T.E. Lawrence and the Desert Bromance That Sold America on a War

T.E. Lawrence and the Desert Bromance That Sold America on a War by Clive Irving, The Daily Beast

… In New York the silent film footage that Chase shot was cut into a documentary with a commentary delivered by Thomas. It ran for eight weeks at Madison Square Garden to packed audiences. In America it had the effect of making the war look better because the Allied victory went beyond just European interests: the liberation of Jerusalem from the Ottomans had enormous religious appeal for both Christians and Jews.

Lawrence emerged as a matinee idol, a robed wraith in the service of Christendom, finally avenging Saladin’s 12th century humiliation of the Crusaders.

That was the real beginning of the Lawrence legend but the same narrative did not play in London. There it was received as a reassuring display of Britain’s imperial power, executed in part by a highly unorthodox military upstart. Realizing this, Thomas rewrote his script to give more space to Lawrence. The new show was a smash hit at the Royal Opera House. The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, saw it and said, “In my opinion, Lawrence is one of the most remarkable and romantic figures of modern times.” …

… Lawrence was a master of backing gently into the limelight. He understood that the more elusive a hero is the more famous he becomes.

Thomas had done the job he was sent to do, romancing the war beyond what anyone had thought possible and making it look like a noble and disinterested act by Wilson in the cause of world peace. Until that time, America had no interests or involvement in the Middle East, and for the moment it made perfect material for a diverting fairy tale.

However, later Thomas did record a conversation with Lawrence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where Lawrence had to witness how, in his words, “the old men came out again” and fixed the Middle East map according to their own interests, including the creation of Syria as an entity ruled by France. Lawrence’s words serve to show that what was true nearly 100 years ago remains disastrously so today:

“In history, Syria has always been the corridor between sea and desert, joining Africa to Asia and Arabia to Egypt. It has been a prize-ring for its great neighbors, the vassal of Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Arabia and Mesopotamia. When given a momentary independence because of the weakness of its neighbors, it has at once resolved itself into northern, southern, eastern and western discordant kingdoms; for if Syria is by nature a vassal country it is by custom a country of agitations and rebellions. Autonomy is a comprehensible word: Syria is not.”

Read on.

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