, Aloisi) had on its agenda two requests submitted by Haile Selassie: one for financial assistance ( November 1, 1935), and another suggesting that a commission be sent to East Africa to investigate how military operations were being conducted by the belligerents ( January 3, 1936). The Committee decided to draw up a report to be submitted to the Council of the League (i.e., the same Committee plus Aloisi). When the Council took cognizance of the report, it rejected both Haile Selassie's requests. Aloisi, as usual, abstained from voting: Mussolini did not admit the competence of the League.

At this point (January 22) Laval resigned. His gross cleverness had brought about a desperate situation. The French Ambassador in Berlin, François-Poncet, told Gamelin on December 30:

"If France openly allies herself with Russia, Germany will retaliate by occupying the left bank of the Rhine; if Italy emerges weakened from her current troubles, it means Anschluss; if there is war between England and Italy and we take part, Germany is ready to intervene against us. Only a close Anglo-French accord can assure peace now, and yet. . . ."

Gamelin added: "With the proviso that France and England make the necessary military effort."1

Laval's parliamentary majority had become too demoralized and shaky. In the Fresnes memorandum he writes:

"I really thought that the men who were opposing me would, once they were in power and were faced with their responsibilities, entertain the same fears [of war] which I had had. I therefore resigned. And the oil sanction was never applied or even proposed by my successors."

Before leaving office, Laval tried to clear himself of any possible accusation that he had been Mussolini's accessory in the Ethiopian War, an accusation for which there was ample basis in Mussolini's letter of December 25. Thus, he answered Mussolini ( January 23, 1936) admitting that he had made use of the expression "a free hand" in "a friendly conversation at Palazzo Farnese, but he had never

____________________
1
Servir, II, 177.

-421-

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