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T. E. Lawrence

A Most Merry and Illustrated History of a Twentieth Century Icon

There have probably been more books written about T. E. Lawrence than any other figure from World War I. He's been idolized as a hero and denounced as a fraud, praised for championing rights of the Third World, and damned as just one more jingo imperialist. He's been labeled the world's greatest poseur and the humblest of men, an inspired military leader of men and a simple liaison officer stealing credit from his fellow soldiers.

But regardless of whether Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence was a hero or not, there is no doubt that the iconic "Lawrence of Arabia" was a media creation. In fact, Lawrence of Arabia was not only the first media creation of the Twentieth Century, but the first media creation whose invention relied on that new fangled mode of entertainment, the motion picture. We're not talking about the 1962 film either. It was right after the war ended when T. E. - or rather Lawrence of Arabia - became the God of the Flickering Image of the Saturday Afternoon Matinee. And it was Lowell Thomas who was surely his prophet.

In 1917, privately financed by a group of rich Chicago businessmen (and we mean rich Chicago businessmen), but with the approval and support of the State Department, Lowell, then a young Princeton speech instructor, set off to cover the war. But his mission was not so much to report the war, as to popularize it. That was not such a tall order as you might think. Although Woodrow Wilson had been elected President on a "stay-out-of-the-war" platform, the German sinking of American ships had pushed public opinion away from its original position of neutrality.

Armed with state of the art motion picture equipment which was operated by early film technician Harry Chase, Lowell didn't find much in Europe to rally the folks back home. But the Turkish government, which as the Ottoman Empire ruled virtually the entire Middle East, fortunately had sided with Germany (fortunately, that is, for Lowell, if not ultimately for the Turks). Now Britain had to fight the Turks in a separate theater of operations well removed from Europe, both in distance and in culture.

Thinking the Turks would be a nice, wimpish enemy to defeat, the British (with large contingencies from Australia and New Zealand) decided they could seize control of the straits that led to Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire would be in their control, and they would end up squeezing Germany, literally from both sides. Then, ho-hum, the war would be over.

But the British found Johnny Turk a lot tougher than they thought. In 1915, the Allies landed in Suvla Bay and were trounced most soundly at the Battle of Gallipoli. After making a strategic withdrawal (ergo, a retreat), the British decided to work their way north from Egypt. Conquering the Land of the Pharaohs was no problem since Auntie England had already done that in 1881. But the trip north was a bit slower than anyone thought. It took two years to negotiate the 240 miles from Cairo to Jerusalem, which finally surrendered to Field Marshal Edmund Allenby in December, 1917.

Now that was something. The "Holy Land" had been wrested from the hands of the infidels and was now under Christian (ergo, British) control. So World War I was not only a battle against the tyranny of the wicked, evil Huns, but now had become the Last Crusade. After all, if God hadn't intended Jerusalem to fall into Christian hands and have the Civilized West control the Middle East (including the militarily strategic and financially profitable Suez Canal), he wouldn't have let it happen, right? This was too good a story to miss. So Lowell and Harry, cameras in hand and letters of introduction in pocket, trooped off to the Middle East.

Possibly because he was a semi-official representative of the US government, Lowell was cordially, even preferentially, received by Allenby. Edmund cooperated with Lowell more than you might expect of a supreme commander of an entire theater of operations and with a tough enemy still to fight. He allowed himself to be interviewed, photographed, and filmed. When that was all taken care of he then put Lowell into contact with other British officers, one of whom was Sir Ronald Storrs. Ronald, it turned out, was in charge of getting the ethnic minorities of the Ottoman empire, particularly the Arabs, to close ranks with England and rebel against the Turks.

When Lowell came to visit Ronald, T. E. was in Ronald's office sitting in an anteroom. T. E. had just returned from Arabia where he was the British liaison with the army led by Feisel ibn Hussein who was the son of Hussein ibn Ali. Hussein, Feisel's dad, had recently decided to throw in his lot with the British and in doing so had declared himself king of the Hijaz and independent of the Turks. At that time, the Arabian Peninsula was not thought of as a single country (and it isn't to this day), and the Hijaz was the strip along the west coast where Mecca is located.

Having the honcho who was in charge of the most holy city of Islam on your side was a plus if you wanted the Arabs on your side fighting their fellow Muslims. Officially Lawrence's job was to convey Allenby's communications to Feisel, who was under Allenby's direction (although it's not clear how much Feisel considered himself under Allenby's command). In any case, Lawrence had been spending a lot of his time helping Feisel's men blow up Turkish trains and had gotten pretty good at it. But exactly how much Lawrence "led" the Arabs has been hotly disputed. Modern Arab historians say he did not lead them at all, and strictly speaking, Lawrence himself claimed no such thing.

Also when in Arabia, Lawrence had taken to wearing Arab clothes. This has been interpreted as an affectation of a romantic poseur or the common sense selection of a soldier wearing the most practical clothes for the time and place (try wearing a WWI British uniform in 120 degree weather). Besides if you were with an army of Arabs behind Turkish lines, a British uniform stuck out like a sore thumb. On the negative side, if you were a British officer wearing Arab garb behind Turkish lines and the Turks caught you blowing up trains, you'd be shot as a spy and saboteur, not the least reason being if you were a British officer wearing Arab garb behind Turkish lines and were blowing up trains, you were a spy and saboteur.

When Lowell met T. E., the Arabs had recently scored a major victory when their army had seized the Port of Aqaba (today a Jordanian resort town and sister city of Eliat just across the border in Israel). It had been a major coup for Lawrence since the port had been impregnable to naval assault and yet the Arab forces - armed with rifles and riding camels - had attacked from the rear and defeated the Turks. This gave England a port of entry where they could cut off all of the Arabia from the rest of the Ottoman empire and let the armies (both Arab and English) head north. Actually the main attack was at Aba El-Lissan on the way to Aqaba. Arab casualties were almost nil (two men is the usual number), but T. E. himself received what would be courteously called a minor injury. As the attack was underway, T. E.'s gun had accidentally discharged and shot his camel in the head. T. E. was hurled to the ground and knocked out.

Much has been made of the way Ronald introduced T. E. to Lowell. Indicating his robed and somewhat surprised fellow officer (T. E. probably figured he'd wait in the side room until the pesky journalist was gone), Ronald said, "I want you to meet the uncrowned king of Arabia." Lowell later used the phrase to romantic good effect, but actually Ronald (who had known T. E. when they both were students at Oxford) was just giving T. E. a gentle tug of the leg.

Lowell, with a nose for news (and both Lowell and T. E. did have impressive schnozes), told Lawrence that he'd like to visit him in Arabia and report on his activities. T. E. said he had no objection, and so Lowell got permission to make the roundabout trip through Egypt and across the Red Sea to Lawrence's camp.

There's a bit of a dispute on how long Lowell was "With Lawrence in Arabia". In one essay, Lowell talked about the "days, weeks, and months" that he spent with Lawrence. And in the movie starring Peter O'Toole, actor Arthur Kennedy played a Lowell Thomas type journalist who travels around with Peter and Alec Guinness as they bomb and loot the trains. Lowell never did anything remotely like that, and he was suspiciously mum about his first-hand dealings with T. E. Instead, he spends more time talking about his side trip to Petra or having lunch with Allenby.

Lawrence, though, was definite about the time (or lack thereof) that he and Lowell were together. "Lowell Thomas was ten days in Arabia" he wrote, "and was with me for two of those." Later, T. E. added, they met once or twice in London. Lowell and Harry hung around their camp for a bit, T. E. wrote, and then they sent them packing. Lawrence did, after all, have a war to fight, and couldn't spend too much time posing for Lowell and Harry or letting them film the Arab troops parading back and forth for the motion picture camera, which they did at least for a bit.

Then the war was over, and Lowell found out that he was out of a job. America had only been in the war for about a year and a half and the fighting was over before Lowell had a chance to return to America and convince everyone that the war was worth winning. Now Lowell was at loose ends and had to make a living. So what to do?

While he had been teaching at Princeton, Lowell had some success with a combination lecture and slide show about Alaska. Now with rolls of motion picture film and hundreds of still photos, he decided he could do even better. So he put together a lecture/slide/motion picture show. Flamboyantly titled, The Last Crusade: With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, the show was narrated by Lowell, handled behind the scenes by Harry (who was sometimes handling three projectors simultaneously), and once when the introductory Oriental dancer got sick, Lowell's wife, Fran, volunteered to stand in. She did, as Lowell recounted it, "veiled, anonymous - and looking pretty good."

Lowell began his shows in America. At that time T. E. was completely unknown and even after Lowell began pulling in record crowds in New York, no one in Britain had ever heard of him. But when a British impressario saw the show, he immediately signed Lowell to a tour in England. Among those who came to see the show were Allenby, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and T. E. himself.

The show was smash hit and toured the world. Lowell found himself catapulted into a writing, broadcasting, and producing career that lasted until he died, at the age of 89, in 1981. Within a few years With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia had made Lowell rich and famous. It had made T. E. famous.

We don't know exactly what Lowell said about T. E. in his lectures as none of the scripts survive. But virtually every author believes it was an overly romanticized rendering of the events and the people involved. T. E. himself said it was silly and inaccurate, sometimes intentionally so. He added that Lowell had made such a house of cards that he could knock it down at any time. But T. E. liked Lowell personally, calling him a very decent fellow, an opinion shared by many others even though Lowell was kind of snooty to singer, Herbert Khaury, (aka, Tiny Tim) when they both appeared on the "Tonight Show" fifty years later.

Lawrence himself went to see Lowell's show more than once (some accounts have it as many as five times). But to this day the question arises how much T. E. helped Lowell in creating the mythic Lawrence of Arabia. One man who knew the answer, Lowell himself, flip-flopped on the issue. Sometimes he'd say T. E. was reticent about any publicity and that he and Harry even had to trick him into having his picture taken. At other times he qualified that by saying T. E. was a man who had the knack for "backing into the limelight". But when Dr. John Mack, one of Lawrence's later biographers, questioned Lowell carefully about the matter, Lowell said that T. E. actively cooperated in the development of his image.

Did T. E. love or hate the publicity that Lowell hath wrought? Probably both. It would be hard for anyone not to be flattered to have your exploits trumpeted to the world and have yourself puffed up as a superhero. But at the same time fame could be a pain in the neck (the low neck - the very low neck). So after a while T. E. got fed up with the hassles fame brought on and wanted to be left alone.

But what to do? T. E. was well set up to get involved in a diplomatic career if he had wanted. Winston Churchill had him come work in Colonial Office in 1922. But T. E.'s education and first job had been as an archeologist (before the war he had traveled in Syria gather information for his undergraduate thesis about Crusader castles and later he had excavated with David Hogarth at Carchemish). His actual temperament and interests were for writing and academic studies, and in fact, right after the war T. E. did obtain a fellowship at Oxford's All Souls College. Then suddenly and abruptly he decided to rejoin the army - not as a commissioned officer, but as a simple enlisted man. So began the real mystery of T. E. Lawrence.

T. E.'s first years in the military weren't that pleasant. For one thing word soon got out that the famous Lawrence of Arabia was a lowly soldier serving under an assumed name (Ross). That generated too much publicity for his superiors, and so T. E. had to switch to the Tank Corps. But problems arose again with a celebrity being a common soldier, and he had to leave the service outright. Then two years later in 1925, he was permitted to join the RAF under the name of Shaw, a name he had been using out of respect for George Bernard and Charlotte Shaw, both of whom had become his friends. To keep publicity down, he was transferred to what was then India (but is now Pakistan) where he seemed to get along all right.

The RAF was much more to Lawrence's taste than the Army. His work was carried out quite competently and even with distinction, and his most significant contribution was in helping develop the design of the ocean going motorboats used for sea rescue operations. And he certainly did not restrict any spare time to routine soldierly-type recreations (certainly not that soldierly-type recreation). He worked on a translation of Homer's Oddessy which is still in print, and he kept in touch with his family and his friends, both the famous and less so.

Lowell said that if he asked T. E. about writing an article about him, T. E. would respond he had no objection. So whether T. E. was being a gloryhound or just a nice guy, his name was kept before the public. During his lifetime T. E. had no less than three biographies written about him. One was Lowell's book With Lawrence in Arabia which came out in 1924. Lowell also wrote a "boys" edition so if you count that, then there were four books. Another biography was written by the rather pugilistic looking Oxford-educated poet and writer, Robert Graves. Robert, of course, went on to write I, Claudius which was made into a TV miniseries in the 1980s', and his book on T. E., Lawrence and the Arabs, came out in 1927. Robert and T. E. were actually pretty good friends, but when Robert sent proofs to T. E., T. E. said he hadn't the time to correct all the mistakes. Then in 1934 another book was written by Basil Liddell Hart, T. E. Lawrence: In Arabia and After, and Basil's was the only biography written by a bonafide historian during T. E'.s lifetime.

Of course, we really ought to include the book that T. E. wrote himself (so now we're up to five books). Titled the Seven Pillars of Wisdom it was originally issued as a limited edition in 1922 (eight copies - which is pretty darn limited). A larger printing was issued in 1926 but was still for private circulation, and there were only about 170 copies. To help defray cost for printing and binding, Lawrence wrote an abridged edition, "Revolt in the Desert" for the public (that's six). It sold well and once more kept Lawrence's name in the limelight. Once Pillars was paid for, by the way, the profits of Revolt were donated to a fund for families of men who had been killed while serving in the RAF.

From his RAF pension (and possibly from his reasonably well-to-do family's legacy), T. E. would have sufficient income to manage once he got out of the service. He bought a small cottage in Dorset where he would stay on leave. As the years ticked by, he waited for his term of enlistment to end and did so with considerable trepidation. He had no idea what he would do when he got out.

In late February, 1935, at age 46, T. E. retired from the RAF and moved into his cottage. On May 13, he got on his motorcycle and drove to the village post office. On his way back, he came over a rise and saw two boys on their bicycles. He swerved to miss them, lost control of the machine, and was thrown to the ground. He suffered major head trauma and remained unconscious but stable for five days. Then on May 18, his condition took a turn for the worst and pneumonia developed. He died the next day.

T. E. remained in the British consciousness as a national hero even after World War II. Then in 1955, an English author, Richard Aldington (and like T. E., a World War I veteran), published Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry. This was the first book trashing T. E. Seizing on contradictions in various books (most of which T. E. had nothing to do with), Richard said T. E. was not only a liar and fraud, but a homosexual as well. Of course, you really can't blame T. E. because other people's books had errors, and T. E. never claimed he was perfect. As far as being a homosexual, if he was then that was really no one's business but T. E.'s.

So from 1955 onward, it seems that the liar/hero/liar/hero pattern became de rigeur for each successive book. Since T. E.'s not around no one can check with him to clear up uncertain points. But the problem with claiming T. E. (or anyone else) is a liar requires considerations of issues that everyone knows about (or should know about).

First, everyone contradicts themselves from time to time. That's particularly the case when relating events to different people at different times. Next, no two people remember things in exactly the same way. Just because T. E. doesn't tell something the way someone else does, doesn't mean either of them is deliberately lying.

But finally most of the "lies" you hear thath T . E. told are not what T. E. said, but what other people said he said. For instance, Desmond Stewart, a British Arabic scholar and writer who wrote both the Time-Life book Early Islam (which is quite good) and an extremely weird biography of T . E. (which stinks) told how Lawrence deliberately lied about what the Arabs said about him. Lowell, Desmond said, wrote how Auda Abu Tayi, one of the Arab leaders, said "this fair headed son of Allah" (ergo, T. E.) could do what they, the Arabs, did better than themselves. But Desmond pointed out for an Arab to call someone a "son of Allah" would have been blasphemy and since Lowell didn't speak Arabic, T . E. "almost certainly" was the translator. So there you are. T. E. was a glory hound and a liar to boot. End of story, right?

Sorry, Desmond. All you have is what Lowell said, not T. E. And someone other than T. E. could have been translating. Remember Lowell was with T. E. a total of two - count 'em, - two of the ten days he was in Arabia. So the odds are 80 % if Lowell quotes an Arab, it wasn't T. E. who translated.

But besides, it's almost certain that nobody made that quote - except Lowell. Despite the bouquets thrown to media whizzes for their impartiality and objectivity, as has been recently affirmed, journalists are not immune from sloppy reporting at best and out and out invention to make a good story at worst. Not only do we have high profile cases like a journalist getting a Pulitizer Prize for making stories up, but there is a documented case where a newspaper editor reported how the mayor of his town shot a 90 pound duck (a "joke" he said). And we can't forget when some news reporters helped "prove" an automobile gas tank was unsafe by planting some explosive charges in the car. As far as Lowell went, his two days in Arabia and perhaps a few visits in London became the "days, weeks, and months" he spent with Lawrence. And even Lowell himself later classified his own book as a hastily written product by a young journalist. So when taking all this with T. E.'s affirmation that Lowell's show was a house of cards that could easily be knocked down, Desmond's example of Lawrence lying is much more likely to be Lowell simply padding his book.

Another example can be cited from Desmond's biography (and it is really a strange book). Like most Lawrence detractors, Desmond doesn't believe the famous episode from Seven Pillars where Lawrence is captured and forced to, well, submit (wink, wink) to the - ah - wishes of the Bey at Deraa. As an example of how the story can't be true, Desmond quoted the place in Seven Pillars that Lawrence claimed the Bey gloated how "clean and white" Lawrence was. Desmond then points out that Lawrence had ridden for days in the desert. Clean, huh? T. E. said he was clean, but he couldn't have been clean. T. E. was a lying windbag. Q. E. D.

Of course, Desmond might have looked a paragraph or so before. There Lawrence told how the guards made him clean up before giving into Bey's pleasure (actually T. E. gave him a knee in the groin with disastrous consequences). Yes, there may be problems with accepting the Deraa story at face value, but Lawrence being "clean and white" isn't one of them.

But what caused most of the problems for T. E. champions was not when Richard was wrong, but in the cases where he was unquestionably right. And one place he was right was when he said T. E.'s parents were never married.

T. E. was born in 1888 in Wales. His father was Sir Thomas Chapman, an Irish baronet, and his mother was Sarah Junner. The trouble was Sir Thomas (the "Sir" comes from his baronet nobility, not being knighted) was already married to the former Edith Rochort-Boyd. Sir Thomas and Edith did not have a contented home life and after Sarah was hired to take care of the kids, she and Sir Thomas skinned out leaving Edith to raise her and Tom's progeny by herself. Thomas and Sarah settled in Oxford as Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and started churning out another family.

Sir Thomas produced a bumper crop of offspring - four girls by Edith and five boys from Sarah who as a young woman looked a lot like T. E. Two of T. E.'s brothers, Frank and Will, were killed in World War I and of his two surviving siblings, T. E. was closest to the youngest, Arnold. The oldest, Bob, became a physician and was smothered, T. E. thought, by Sarah's religious beliefs which seem to have approached fanaticism. Bob served in China as a medical missionary and himself retained basic fundamentalist beliefs to the point he thought that things like the beauty of ice shimmering on a winter landscape was proof that the Second Coming was nigh.

Sarah's emphasis on religion (if the reader will pardon some amateur psychoanalysis) was likely a compensation to her personal situation. After all, setting up house with a married man and having enough out-of-wedlock sons to populate 30 % of a Rugby team was not something you did in Victorian England. The kids, by the way, were never told their parents weren't married, but eventually figured it out for themselves. Finally T. E. and Arnold both got a bellyful of their mom's religion, and once they got out of the house, both abandoned organized worship. Their skepticism wasn't unique in the family. Not long before she died, in 1959 at the age of 98, Sarah herself said she doubted the existence of an afterlife.Richard Aldington

Of course, once Richard started sticking pins in the great man there was a hue and cry as people rushed to T. E.'s defense. Probably the most influential response was the biography by Anthony Nutting. Yes, Anthony said, T. E. may have been an illegitimate child, but he was still a very legitimate hero. Since then there seems to have been a literary requirement that every other book on T. E. takes the opposite stance to that of its predecessor. (There is, by the way, no truth to the rumor that Anthony was a close friend of Sergeant Schultz, despite's Schultz's constant claim "I know Nutting!").

In any case, a year after Anthony's book came out the 1962 film, "Lawrence of Arabia" was released and really made T. E. into the permanent world icon. Ironically everyone who personally knew Lawrence, including Lowell Thomas, said the movie was a crock and completely distorted the man. Far from being an anguished near neurotic who liked to dance on top of bombed out trains, T. E. had been a practical minded soldier who took no unnecessary risks and had a puckish sense of humor. And besides, T. E. was 5'5"; Peter O'Toole stretched out at over six feet.

You'd think that with the movie Lawrence had been picked over pretty thoroughly. But in 1968 came the biggest shock of all. When researching a series of articles for the Sunday Times which were collected and expanded into a book The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, two writers, Philip Knightley and Colin Simpson, got permission from Arnold for essentially unrestricted access to T. E's papers. What they found shook T. E. fans more than Richard's book.

It turns out that while T. E. was in the ranks, he had at least one of his fellow soldiers birch him on his bare bottom. Despite some initial skepticism, it was both T. E.'s own letters and interviews with RAF airman John Bruce (the man with the cane) that put the episodes beyond dispute. But as can be expected with T . E., everyone ended up (no pun intended) with more questions than before. Certainly how frequently these episodes occurred isn't clear. Some people think T. E. was whacked with frequent élan, even attending flagellation parties by a notorious underworld character nicknamed "Bluebeard". Others point out the only real evidence is the beatings occurred a limited number of times, administered only by Bruce whose reliability in other matters was poor enough that nothing he said should be accepted without independent confirmation.

And of course, as with everything about Lawrence, what it all means is disputed. Some writers take the position (once more no pun intended) that Richard was more than right. Not only was T. E. in the closet, but he was enthusiastically into male-male S&M. Others, like psychiatrist John Mack, concluded Lawrence suffered from what is known as a beating disorder, which is distinct from getting kinky with whips and leather.

So what can you make of the story of T. E. Lawrence? Probably the most important question isn't why T. E. asked to be smacked on his rear end, but what was his lasting legacy in shaping the modern Middle East. Some historians say it wasn't much. After all with the exception of the actual geographic borders (many of which ignore traditional tribal and ethnic regions), virtually none of what England and France wrought after the War To End All Wars remains. Only the ruling Hussein family in Jordan has any connection with the leaders the superpowers installed after 1918 (the current king, Abdullah II, is the great-grandnephew of Feisel). All the other monarchs or their descendants fell to the various coup d'etats or opposing military factions over the course of time. Ali ibn Hussein himself lost out to Ibn Saud who had originally controlled the central Nejd region of the Arabian peninsula. So in 1925, Hussein had to leave Arabia and lived out his days with his son, Abdullah I, in Jordan.

Arab historians (even those with moderate and westernized views) also tend to view Lawrence somewhat negatively, though by no mean as negative as some European and American Lawrence detractors. The opinion is more that Lawrence's role was as a liason office and one of the many who dealt with the Arab armies over the course of the war. Lawrence, to the Arabs, was a much more minor character than he portrayed in Western histories. Certainly virtually all Arab writers doubt T. E.'s own stories when he appears at his most heroic.

What irritates many Arab historians is that the story of the Arab revolt as told by Lawrence and Western writers caters largely to the stereotyped vision of Arab civilization. The Arabs, they say, are shown as mostly camel riding Bedouins, who after conducting desert raids park their tents by sleepy oases of low slung palms. They are motivated simply by the gold coins Lawrence jingles before them and are more interested in fighting each other than the Turks.

In reality, Arab historians point out, Arab culture in the Nineteenth Century, like its Occidental counterpart, had become increasingly urbanized, and the Arab nationalism which T. E. championed via the Bedouins was really begun and driven by the educated Arab city dwellers. By backing a vision of the Middle East based on romanticism, you can argue T. E. and his friends, including Winston and the Arabist Gertrude Bell, ultimately created the chaos we have now.

Winsont Churchill

When you get down to it, though, all of this discussion is largely irrelevant. It really doesn't matter if Lawrence was a leader of the Arab revolt or a simple liaison officer. The point is that without Lowell's overly romanticized and inaccurate and (according to T. E. himself) silly matinee shows, the world would never have heard of either T. E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia. The fame of T. E. Lawrence arose because the distinction between journalism and fictional entertainment was lost. Fiddling with the facts to make a buck is nothing new - and it wasn't in T. E. and Lowell's day either.

A year after the Armistice, Feisel sat down with Chaim Weizmann and discussed the Balfour Declaration on establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine. Feisel said he was agreeable as long as the Allies kept their promises for Arab independence. Then Arab leaders met and declared Feisel king of "Greater Syria". Syria at that time was envisioned to be a huge expanse that stretched from Palestine and Lebanon (both small slivers along the coast) all the way to a region the British had designated for their own direct control. The British called their mandated region Irak (at the time usually spelled that way). It was the historical Mesopotamia, the region watered by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and stretched up north toward the Turkish border and extended down to the Persian Gulf.

But within six months, the French booted Feisel out of Syria and claimed it for their own. Feisel ended up having to flee to England where he expressed his displeasure in what he regarded as a betrayal of the agreements from the Armistice (and put a permanent hold on any understanding with Chaim). Well, Winnie told him, how about taking Iraq (we'll use the modern spelling from here on out). You'll be king of an independent Arab country and everyone (including the French) will be happy. Although not exactly happy, Fiesel agreed.

Feisel died in 1933 of a heart attack at the age of fifty (and two years before Lawrence was killed). His son, Ghazi, became king only to be killed six years later in a car accident. Ghazi's three year old son (named Feisal after his grandfather) succeeded him although his uncle, Abdullah, actually ruled in his place. When Feisel turned eighteen, though, he had completed his education in England and looked every bit the aspiring young constitutional monarch. He began establishing an international series of contacts, visited other countries (including the United States) and was prepared to rule the very model of a modernized Middle Eastern country with close ties and friendship with the West.

On July 14, 1958, while conducting maneuveurs and war games, Abd El-Karim Qassim, an Iraqi general with decidedly pro-Soviet sympathies, turned his divisions toward Baghdad and took over the government. The royal family was told to leave and once outside the palace they were shot down. Feisal was twenty-three.

The monarchy was abolished and Qassim was "elected" (note quotes) President. He himself was tossed out (and executed) five years later in another coup. For the next twenty years there was an average of a new Iraqi "president" every four years. Now that normally wouldn't have been so bad except that only one, Abd El-Rahman Al-Bazzaz, entered and left office in an orderly and legal procession - and he only served three days.

All this kept up until 1979 when still another Iraqi general named Saddam Hussein didn't like the country's plan to administratively link itself with Syria. Saddam was without doubt one of the most murderous thugs every to run Iraq, and he lasted until 2003 when the United States with a bit of help Britain and some other countries booted him out. Under American occupation and after three years of interim and transitional governments, there were elections held which, it must be admitted, were about as free and open as could be expected under the circumstances. And now with a new President of Iraq elected we can now look forward to ....

So much for Winnie's big victory in establishing a new country for T. E.'s buddy. Oh, well. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

References and Bibliography

With Lawrence in Arabia, Lowell Thomas, Dutton (1924). You have to ignore T. E'.s bio in this book as he's traced back to some famous English Lawrence's. Of course, Lawrence was a name assumed by his parents and had nothing to so with Sir Thomas's heritage. Some accounts, though, have Sarah's father named as Lawrence.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Thomas Edward Lawrence, Doubleday (1935). This is T. E.'s version of the Arab Revolt. It's accuracy has been debated and what you believe is mostly dependent on whether you're a T. E. champion or detractor. However, Jeremy Wilson who wrote the "authorized" biography says when he checked Seven Pillars with contemporary documents it is quite accurate regarding matters on record.

Two events are most hotly disputed: the trek north to spy out the land (which got T. E. the Victoria Cross) and his capture and torture (and other things) at Deraa. It's almost certain that none of these questions will ever be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone. And there are definitely questions even in T. E.'s telling. For instance, when being whipped at Deraa Lawrence says his head was twisted around so he could actually see the marks of the whip forming on his back and how at the point the individual marks crossed a little spot of blood formed. The gymnastics of such a position seems impossible.

CooperToons has an alternative theory on the Deraa incident (and it's a theory, nothing more), but will not at present weary the reader with it.

Revolt in the Desert, Thomas Edward Lawrence, Doran (1927). T. E.'s popular account written to pay for the cost of printing Seven Pillars. It's still available but it does leave out the account of his - ah - "encounter" with the Bey at Deraa.

Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry Richard Adlington, Collins (1955). The first debunking biography, it doesn't come off as negative as you might think. But if psychoanalysing someone is difficult by a licensed psychiatrists speaking with his subject it's ridiculous for it to be attempted by a writer after his subject is dead and gone.

A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence, John Mack. (1976). Little, Brown (1976). Clearly a book that tries to be objective and discusses the pros and cons of whether T. E. told the truth or not. John was a psychiastrist at Harvard Medical School and yet the book doesn't fall into trying to figure out history by psychoanalyzing the subject. Personal opinion is this book deserved its Pulitzer Prize.

Although this may be a bit unrelated to the merit of the book, in his later years John seemed to be losing it. He advocated "hypnotic" memory recovery (never shown to be recover real memories and definitely shown to be capable of generating false ones), spoke against scientific methodology as being prejudicial to non-western cultures (actually, properly designed scientific studies work in all cultures and societies), and said modern psychiatric theory could not explain that alien abduction were fantasies of the so-called abductees (which if true relegates modern psychiatric theory into the realm of pseudoscience). His public pronouncements got to be such an embarassment to Harvard Medical School that there was a move to have him kicked out of his tenured professorship, although it had to be admitted he had done nothing that merited such action. If having stupid ideas was a prohibition against being a professor we'd have damn few universities. But in any case, everything got sorted out when John was crossing a street in London in 2004 and was hit by car.

The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, Phillip Knightly and Colin Simpson, Mc-Graw-Hill (1969). The book reads a bit like a compilaton of newspaper articles (which it ultimately was) and covers not only how T. E. had a fellow airman whack him on the fanny but also how he spent part of his early time as an archeologist spying for Britian.

Oh, yes, the word "fanny" in the preceding paragraph is used as understood in American dialectal English. It is not the meaning as used by the British which would have been physically impossible in Lawrence's case.

Lawrence of Arabia: The Man and the Motive, Anthony Nutting, Hollis and Carter (1961). If you read a book about T. E. in the 60's, this was probably it. Overall not much new here, and it basically assumes T. E. told the truth. There are some minor inaccuracies such as saying T . E.'s dad eventually told T. E. that he and Sarah weren't married. Actually Sir Thomas never told his sons anything about his and Sarah's non-maritial status, but the kids eventually figured it out for themselves.

Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence, Jeremy Wilson, Heinemann, (1989). This is considered the biography and avoids attempts at psychoanalyzing. You want the facts, ma'am, here they are.

T. E. Lawrence: An Arab View, Suleiman Mousa, Oxford University Press, 1966. This was the first book by an Arab writer on T. E. Suleimam takes the view that Lawrence exaggerated his exploits and that ultimately he worked for the British interests. The English edition isn't too common but can be found.

But this book is not a thoughtless trashing of T. E. Suleiman is a careful researcher who evaluates the evidence, and the picture he paints of Lawrence is by no means negative. In fact, he's a lot more postive about T. E. than some of the English authors.

The difficulty here is simply who do you trust and who remembers things correctly. Was Lawrence truthful when he said he went to Deraa? Or were the two Arab sources who said he never left the camp? That Arab historians say Lawrence worked for the English interest isn't surprising either. Lawrence himself said the same thing. In fact, he said if he had been honest, he would have told the Arabs to pack up and go home.

The book Lawrence as I Knew Him by the Arab author, Subhi Al-Umari (who as the title says, actually knew Lawrnece) is not available in English readers. But his views are discussed in some of the recent biographies.

T. E. Lawrence: A New Biography, Desmond Stewart, Harper & Row, (1977). Completely unsupported assertions about T. E. make this one of the stupidest and most asinine books written about T. E. - or anyone else for that matter. Which was a shame since Desmond was a bonafide Arabic scholar and could really have made a good book. However, Desmond was one of the first authors to emphasize the point that Lowell Thomas probably had minimal first hand contact with T. E.

The reason the book falls completely flat is that Desmond seemed entirely unable to distinguish speculation from fact even when it's trivial. For instance, he takes exception to writings that say T. E. was dubbed "El-Aurens" by the Arabs. The reason? Simply that "Lawrence" does not present any difficulties to an Arab speaker and so they'd just say "Lawrence" and not an Arabized version. But that's speculation. Even if T. E.'s last name is pronounceable in Arabic, that doesn't mean that his Arab companions and friends might not have dubbed him with a more Arab sounding name, perhaps in jest, much as English speakers will Anglisize a foreign name.

The biggest problem Desmond has is the same one that most psychohistorians have. Because they can come up with some psychoanalytical scenario of what might have happened and what their subject might have thought, they become convinced that they've found some kind of objective truth as solid as that obtained from first hand documented source material. But what they really have is a work of speculative fiction using the names of real people.

In his later years, Desmond also started losing it and was convinced people were out to kill him. Who knows? Maybe they were. He died in a hotel in Cairo in 1980.

Good Evening, Everybody: From Cripple Creek to Samarkand, Lowell Thomas, William Morrow and Company, (1976). The first volume of Lowell Thomas's very well written and entertaining autobiography. This covers Lowell's life up until the beginning of World War II and so naturally has quite a lot of his dealings with T. E. The second part of his biography So Long Until Tomorrow is also good, but covers mostly his broadcasting and financial dealings of the 1950's and later.

Again and even at this book's late date - forty years after Lawrence died - Lowell was still vague and reticent on his first hand dealings with T. E. Only one or two quote first hand quotes from T. E to Lowell are given, and once more there's no indication of why spending "days, weeks, and months" with T. E. was dealt with in such a sketchy fashion. So as good as this book is (and it really is a great book), we are still forced to conclude that what T. E. said was correct. He and Lowell did not spend more than a few days together.

Internet Resources

The T . E. Lawrence Society

A society promoting the study of T. E. 's life. You'd have to say the society is pro-T. E.

Actually there seems to be two websites for what appears to be one organization.


Major and bonafide historians have a major hand in the society, including historian Jeremy Wilson, who wrote the most comprehensive biography.

Internet Resources

T. E. Lawrence: True and False (An Arab View), Lucy Ladikoff,

A well written (and quite balanced) view of T. E. also told from the view of the modern Arab. It is by no means negative, but we do have to remember T. E. was an English officer working ultimately for English interests and in most western publications we get a distinct one-sided picture of him.

Lowell Thomas and Lawrence of Arabia: Making Legend - Creating History, This site covers the theatrical lectures of Lowell Thomas about T. E. Regardless of what T. E. said about Lowell - such as the famous "reporter scooping" comment - T. E. attended the performances in London possibly as many as five times. Fran, Lowell's wife, said if she spied T. E. in the crowd, he would laugh a bit shamefacedly and then hurry out. That T. E. could wander in the theater and sit down completely unnoticed says something about the difference between the iconic Lawrence of Arabia and Col. Thomas Edward Lawrence (ret).

The Truman Library

A number of photographs of Feisal II (actually now usually transliterated as Faisal) while visiting America are at: