With the Japanese posing as the leader of the world's colored peoples before World War II, many Ethiopians turned to Japan for inspiration. By offering them commercial opportunities, by seeking their military support, and by reaching out to popular Japanese opinion, Ethiopians tried to soften the stark reality of a stronger Italy encroaching on their country. Europeans feared Japan's growing economic and political influence in the colonial world. Jealously guarding its claimed rights in Ethiopia against all comers, among Italy's reasons for going to war was the perceived need to blunt Japan's commercial and military advances into Northeast Africa. Meanwhile, throughout 1934 and the summer of 1935, Moscow worked hard and in ways contrary to its claimed ideological imperatives to make Collective Security work. Ethiopia was a small price to pay Italy for cooperation against Nazi Germany in Austria and Imperial Japan in China.
'Yellow' Japanese and 'black' Ethiopian collaboration before the war illuminates the pernicious and flexible use of race in international diplomacy. In odious terms, Italians used race to justify their actions as defending western and 'white' civilization. The Japanese used race to explain their tilt toward Ethiopia. The Soviets used race to justify their support for Italy until late 1935. Ethiopia used race to attract help, and 'colored' peoples worldwide rallied to Ethiopia's call.
J. Calvitt Clarke III is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville University, Florida.