Posts Tagged ‘T.E. Lawrence’

Book Review: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E.Lawrence…and the ‘counterfactual condition’

March 21, 2013

If there is one genre of book I  would not pick to read…it’s military history.  I’m not much of a  Western fan, either, but the idea of reading about people being cruel to each other, and rich people having others killed to enforce their beliefs…just not entertaining.  I was not expecting a military history when I chose this book.   I don’t know what I was expecting.    Probably, from the title, more about Islam, and how Lawrence ‘discovered’  it for himself.  The fact is, there are five Pillars of Islam, and I have no idea where  Lawrence came up with this title.  I have had a fascination with T. E. Lawrence for  a long time.  First of all, there is the myth that Lowell Thomas created.   Having read several Lawrence biographies, the man  who emerges, from all descriptions, was  very complex.  He was the subject of so many bios because  he was a study in contradictions, and was also such a  fantastic artist and writer himself.

The book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (also published as Revolt in the Dessert), has  gone out of print.

I have to say, and anyone who has read the book  probably wonders the same thing, that the title is confusing.  Revolt in the Dessert is a better title, but still does not do the book justice.  I had put off reading the book (until my trip to Turkey) because I felt it might be  too dry to sustain my interest.  How wrong I was.    Lawrence does an amazing job  of describing how he got involved  with the Arab cause, and also of his experiences during his involvement during World War I.  This includes his  trips through the desert.  His descriptions are marvelous, very richly detailed.

It is well documented that Lawrence really pushed himself physically.  Others have speculated that he was  a masiochist, and did so because he was embarrassed that his parents had never married.

He does allude to the possibility of fame, and being knighted, but more, he wants to do right by the Arabs.  It is clear, early on, that he realizes that his country, England, has sold them out to the French.  What he also makes clear is that, as the Arabs were making progress, Mustafa Kemal (who was to become the great Ataturk) offered Feisal a deal for self rule once the war against the Ottomans was won…and Feisal decided to  trust  the British.  Big mistake.

One has to remember that the European powers, and Russia, got involved in World War I for an expansion of territory.  Malaysians  have told me that while the Chinese were always in southeast Asia, they never  fought for political control.  They were just doing business.  Not so the Europeans. They were always out to  subject people to their  rules and culture.  What started out as patriotic duty to Lawrence ended up in realizing he played a part in the betrayal of the Arabs. Sure, they got part of what they wanted, but  in the end, due to the French insistence on  ruling Syria, we have what we now have in the modern Middle East.

This is the counter-factual condition. Were it not for  this, everything would be totally different.  In the past several years, much has been written about Zionism, the Balfour Declaration, and how Jewish immigration was handled in Palestine, since nobody wanted the Jews,  dumping them in this desert place was as good an idea to European powers as anything, and  certainly the Arabs were not mature or intelligent to run a country . Transparency and respect for rules of law?  Issues not addressed.  it was the firth estate—the press—not mature or intelligent enough…and they still aren’t.  Vested interests and all.  However, we Americans are so gullible, and under the guise of our own patriotism, continue to fight for the wrong side  (Iraq, Afghanistan), using the wrong tactics, worshiping as heroes the people we send to die for an amorphous cause, and keeping the playing field unlevel so the rich in developed areas can  unfairly prosper.

In the end, Lawrence  was ‘rewarded’ by his government for his role, but, obviously sick at heart, he tried to become anonymous.  Although he died in a motorcycle accident, he was obviously depressed, and  it is fair to say he was also a victim of his government.

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T. E. Lawrence, The novel Exodus, and the history of Israel & the Middle East.

January 12, 2011

This is an update to a blog I  wrote on T.E. Lawrence last year.  I have since read another biography  of  him that  was  better footnoted  regarding the actual dynamics of what occured  during his service (during World War 1), and, at the same time, I was reading Leon Uris’ book , Exodus, which is a historical novel.

Have you ever taken a survey and been asked, “If you could meet any person  from history, who would it be?”  I never had a good answer for that until I read a biography (and since have read several) of T.E. Lawrence—-Lawrence of Arabia.

What an interesting man!  He was always haunted that his parents never married (his mother was the nanny his father ran off with—& had 4 more children with), and pursued a liberal arts education, dabbled in publishing, was an accomplished artist/illustrator, and  due to luck, fell into an early archeology gig in the Middle East.  He learned Arabic, because he wanted to know the people he was living among.

To know his story, is to know why things are such a disaster in the Middle East (for those of us in America, anyways).  He joined the British military  at the start of World War I  to serve his country.  He had extensive experience by then in the Middle East—what was then the Ottoman Empire, and he aimed to bring  the people of the region to cooperate with the British. Why?  He was convinced (misled?) that after the was over, & the region won from the Turks, that the Arabs would be allowed to govern themselves.  From reading several sources, it is somewhat unclear whether it was  the military, or the foreign office who misled Lawrence into believing that Feisal Hussein would be ruling what would become Syria.  For some reason,  2 well placed elitists, Sykes in Britain, & Picot in France, put together an agreement that after the war was over, France would have a stake in the middle east. There is no indication that the French shed any blood…it was an agreement between colonialists who felt that the Arabs were too immature as a race to govern themselves.

Due to the Sykes-Pickot agreement with France, the British handed over what was Syria & Lebanon to the French…for no good reason.  Then they proceeded to divide up the rest of the region artificially  partly to placate Lawrence and hand out spoils to his Arab friends.  Persia was divided into Iraq & Iran, India was carved up.  Afghanistan, which had never been a real place except to say it was the land surrounded by so many other lands, was  instituted as a ‘country’ as we know it.  It was never governable as a region.

Israel was developed. and there is a lot of evidence that the people Lawrence worked with had no problem with this part of Palestine being handed over to the Jews.  After all, there was TransJordan, and they thought there would be access to the Mediterranean Sea via Syria & Lebanon.  &—had that happened, that would have been the end of it. Peace in the Middle East. But the British handed over the area to France, and they were not going to let the  people their govern themselves.  What is also interesting to me is that while Uris’ book is a historicalnovel, and generally accurate, he really misinterprets the agreement that the Zionists came to with Feisal Hussain.  The Arabs sold the Jews  most of the land they bought—& willingly.  Of course, they did so thinking they would have Lebanon & Syria immediately.

You would think that the British would be embarrassed by this history, but  they’ve decided to forget their role in the  horror.

For some reason, the American government does not hold the British or French responsible any longer.  For all the money we’ve poured into the region, not only in terms of energy development, but  to keep them from killing each other (don’t get me started on lives —but people join the military on their own), we could be energy independent by now, and  we could also have universal health care like the British, French, & so many other countries.  Nobody knows why there’s a deficit. Hello!

You  would think someone in the State Department would have the integrity to say to the Israelis, “Look, what you have here is not a democracy, and you keep encroaching on the land of others. Why should we keep paying for this?  No more money!.  & you—the Egyptians—start collecting your property taxes. All along the Nile are little cities and towns with unfinished buildings.  Luxor  is shocking.  You allow this. You don’t tell the building owners to pay their taxes, that they’ve left the buildings unfinished long enough.  You send your physicians to the rest of Africa and import them from Malaysia.  No more money”.

Oh, what happened to Lawrence?  He was so embarrassed and demoralized by what his government had done to his friends, the Arabs, that he declined to work for the government.  He rejoined the  military  a couple of times as an enlisted man.  He actually did some inventing while serving.  He translated the Odyssey (and his translation is still widely read).  He wrote “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and became a legend due to promoter Lowell Thomas.  He was ultimately killed in a motorcycle  accident in his early 40’s.

&—I think we all know how the Middle East turned out.