“Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.” (Proverbs 9:1)
This eyewitness report of the Arab revolt against Turkish rule during World War One is exhaustive in scope and detail. Lawrence fills six hundred plus pages with details of who, what, where, why and even the weather. Much of it will only interest academics and students of war and rebellion. But hidden in all that dry, sandy strata are nuggets of wisdom about politics, war and irregular warfare in the middle east—some of it relevant today.
“They were weak in natural resources … otherwise we should have had to pause evoking in the strategic center of the Middle East new national movements of such abounding vigor.”
This is Lawrence’s second draft. The first and many of his notes were lost. One can only imagine what was left out. At every turn, Lawrence lists the principle players (and often names their camels), the name of the topography, the weather conditions, the water quality at this waterhole (vital in the desert), and comments on the quality of shade and local vermin. Did I mention it was exhaustive?
“In mass they were not formidable. The smaller unit the better its performance.”
Lawrence’s style is archaic. Some sentences required several readings to glean the meaning. He extends “thanks to Mr. and Mrs. [George] Bernard Shaw for countless suggestions of great value and diversity: and all the present semicolons.” There are lots of semicolons. I recorded over seventy quotes for extra attention. A few frame this review, unfortunately out of context.
“The Wahabis [sic], followers of a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed the strict rules [of the desert] on easy and civilized [town folks]. Everything forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical.”
No one escapes Lawrence’s magnifying glass, including himself. Some characters fare better than others. He is honest, but not necessarily politically correct. He indulges in the racial, class and national stereotypes common to an educated Englishman of that day, but he is frank in his admiration for those who suffered most: the common soldiers.
“We should use the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest place.”
His analysis of the development of irregular warfare echoes in the tactics used worldwide today. The text suffers from many uncorrected OCR transcription errors. Added to Lawrence’s penchant for details, the reader often finds himself adrift in a trackless desert of words.
“I know the British do not want [Arabia], yet what can I say, when they took the Susan, not wanting it? Perhaps one day will seem to them as precious.” Faisal bin Hussein