By Nii B. Andrews.

Conventional history books tell us that the World War II started in 1939.

Another valid perspective is that it actually begun in 1935 with the brutal invasion by fascist Italian forces under Mussolini of an African state that had been in independent existence for 3000 years.

In 1936, following the invasion, the Ethiopian Emperor – Haile Sellaisie, addressed the League of Nations in a powerful speech. He said,

“The Ethiopian Government never expected other Governments to shed their soldiers’ blood to defend the Covenant when their own immediately personal interests were not at stake. Ethiopian warriors asked only for means to defend themselves….What reply shall I have to take back to my people?”

In 1951, the Emperor sent members of his elite Imperial Bodyguard to fight in the Korean War.

They were known as the Kagnew Batallion – translated as “order out of chaos”.

After arriving in Busan, Korea in May 1951, they were sent to the front in the north.

Robert Keller writing in yesterday’s edition of the Korean Times reports, “The Ethiopian soldiers soon gained a reputation. The Chinese feared them.

The Kagnew Battalion never left a man behind ― wounded or dead ― and none of their soldiers were ever captured by the North Koreans or Chinese. It was like they were ghosts.”

Kagnew Battalion assembled.

On May 5 1952, a young American soldier, Fred Dustin, witnessed the 12th anniversary ceremony by the Ethiopian forces in Korea, commemorating the defeat of the Italian invaders.

What made a lasting impression on him was the poise of the Ethiopian army Chaplain – his elegant ceremonial robes and the eloquent words of his address.

Dustin kept a typed copy for posterity.

Ethiopian Chaplain of the Kagnew Battalion, May 5 1952, Gapeyeong, Korea.

In it we read,

“Each time we observe this day we realize more fully what a wonderful blessing liberty is to a nation. Each time we observe this day our love of our country is further increased by the realization that it is a free nation.

You all realize how dark were those days when our liberty was denied us.

We asked the League of Nations for aid in driving out the foreign aggressor from our country.

Even though many nations could not assist ― with the help of those few allies who fought by our side ― the help of God and the inspired leadership of our Emperor we were able to oust the aggressor and regain the liberty of our nation.

Ethiopia being once again a free nation, heard the call of another small nation for assistance in repelling an aggressor.

We, with other freedom loving nations, and at the direction of our Emperor, came to the aid of this nation.

We members of the Kagnew Battalion are happy and proud of the opportunity to assist another small country in its fight against an invader.”

Capt. Mamo Habtowold.

More than 6, 000 Ethiopians fought in the Korean War, over 120 were killed, more than 500 were wounded. The survivors returned to Addis Ababa as heroes.

Ethiopia was the only African nation to send a battalion to the war, and the only nation where no soldier surrendered.

The Emperor personally addressed each Kagnew Battalion before it left for Korea.

“He gave each battalion a flag – and he ordered us to bring that flag back from Korea,” recalled Capt Mamo Habtowold, a Kagnew veteran, who was aged 81 during a 2012 BBC interview.

When Ethiopia had been invaded by Italy in 1935, Haile Selassie had condemned the League of Nations for its failure to act.

By sending the fearsome Kagnew Batallion to Korea, the Emperor practised what he had preached.

Kagnew Battalion in the battlefield, Korean War.


  1. Very interesting story. I had no idea the Ethiopians fought in Korea. Thanks for sharing.

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