PUBLIC OPINION AT WORK
The Council of the League met on September 4. Eden, according to his official biographer, was sent to Geneva "with no instructions". The Government "had simply come to no considered conclusion on the next move".1 This is absurd. Baldwin was at Aix, resting, and Eden dined with him on the eve of the Geneva meeting. Was their conversation confined to the weather? What Eden did in Geneva fits in perfectly with the course of action which had been decided upon long before in London. The difficulties that Eden had to overcome did not arise from lack of instructions, but from the need to follow them and at the same time to bamboozle the British electorate in view of the coming election.
The Council of the League could no longer postpone consideration of the Ethiopian affair. The Council meeting was to be followed by a session of the General Assembly. With representatives from fifty-five Governments, it was something akin to a world parliament. Five prime ministers were scheduled to be present. Its discussions and decisions could not be held in camera. Large groups of men and women from all parts of the world attended the proceedings. Eden and Laval were beset on all sides by addresses and deputations clamouring for deeds and not words. The Swedish delegate to the Assembly announced that the Scandinavian countries insisted on full application of the Covenant, and might quit the League if this was not done. "Public opinion" was there, that "ridiculous puppet" which filled Mussolini with contempt, but to which the politicians of free countries, particularly England (on the eve of a general election), attached an absurd importance.
Even a man like Gamelin felt that "public opinion" had to be taken into account. When Badoglio officially attended the French army manœuvres (September), Gamelin insisted that Italy should operate in Ethiopia "within the framework of the League of Nations". "What do externals matter to you, if you have the substance? Externals come in due time and model themselves after realities. If you violate form, you will run into the League of Nations, and the whole thing may become uncertain". Gamelin thought of the League of Nations as a character in an old French comedy thought of law: "I circumvent it, therefore I respect it". Badoglio agreed with Gamelin. "But he was not the master".2 The master was more concerned____________________