A Theoretical Exploration of Lawrence of Arabia's Inner Meanings on Guerrilla Warfare

A Theoretical Exploration of Lawrence of Arabia's Inner Meanings on Guerrilla Warfare

by Basil Aboul-Enein and Youssef Aboul-Enein

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The concept of guerrilla warfare dates back as far as ancient times. Since the earliest days it has been a tactic of war used by every class of man against those defined as invaders and oppressors. Hannibal Barca's early victories against Rome are owed considerably to how he acted unexpectedly by taking an impossible route through the Alps to ambush the Roman armies. His ruses were so constant, his stratagems so subtle that the Romans felt constantly insecure, off-balance, and on edge. Hannibal was stymied by Quintus Fabius Maximus, who turned the Roman army into virtually a guerrilla force. His forces shadowed Hannibal's marches, harassed his foragers, cut off stragglers, nipped off stray patrols, but Maximus never allowed himself to be drawn into a full-scale fight.

History certainly offers countless examples of guerrilla actions, normally of an independent type undertaken in self-defense by nomads and peasant bands. They usually resulted in little more than temporary embarrassment to the incumbent ruler or organized invader. In 512 B.C, Persian King Darius attacked the Scythians, allegedly penetrating into their land after crossing the Danube. Greek historian, Herodotus, relates that the Scythians succeeded in frustrating the Persian army by letting it traverse through the entire country without an engagement. Herodotus claimed that the numerically inferior and impoverished Scythian army used guerrilla tactics, which included an ancient version of scorched-earth policy. Alexander the Great encountered guerrilla opposition when he campaigned against the Persian General Bessus, the assassin of Darius III, prior to invading India. This two year campaign in the Persian satrapies of modern-day Afghan Turkestan certainly tested Alexander to his limits.

Interestingly, as T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) would say during the Arab revolt, "the terrain better suited our tactics and we waited for them...we had every advantage, of time, of terrain, of number, of weather, and could checkmate them easily." Lawrence seemed to have maintained that the Ottoman Turks would have needed six hundred thousand men to control Arabia, but as they had only a hundred thousand they were destined to fail. Consequently, in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence explained that "the death of a Turkish bridge or rail, machine or gun, or high explosive was more profitable than the death of a Turk. Our cue was to destroy, not the Turk's army, but his minerals." But why did the Arab insurrection become so effective under the tutelage of this eloquent British Army intelligence officer educated in Oxford?

Download the Full Article: A Theoretical Exploration of Lawrence of Arabia's Inner Meanings on Guerrilla Warfare

Capt Basil Aboul-Enein, USAF is stationed at Columbus AFB in Mississippi and recently completed his Masters in Military History with Norwich University. His brother Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein is Adjunct Islamic Studies Chair at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and author of "Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat," (Naval Institute Press, 2010). Both brothers share a passion for educating America's military leaders on Islam, Islamist Political Theory, and Militant Islamist Groups. They wish to thank Ms. Dorothy Corley, who recently graduated with her B.A. in International Relations from Boston University, for her edits and discussion that enhanced this work.

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An interesting perspective on this is Alec Kirkbride's book a Crackle of Thorns and the Arab Awakening. He served with Lawrence and was always amazed that he was credited with his irregular warfare prowess when he was simply applying Bedu fighting strategies and tactics.