Saturday, March 7, 2015


Lawrence of Arabia, Islamic Caliphate, World War I, Middle East

Photo by Lowell Thomas, in the  public domain via Wikipedia, accessed 3/7/2015
  • Since witnessing the 1962 film, "Lawrence of Arabia," I've been a fan, both of the film and of Lawrence.
  • Author Scott Anderson (Lawrence in Arabia: Doubleday, 2013) fills gaps left by the film and make sense of episodes by providing the context. The film provides some pearls; Anderson places the pearls on an historical string, hold the pearls in place and provides continuity between them.
Just before opening the Anderson volume, I'd finished Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan ((New York: Random House, 2001). MacMillan describes the power brokers and the left-outs, the ideals and realities of the Paris Peace Conference at the conclusion of World War I. 

In the MacMillan volume, Thomas Edward Lawrence appears merely as a marginal figure. 

But Scott Anderson helps to understand why Lawrence was at the Peace Conference at all, that he was exhausted from constant hit-and-run raiding with camel-riding Arab warriors, and how and why Lawrence was disillusioned with the British war bureaucracy.

Just a word about Scott Anderson. He's described as a veteran war correspondent and a screen writer. I want to add this: he's a prodigious researcher. The book contains about 500 pages of text, resulting in some 150,000 words. Each pages is documented with notations.

Besides, Anderson is skilled at placing war stories in context, enabling him to get at the moods and motivations of Lawrence and other key historical figures. Anderson's expertise must stem in part from his war correspondent work as well as his knowledge of multiple cultures.

My conclusion after reading Anderson and MacMillan is this: the continuous rotation of peace and battle, of dictators and guerillas, and of current attempts to resurrect the Islamic caliphate whether in Nigeria or Iraq—all of this was built into the international system through arrangements among nations, decided at the end of World War I. None of that can be renegotiated now, but awareness of the built-in flaws will help present and future peacemakers hold the Middle East and the entire world together in the immediate and long-range future.
  • I highly recommend both Lawrence in Arabia and Paris 1919. If you have time for only one of them, read Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson (New York: Doubleday, 2013.) 577 pages of Lawrence lore.
I received both volumes as a gift from my brother. I thank Jerry for finding just the right books for me at this stage in my life journey.

This blog is entitled "Growing Green," which, to me, essentially means individuals engaged in continuous self-discovery. Self-discovery in the 21st century requires awareness of the world scene and how it came to be as it is. Anderson and MacMillan guide us on our quest.


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