Small Wars Journal

What We Can Learn From Lawrence of Arabia

Sun, 06/29/2014 - 10:42am

What We Can Learn From Lawrence of Arabia by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truth Out

… You may remember the scene when, after dynamiting the Hijaz railway and looting a Turkish supply train, Lawrence is asked by an American reporter, "What, in your opinion, do these people hope to gain from this war?"

"They hope to gain their freedom," Lawrence replies, and when the journalist scoffs, insists, "They're going to get it. I'm going to give it to them."

At war's end, Lawrence's vision of Arab independence was shattered when the Versailles peace conference confirmed the carving of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine into British and French spheres of influence; arbitrary boundaries drawn in the sand to satisfy the appetites of empire – Britain's Foreign Office even called the former Ottoman lands "The Great Loot."

The hopeful Lawrence drew his own "peace map" of the region, one that paid closer heed to tribal allegiances and rivalries. The map could have saved the world a lot of time, trouble and treasure, one historian said, providing the region "with a far better starting point than the crude imperial carve up." Lawrence wrote to a British major in Cairo: "I'm afraid you will be delayed a long time, cleaning up all the messes and oddments we have left behind us." …

Read on.


I wonder if this article leans a bit too heavy on how Lawrence al-Arab was portrayed in the movie as opposed to scholarly research?

In my opinion Lawrence's vision of Arab independence may have been in doubt before the Versailles peace conference since he was likely aware that the negotiations between Sykes and Picot was contrary to British foreign policy (which was also something that Sykes as Under Secretary of the War Cabinet would also have known).

Further, if Lawrence somehow wasn't aware of Sykes' negotiations, he surely must have been aware when the Agreement was sealed, yet didn't resign in anger or disgust.

I base the foregoing on the fact that in the original version of "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," Chapter One, Lawrence admitted Britain had no intention of giving the Arabs complete independence. But his friend George Bernard Shaw advised him on deleting that and it would remain unpublished until 1938 when it was included in the Oriental Assembly Records.