The Middle East today is a focal point of international crisis. What Christians call the Holy Land is split between Israel and Palestine. The Arabian peninsula is divided among a number of Arab countries; and, the rest of the Arab nations: Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon are in turmoil. Jordan (formerly Trans-Jordan) is fairly stable, but is now affected by the crisis in Syria. Many of the contemporary problems in this area can be traced back to World War I and its outcome.
In the early part of the twentieth century the Arabian Peninsula, along with Palestine, Trans Jordan, Iraq, and Syria were part of the Ottoman Empire, controlled by Turkey, an ally of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungry and Germany). The British government in Egypt wanted to raise a revolt among the Arab tribes and found the ideal man to be an emissary to the Arabs in the Hijaz in western Arabia. Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British officer who had experience as an archeologist in the Middle East before the war started in 1914. And, as a result, knew something about the culture of the area,.
With the exception of General John Pershing, and Sergeant York, T. E. Lawrence is probably the one individual name Americans recognize from World War I. Lawrence was unknown until an American journalist heard about him and went to see for himself what this British officer, who dressed like an Arab, was all about. He met the diminutive Lawrence (according Thomas’ journal T. E. was only 5 ft. 2 in.) in an office in Jerusalem and he and his cameramen were invited to visit him in the interior. A short film, shot while Thomas was with Lawrence, is available here. Thomas also wrote a book about Lawrence and the Arab revolt. Or course, more recently, David Lean’s Oscar winning film made Lawrence a larger than life figure in more modern times. The preview may viewed here.
Lawrence was sent to Arabia to carry out the plans of the Foreign Office’s Arab Bureau to fuel an insurgency among the breakaway Arabs tribe in the Hijaz. Because Lawrence was aware of the mores of the Arabs, he adapted their dress, rather than wearing his uniform. The overall objective was to tie up Turkish troops to keep them from attacking Egypt and the Suez Canal. A major target was the Turk’s supply line, the Hijaz Railway, which ran from Medina in the Arabia Peninsula to Aleppo in Syria. The Lawrence led attacks on the railroad diverted thousands of Turkish troops to guard their supply line, thereby allowing the Arabs, under Lawrence and Sharif Hussein to attack the Turkish held key port of Aqaba from the interior. Causing the Turks to withdraw from the city which is not too far from Suez Canal.
After the armistice was declared in November 1918, Lawrence attended the Paris Treaty Conference as a aide to Hussein. The British captured Damascus, took over Syria and installed Hussein as king. After the British left, the French invaded, kicked Hussein out, and Churchill crowned him king of Iraq. Meanwhile, Lawrence joined the RAF as a common airman named Ross. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1935.
James Barr. Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918, 2008.*
Christopher Catherwood. Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq.*
Michael Korda. Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, 2010.
James Lawrence. The Golden Warrior: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, 2008.*
T. E. Lawrence. Revolt in the Desert, 1927. A shorter version of the following book.
B. H. Liddell Hart. Lawrence of Arabia, 1935. Republished in 1989*
Jonathan Schneer. The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict*
Lowell Thomas. With Lawrence in Arabia, 1924. Republished 1967.
Jeremy Wilson. Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T. E. Lawrence, 1989.
*Not available in Cardinal