Lawrence Of Arabia

Some of us are critical on the interdependency of the Arab regimes to the Western superpowers. I read ‘Lawrence: The Uncrowned King Of Arabia’ by Michael Asher many years back. This article summarizes the role of a person in manoeuvrings the role of British, the superpower, in helping the Arabs to overthrown the Ottoman. Here is the story:

Thomas Edward Lawrence (August 16, 1888 – May 18, 1935), also known as Lawrence of Arabia, became famous for his role as a British liaison officer during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918. Lawrence was born in Tremadoc, Caernarfonshire, North Wales, of mixed English and Irish ancestry, and was educated at Jesus College, Oxford. His father Thomas Chapman, from small nobility, had escaped a tyrannical wife to live with the maid with whom he had five sons very close to each other. Lawrence graduated with First Class Honours largely as a consequence of the submission of an outstanding thesis entitled The influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture – to the end of the 12th century.

On leaving university he commenced a postgraduate degree in mediaeval pottery, which he soon abandoned after he was offered the opportunity to become a practicing archaeologist in the Middle East. In December 1910 he sailed for Beirut, and on arrival went to Jebail where he studied Arabic. He then went to work on the excavations at Carchemish near to Jerablus in the northern part of Syria, where he worked under D.G. Hogarth and R. Campbell-Thompson.

In the late summer of 1911 he returned to England for a brief sojourn and, by November, he was back en route to Beirut. Prior to returning to work at Carchemish he worked briefly with William Flinders Petrie at Kafr Ammar in Egypt. At Carchemish he was to work with Leonard Woolley. He continued making trips to the Middle East as a field archaeologist during this time until the outbreak of World War I. His extensive travels through Arabia, his excursions, often on foot, living with the Arabs, wearing their clothes, learning their culture, language and local dialects, were to prove invaluable during the conflict.

In January 1914 Woolley and Lawrence were co-opted by the British military as an archaeological smokescreen for a British military survey of the Sinai peninsula. At this time Lawrence visited Aqaba and Petra. From March to May, Lawrence worked again at Carchemish. Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, on advice from S.F. Newcombe, Lawrence did not enlist immediately, but held back until October.

Once enlisted he was posted to Cairo where he worked for British Military Intelligence. Lawrence’s intimate knowledge of the Arab people made him the ideal liaison between British and Arab forces and in October 1916 he was sent into the desert to report on the Arab nationalist movements. During the war, he fought with Arab irregular troops under the command of Emir Feisal, a son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, in extended guerrilla operations against the Ottoman Empire. The guerrilla operations were adapted from Boer tactics used during the Boer War. Lawrence’s major contribution to World War I was convincing Arab leaders to coordinate their revolt to aid British interests. He persuaded the Arabs not to drive the Ottomans out of Medina, thus forcing the Turks to tie up troops in the city garrison.

The Arabs were then able to direct most of their attention to the railway supplying the garrison. This tied up more Ottoman troops, who were forced to protect the railroad and repair the constant damage. In 1917 Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces under Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the strategically-located port city of Aqaba. On July 6, after a daring overland attack, Aqaba fell to Arab forces. Some 16 months later, Lawrence was involved in the capture of Damascus in the final weeks of the war.

As he did before the war, during the time he spent with the Arab irregulars, Lawrence adopted many local customs and traditions as his own, and soon became a close friend of Prince Feisal. He especially became known for wearing white Arabian garb (given to him by Prince Feisal, originally wedding robes given to Feisal as a hint) and riding on a horse in the desert. During the closing years of the war he sought to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests, to mixed success.

After the war, he attempted to achieve anonymity, joining the Royal Air Force in 1922 under the name “Ross”. After a year, his cover blown, he joined the Royal Tank Corps, this time using the surname “Shaw”.

Eventually he left the forces for the quiet life of an academic. He wrote extensively about his experiences and about the history and archaeology of the Middle East, and he translated Homer’s Odyssey.

In 1935, Lawrence was killed at age 46 in a motorcycle accident in the county of Dorset.

Lawrence of Arabia