T. E. Lawrence (1918) - The real "Lawrence of Arabia"___________________________________________________________________
I watched the movie Lawrence of Arabia last night. I have to admit one reason was I wanted to see C&R rifles. It wasn't the first time I saw the film, but it's probably been 25 years since I watched the 1962 masterpiece. It seemed much different, not just because I was now interested in Enfields and Mausers.
Decades ago, I enjoyed "Lawrence of Arabia" as a captivating war movie. Exotic desert backgrounds and star performances by cinematic greats, such as Peter O'Toole, Omar Shariff, and Alec Guiness made the film an oscar-winning treat. It was also interesting to see some period Enfield rifles, though I wondered whether Arabs would have preferred Mausers captured from the Turks or obtained before the War?
However, watching it again gave me new perspectives. Before discussing it further, let's agree on one thing. The movie was Hollywood. T. E. Lawrence was not a tall, handsome, heroic figure. He was 5-4 and described as having a big head. Maybe, that makes his accomplishments more incredible? I'm sure liberties were taken with other figures, such as Faisal.
It has long been accepted that many of Lawrence's claims were contrived. Journalist Lowell Thomas probably played a wiling part in making Lawrence a legend. Still, he was a heroic figure among Arabs, some even wondering whether the was a prophet. Lawrence led a historic Arab assault on Aqaba, as depicted in the movie, and made a legendary trek from there through the Sinai Desert across the Suez Canal to Cairo. His efforts to destroy the Ottoman Empire's railroads tied down many Turkish troops. In fact, many military sources look at his campaigns as models for guerilla warfare.
Though the age of SMLE rifles may have passed, the film is relevant today. Maybe, Lawrence was a prophet. As Jesus said, "No prophet is well received in his own land." Actually Lawrence was well received, even celebrated, but his preachings were not. For one thing, T.E. Lawrence rejected Zionism. He would not have supported creating a separate Jewish state in a muslim world. Lawrence counseled one Zionist leader, Aaron Aaronsohn, that Jews in the Middle East would be better served by assimilation among the Arabs! Had Britain listened to him, there would been no Israel/Arab Wars, no Israel/Palestinian conflict. Lawrence also argued for an Arab Nation, but he understood Britain had other plans. yet, had they heeded his words, there would have been no post-war revolt in Iraq. Lawrence had to help broker peace there in the 20s. I remember watching interviews of Iraqis after Coalition forces invaded Iraq, and how they still remembered the "pink skinned" British. Resentment of foeign rule continued 8 decades later!
The movie demonstrated how colonialism plagued the world. It not only made second class citizens of people in their own homelands, but it constantly invited conflict between great powers. For instance, Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire had been allies and had no disagreements with one another, yet found themselves at war! And - Britain found herself allied with perennial foe, France! How would Britain divide the spoils of War with France, a longtime nemesis? She used Lawrence's exploits to deny Middle Eastern colonies to the French.
In the movie, Lawrence learns of an "agreement" between France and Great Britain. France would gain Syria after the War. The British never intended to do as they agreed. Probably, the French never really planned to live up to their side, either. I guess that's what "sophisticated" people do? Britain used Lawrence's exagerated exploits to explain to the French that they could not have Syria, because the Syrians had already liberated themselves.
One good source for information about T. E. Lawrence is - T. E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia.