With the holiday period reaching its hottest, laziest peak, what’s better than throwing on an old classic? My classic of choice was none other than Indiana Jones – a simple yet effective narrative that is sure to inspire the most conservative of homebodies. Strange lands, exotic cultures, and the shot of doing what no man has ever done before!
Early on in Temple Of Doom (1984), Indi’s Chinese sidekick asks:
‘What is Sankara?’
To which our protagonist promptly responds:
‘Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.’
Sankara is a metaphor for what we all desire, and what makes the story of Indiana Jones so very inspiring. Unfortunately, this series isn’t titled ‘Fantasy’s Finest’, so everyone’s favourite fictional archaeologist is going to have to wait for another day. In his absence, I shall cast your attention to a man that influenced not just Indiana Jones, but also generations of men craving adventure abroad. This is the legacy of T.E. Lawrence, or as he is otherwise and most famously known as – Lawrence of Arabia.
Lawrence of Arabia’s life is one of fantastical adventure and cunning military victories that would dramatically influence the outcome of the Great War in the Near East. Or so Lawrence himself would tell you. In 1926, the famous adventurer published Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his time in the Middle East during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks from 1916 to 1918. Many of the tales within this book, although fantastic, have been revealed to be untrue – or at least exaggerated – to make Lawrence seem the big hero. Therefore the following may or may not be a story of truth, congested by the odd fabrication of actual events.
Before Lawrence of Arabia was Lawrence of anything, he was born Thomas Edward Lawrence on the 16th of August, 1888 in Wales. Young Lawrence was born out of extramarital wedlock and therefore was always somewhat of an outsider within the strict Anglican, anti-affair circles of his homeland. Thomas Edward found relief and friendship in learning; culture, geography, archaeology, politics, military, and medieval history were all favourites of his growing up.
Lawrence became an Oxford man in 1907. In 1909 he took the opportunity to embark on a walking tour of crusader castles in what was Ottoman-occupied Syria. It is said he travelled over 1,600km on foot. Antiquity and archaeology became an escape from what Lawrence considered to be the dreary industrialist modernity of Britain. As a result, Lawrence continued his work in the Middle East and its surrounds, embracing Arabic language and culture. Not surprisingly, this made him an excellent candidate for diplomacy and intelligence gathering in the region when war broke out in 1914.
For the British fighting the Central Powers, there was no better man on the ground in the Middle East than an Oxford scholar and military historian. The events that would transpire over the course of the next four years would catapult T.E. Lawrence into international fame and etch his name in the history books as ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’
Although Ottoman holds over the Middle East was strong, there began to grow strong nationalist undercurrents and the Emir of Mecca, Sharif Hussein offered to work with the Allies in exchange for assistance in building a united Arab state in the region. The Brits considered this gainful alliance. However French opposition insisted that the future of Syria was as a French colony.
Britain continued to play nice with Hussein but secretly conspired to ensure Syria would belong to the French. In the meantime, Lawrence of Arabia lead and organised small uprisings throughout the land in protest of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The climax of these uprisings was the Arab Revolt, beginning in 1916. Lawrence met with Hussein’s sons in order to determine who should be the figurehead of this British-backed revolt. Faisal was chosen and the revolution was under full swing. Lawrence and Faisal became strong personal allies and friends in the efforts against the Ottomans. A continuing series of small uprisings had the intention of disturbing the permanency of the Empire.
Under the leadership of Faisal and the advisory efforts of Lawrence of Arabia, the Arab Revolt was a success for both Arabian nationalists and the war effort for Britain. Through a series of cunning guerrilla victories and trade blocks, Lawrence of Arabia played an instrumental part in the destabilisation of the Ottomans. Key victories include the destructions of various railways and bridges. Most notably for Lawrence was the Battle of Tafileh, in which the foreigner turned a defensive position into an offensive route, resulting in the deaths of 400 Turks and the submission of 200 prisoners. Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was immediately promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Lawrence of Arabia stayed steadily loyal to his namesake, acting as part of Faisal’s delegate during the waning years of the War. However, he would never again find the same purpose he had in the Middle East, and T.E. Lawrence would wander between legend and miscreant (depending on who you asked) until his death in 1935, aged just 46.
No matter your opinion on the man now, over 100 years after his adventures, Lawrence of Arabia stands out as one of the first ‘international men of mystery’ who paved the way for successful international cooperation efforts for all nations. His sheer persistence and ability to inspire certainly marks him as one of history’s finest.