A military theorist at the School of Advanced Military Studies looks closely at Lawrence of Arabia’s self-styled conversion into an effective guerrilla leader.
Young, brash, well-schooled and smitten with a romantic idea of Arab culture, T.E. Lawrence (1888 –1935) began to fashion himself in “Arab skin” fairly soon after arriving in the Middle East in 1909 to work on his Oxford University thesis on the Crusades. He learned Arabic and worked on archaeological digs in Turkey and in strategic intelligence in Palestine in 1913. With the outbreak of World War I, Britain’s policy in the region was to “detach the Arabs from the Turks,” in order to bring about the demise of the ailing Ottoman Empire. Though Lawrence often witnessed “an arrogance of power wedded to an ignorance of culture” on the part of the British, he aided the British as a necessary step to Arab independence. When the Arab revolt erupted in 1916, Lawrence, with his knowledge of Arab culture and language, became indispensable to the British as a staff officer and diplomatic conduit. But Lawrence learned quickly that the traditional Western military style of leadership did not suit the Arabs, and during a long hallucinatory spell of sickness, which Schneider elaborates on as conveying “a flash of genius,” Lawrence clarified in his mind the means of guerilla warfare—wear down the opponent by exhaustion rather than annihilation, and by the employment of small, effective “clouds of raiders.” His empathy was key to leadership success, and Schneider takes us through skirmishes at the port of Aqaba, the battle of Tafileh and eventual march to Damascus in 1918. The author bestows on Lawrence the supreme compliment of being an “autonomous leader,” and deeply probes his conflicted sense of helping the Arabs while also being a “fraud” in upholding British imperialism.
A keen psychological study that aims at honing leadership skills via example.