Lawrence, T(homas) E(dward) [1888-1935], was born on August 15, 1888, in Tremadoc, Wales, and educated at the University of Oxford where he graduated with a thesis on the military architecture of the Crusades. Having developed an interest in archeology and Arab culture, he toured the crusader castles in Greater Syria when the region was in its last years under Ottoman rule. At the outbreak of World War I, disgusted by the hypocrisy of his own society’s values, Lawrence turned from an adventurer into a secret agent, becoming the famed Lawrence of Arabia. From the British Military Intelligence Service in Cairo, which he joined in 1914, he was dispatched to the Hijaz, where the Hashimites acted as the Ottoman sultan’s representatives of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Lawrence’s mission was to help organize the Arab tribes into a national movement that ultimately was to serve British imperialism. The Arab national movement, in which Lawrence came to believe himself, turned into a military success, and in 1918 Lawrence and Hashimite prince Faysal (later King Faysal I of Iraq) entered Damascus before the arrival of the British army so as to avoid a Muslim backlash.
In spite of the success of the so-called Arab revolt of 1916-18, Lawrence, who narrated his adventures in Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), thought that his battle for an “Arab cause” was “lost” because “the old men came out again and took from us our victory” in order to “re-make [the world] in the likeness of the former world they knew” (Seven Pillars, Introduction, first edition, 1926, passage omitted from later editions). Unable to cope with his fractured self and with the historical necessities of British imperialism, Lawrence ultimately stopped believing in a meaningful Arab national movement, which he thought was only “necessary in its time and place” (Letters, in 1930, p. 693). He rejoined the air force in 1925 and served as an enlisted man until 1935. On May 19 of that year, shortly after his discharge, he was killed in a motor-bike accident in Dorset.
Lean, David, director. Lawrence of Arabia, UK, 1962.
Thomas, Lowell. With Lawrence of Arabia, 1924.
Lawrence, T.E. Letters, edited by David Garnett, New York, 1939.
Wilson, Jerry. Lawrence of Arabia, London, 1989.
Loyola University Chicago