THE OIL BOMB-SHELL
Meanwhile the Committee of Arbitrators on the Wal- Wal affair had resumed their work, with Nicolas Politis as superarbitrator.
Had they really wanted to ascertain what had happened at Wal- Wal, they would have begun by questioning the British Colonel who had been on the spot. They forgot to summon him. The most plausible explanation of this oversight is that the British Government did not allow its Colonel to take a stand in favour of Ethiopia against Italy: this would have precipitated another quarrel with Il Duce and further exacerbated British public opinion against him. On the other hand, the Ethiopian delegates did not call the Colonel as a witness, perhaps for fear the British Government, in its effort to cool the ardour of British opinion, might instruct him to slant his testimony in favour of Italy. As for the Italian representative before the Committee, he more than anyone else had grounds for ignoring that eye-witness.
After an exchange of views with Laval and Eden (August 14), Politis engaged in a profound study of all the documents, and reached the conclusion that neither Ethiopia nor Italy "had been guilty" of launching the attack of December 5, 1934. The other four arbitrators concurred in his opinion. Thus on September 3, 1935, the opéra bouffe came to an end.1 But who cared now? "The incident was, in fact, of no intrinsic importance. It had served its purpose by providing the pretext for an extensive concentration of Italian troops, and it could now be dismissed."2
In early September Mussolini sent the following instructions to De Bono:
"Sometime after September to, when you receive a telegram over my signature which reads 'Your report received', it will mean that you shall start your advance within the next twenty-four hours. . . . You have time to make thorough preparation for a campaign of vast scope. For political reasons the incident which has to originate your move is important. It will be enough if the defection of the Ras and our crossing of the border are simultaneous."