THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
In the Corfu affair Mussolini scored one success—a genuine one —against the League of Nations. He had laid down as his "unshakable opinion" that the League should not meddle in the affair, since it involved "Italian honour", and he won this point. The difference was settled, not in Geneva by the League, but in Paris, by the Conference of Ambassadors, outside the League.
To make matters worse, the Council of the League made a show of taking seriously the Italian delegate's quibble that the occupation of Corfu was not an act of hostility or of war, but merely "a measure of an essentially pacific nature", and that the League therefore had no grounds to feel concern over the Duce's action. As a consequence, the Council of the League entrusted a special committee of jurists with the task of studying the "pacific nature" of such acts as the occupation of Corfu. As is customary when jurists go into action, their report was so worded as to lead to no conclusion whatsoever. The sole evidence of self-respect they gave was their refusal to agree with Mussolini's representative that the League should declare itself incompetent in cases involving "the honour and vital interests" of any nation. Mussolini took his revenge for this failure by announcing in the Senate on November 16, 1923, that he "could not allow the prestige of Italy and her vital interests to be at the mercy of unknown and distant States". Thus matters remained as they were.
It is not true that Mussolini surrendered to the Conference of Ambassadors because the League was ready to step in if that body failed to bring him to his senses. The fact is that Poincaré, who had had Mussolini's connivance in the Ruhr affair, now, in view of further possible disagreement with London, did everything he could to save Mussolini's face and help him out of his difficulties. Lord Curzon did not oppose Poincaré's efforts, because he, too, did not want to alienate Mussolini, and what mattered for him was that Mussolini should get out of Corfu. The English empirical method is to deal with the present evil and not to bandage one's head before it is broken.
But Poincaré and Curzon had a deeper and more permanent reason for rushing to the rescue of Il Duce. They both, like Mussolini, wanted to by-pass the League, not only in the Corfu trouble, but in any other case in which the "sovereignty" and "honour" of a Great Power might be involved.