Watching Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address Congress on Tuesday, the name “Haile Selassie” kept coming to mind.

Selassie, who bore the grandiose title of “emperor of Ethiopia,” was also a man whose homeland was targeted by an aggressive power willing to use weapons of mass destruction.

In 1936, Selassie traveled a long way to seek aid from a prestigious body of dignitaries – and didn’t get it.

Assuming that we can still learn lessons from history (which may be a bit presumptuous given our present leadership), we might examine his case.

Selassie’s Abyssinian “empire” of 12 million desperately poor people became the object of the genuinely imperial designs of Il Duce, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Facing the onslaught of the forces of a nation of 42 million whose armory included planes, tanks, artillery and chemical weapons, all of which Mussolini was not reluctant to use, Selassie traveled to Switzerland to seek help from the League of Nations.

The League, the predecessor to today’s United Nations, was created after World War I with the strong backing of the victorious Allies led by, among others, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and his Progressive movement. But the United States never joined, restrained by powerful congressional forces unwilling to commit to engagement abroad.

Still, the idealists of the time believed that bringing nations together in a “Parliament of Man” would provide a forum in which international disputes could be resolved by negotiation.

But when asked for aid by the leader of a small nation facing naked aggression, the League failed to act.

Its own weakness exposed, it faded away in the face of the burgeoning power of Italy, Germany and Japan, and the war it was intended to prevent quickly poured its fury upon the world.

Still, Selassie’s words resound today, as he made his plea in the name of League’s founding ideal: “It is collective security: it is the very existence of the League of Nations. It is the confidence that each State is to place in international treaties. … In a word, it is international morality that is at stake. Have the signatures appended to a Treaty value only in so far as the signatory Powers have a personal, direct and immediate interest involved?”

The answer, tragically, turned out to be “yes.”

Emboldened by inaction, the lurking war machines of the Axis soon slipped their leashes. It took four long years of war, and the deaths of 100 million people, before that storm subsided.

However, while there have been smaller wars in the 70 years that have passed since then, no all-engulfing conflict has been allowed to happen – perhaps because the world remembered what an entire globe at war was like.

Yet, once again the leader of a small (though not weak) nation openly threatened with obliteration by a tyrannical aggressor on the verge of acquiring weapons of mass destruction has come to a body of dignitaries to warn that not only his nation’s fate, but theirs and many others’, is at risk.

As Netanyahu forcefully pointed out, Iran’s power is growing. It has extended its influence into Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen and now Iraq, with its Revolutionary Guard forces assisting Iraqi troops and Shiite militia units against the Islamic State fanatics.

Iran once gave those militias weapons that were used to kill American troops. Now that its forces are fighting on ground we abandoned, does anyone think they will leave on their own?

Netanyahu was faulted for not offering an alternative to our current policy of appeasement, which offers a clear path to nuclear weaponry to the nation our own State Department has repeatedly identified as “the world’s principal state sponsor of terrorism.”

But tough sanctions, expanded even beyond the ones that brought Iran to the bargaining table in the first place, can weaken its economy and its rulers and potentially keep it from becoming a nuclear threat for long enough that a new, freer government can take control – especially if we actively support such an effort.

However, if we continue to slash our military and reject our allies in favor of our enemies, we may find ourselves in the same spot as former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who told his country after the League of Nations failed to help Selassie, “If collective action is to be a reality and not merely a thing to be talked about, it means not only that every country is to be ready for war; but must be ready to go to war at once. That is a terrible thing, but it is an essential part of collective security.”

So Israel may have to prove that it, and perhaps it alone, remembers the tragedies of the past – not only Ethiopia, but also the Holocaust – well enough to stop tyrants from repeating them.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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