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  1. #22
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    Mar 2009


    I am going to defend Lawrence on a few points here, but honestly whether or not Lawrence is an admirable guy is besides the point. There are far better defenses of and attacks on Lawrence than we're writing here. What I have never heard discussed before is this discussion of strategy as eternal. Anyone disagree that strategy is in anyway eternal?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    Lawrence was a strange guy. Among his contradictions was his talent for "backing into the limelight," being self-promoting and self-effacing at the same time. His fame started with the American journalist Lowell Thomas and his stage show shortly after the war. To my way of thinking Lawrence's accomplishments shouldn't be categorically dismissed but at the same time they shouldn't be taken completely at face value either.
    General Allenby and another war correspondent named W. T. Massey both praised his centrality to the Arab Revolt before Lowell Thomas's stage show.[1] Also, it is worth noting that the dude wanted to enlist after the war and live out his life in obscurity. His continued celebrity was more of burden than anything else. It is evident throughout his letters.

    Whenever an outsider to the military serves in a war and later claims to have been a rare genuis casting pearls before the swine of the regular officer corps the institution usually closes ranks against him. The rumors about Lawrence's sexuality have also made him something of a hero among non-military types who for the most part have never served in uniform but still believe themselves to be intellectually superior to the dullards of the professional officer caste.
    This is unfair. I have found no evidence that Lawrence remotely viewed himself or his peers that way. As one example, Lawrence told Liddell Hart that his theory and practice of war would take no more than 10 pages to write. (I am not going to dig for the citation right now, because I feel silly footnoting these posts so much and have dissertation to get back to.) He certainly didn't think what he did was rocket science, and he gave amble credit to other highly capable advisers and trainers like Herbert Garland.

    His actual addresses to the officer corps were stuff like his 1917 "The Twenty-Seven Articles of T. E. Lawrence."[2] It was originally intended as a brief in a secret journal called The Arab Bulletin. There is a reason Kilcullen modeled his "Twenty-Eight Articles" on it; it is a solid advice to Lawrence's contemporaries as foreign military advisors. I came across a letter to one of his commanders yesterday where Lawrence wrote (paraphrasing), "Don't stick any of this report in the Bulletin--you're making too big a deal out of me." (Again, I'm not going to dig for the letter--I'll edit later if I find it in the course of my actual day job.)

    As for Seven Pillars, his rationale for writing the book was three-fold: 1. work through his own trauma and guilt over what happened during and immediately following the war; 2. vent his frustrations about the political settlement; and 3. join his high-art literary friends as a "man of letters." (Lawrence was friends with many of the major writers of the day; you folks can make what you will out of this last one.)

    Lastly, I can say from experience that Lawrence is no hero to academics--for any reason, homosexuality or otherwise. For example, read Edward Said. Kaja Silverman (who I mentioned below) is more measured, but there is definitely no love. In fact, my peers give me a hard time for showing an interest in him--much less saying anything favorable of him.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post

    Like Hacksaw, we were all waiting for Wilf's response, which doesn't need reprinting. His personal accomplishments may warrant the status of Hero, like with Charles Lindbergh, but I wouldn't waste much time on either's political advice.

    My problem with Lawrence and Bell is not military, but political. They were deep believers, of not primary promoters of the very poorly conceived notion of a great Arab Nation which was like jumping from crawling to Moon Landing in an afternoon.

    Remembering that, as much as these Arabists loved the notions of Arab history, the Arab culture/politics of old had been devastated by Mongols in the 1200's, followed by Ottomans who, for the most part, may have been worse as bad for Arabs as the Mongols. These folks that Lawrence and Ms. Bell were working with had a long way to go just to establish "some" countries, and certainly not their Dream Palace.

    The continuing gap between the concept of the Caliphate and its reality is, in fact, the broad diversity of the Arab and Muslim world. The breadth and acceptance of Islam by so many diverse peoples is, for political/governance types, a built-in limitation.

    No surprise about Lawrence's disdain for air power against desert peoples. Look at the Bomber Harris experiences in Northern Iraq.

    I agree with you on this point about Lawrence and Bell although Lawrence's actual views are probably messier than either of us would present them. At times, Lawrence seems oddly conscious of points you raise:

    A first difficulty of the Arab movement was to say who the arabs were. Being a manufactured people, their name had been changing in sense slowly year by year. Once it meant an Arabian. There was a country called Arabia; but this was nothing to the point. There was a language called Arabic; and in it lay the test. It was the current tongue of Syria and Palestine, of Mesopotamia, and of the great peninsula called Arabia on the map. Before the Moslem conquest, these areas were inhabited by diverse peoples…[2]
    This square of land, as large as India, formed the homeland of Semites, in which no foreign race had kept a permanent footing, though Egyptians, Hittites, Philistines, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Turks and Franks had variously tried.[3]
    Conversely, Lawrence did try to set up a post-war Middle East very much in his image and in the interests much as you say. A scholar named Kaja Silverman lays out the "messiness" of this construction of the Middle East pretty well.[4] As a Westerner imposing this "nation in a box" strategy, of course it is a fantasy.

    At any rate, I am not proposing we adopt his politics, thinking about war, or anything of the sort. I just didn't think some of the characterizations of him were fair. Besides, I thought the strategy vs tactics bit was fascinating. Maybe, it's just me.


    [1]. Mack, 175-176.

    [2]. T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (1922 edition on my Kindle, not sure how to cite these damn things).

    [3]. Ibid.

    [4]. Kaja Silverman, "White Skin, Brown Masks: The Double Mimesis, or With Lawrence in Arabia," Differences 1, no. 3: 17-18.
    Last edited by Erich G. Simmers; 02-10-2011 at 03:33 PM.
    Erich G. Simmers

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