Imperial War Museum Reveals Lawrence Of Arabia's Middle East Plan
By Graham Spicer 12/10/2005
A peace map has been discovered outlining Lawrence of Arabia’s proposals for the reconstruction of the Middle East at the end of the First World War.
The proposals, which radically differ from what was eventually implemented by the victorious Allied powers, are on display as part of Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, The Legend, at London’s Imperial War Museum from October 12 2005 to April 17 2006.
Lawrence’s peace map was recently uncovered at the National Archives in Kew and illustrate the recommendations he made to the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet in November 1918. They show how he opposed the Allied agreement, which eventually determined the borders of modern day Iraq. Lawrence's plans for the Middle East included separate areas for the predominately Kurdish and Arab areas in present-day Iraq. © Imperial War Museum
“The discovery of the map is particularly interesting,” said Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence biographer and one of the historical advisors to the exhibition. “It suggests that Lawrence’s proposals were taken fairly seriously, at least in London. They would have provided the region with a far better starting point than the crude imperial carve up agreed by Sykes and Georges-Picot.”
Lawrence helped lead the Arab forces in their capture of Aqaba on the Red Sea in 1917. Lawrence's alternative plan called for separate governments for the predominantly Kurdish and Arab areas in what is now Iraq. From 1916 he had heard the views from men across the Middle East during the Arab revolt against the Turks and was also in contact with other British experts on the region. His plans were strenuously opposed, however, by the British administration in Mesopotamia.
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in north Wales in 1888 and after graduating from Oxford University first travelled to the Middle East on an archaeological expedition. At the outbreak of the First World War he joined the army and in 1916 was made an intelligence officer in Cairo.
The exhibition features the Brough Superior 100 motorbike he was riding when he had his fatal accident in 1935. © The Bodleian Library, University of OxfordAfter meeting with local sheikhs rebelling against the occupying Turks he became their liaison officer and was instrumental in organising the Arab revolt. He later joined the RAF and soon after discharge in February 1935 was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Several other previously unseen objects feature in the exhibition, including the Arab revolt flag raised at the capture the Red Sea port of Aqaba in July 1917 and dramatic colour slides, scripts and publicity material from Lowell Thomas’s 1919 travelogues that contributed to the Lawrence of Arabia legend. The motorcycle he was riding when he had his fatal accident in May 1935 is also displayed, along with other motorcycle accessories that have not been exhibited before.
The TimesOctober 12, 2005 Lawrence's vision of Arabia and beyond
By Jack Malvern
LAWRENCE of Arabia’s vision for the Middle East has been revealed in a map he created after the First World War.
T. E. Lawrence, the British colonel whose wartime collaboration with the Arabs against the Turks was immortalised in David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), attempted to reward Britain’s Arab allies by dividing territory between them. His sympathy for the cause of Arab self-determination is well known, but the full details contained in the map eluded historians because it was filed at the National Archives under the wrong date.
The map, which goes on display at the Imperial War Museum on Friday, shows his proposals for a state in northern Iraq similar to one now demanded by Kurdish separatists, and a large territory uniting what is now Syria, Jordan and parts of Saudi Arabia.
Lawrence, who had encouraged the Arabs to rise up against their Turkish rulers, wanted to award territories to the sons of his ally, Sherif Hussein of Mecca. He was thwarted by a secret Anglo-French plan to carve up the Middle East to suit imperial ambitions. That plan awarded Syria and Lebanon to France and Palestine, including modern-day Jordan, to Britain. The borders created by the imperial plan survive today largely intact. It was a betrayal for Lawrence, who learnt of the plan in 1916 but had to insist to his Arab allies that Britain would guarantee them self-determination after the war.
In 1918 he proposed his alternative, in which territories were assigned to Hussein’s sons. The plan was never taken seriously by the War Office. Lawrence countered that the imperial plan had “geographical absurdities (that) would laugh it out of court”. Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence’s biographer, said that the British were unable to overturn the Anglo-French treaty. “The French put their foot down,” he said. “It was a signed agreement, so what could they do? The only people who could have done something was the United States ... but America didn’t want to get involved.”
By Carla Power
Newsweek Oct. 21, 2005
I meant to make a new nation, to restore a lost influence, to give twenty millions of Semites the foundations on which to build an inspired dream-palace of their national thoughts.
--T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
The new Lawrence of Arabia show at London’s Imperial War Museum thrills and chills. Thrills, because it offers a dramatic array of tchotchkes and documents linked to the legendary British Arabist. Chills, because Lawrence’s 80-year-old advice on Middle Eastern imperial adventures remains uncannily pertinent.
The 70th anniversary of the death of the Briton who helped lead the 1916-18 Arab Revolt against the Turks inspired the show. But events in Iraq make it feel not like an homage to times past but a cri de coeur about the present.
“Do not try to do too much with your own hands,” reads a quote on the wall, taken from Lawrence’s advice to British soldiers in Arabia. “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”
Such moments fill "Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, The Legend." Lawrence’s description, included on the audio tour, of the Arabs’ triumphant entry into Damascus, with happy Arabs strewing flowers before the entering army, recalls more recent images of flowers being strewn before Coalition tanks. Both flower-fests, of course, were moments of misguided hope. In Lawrence’s time, the cheering Arabs who hoped for self-rule were later to find they’d been betrayed by the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement, a crude carve-up of the area between the British and the French that were the predecessors to today’s national boundaries. “I’m afraid you will be delayed a long time, cleaning up the messes and oddments we have left behind us,”
Lawrence wrote in a 1918 letter to a Middle East-stationed British major.
With its displays of Lawrence’s leather sandals and the Oscar award that David Lean won for his 1962 film, the show occasionally can feel camp. But the underpinning themes--of the effectiveness of Arab guerrilla warfare, of ruined plans for neat victories in the Middle East, of disconnect between on-the-ground "intel' and the war rooms of Western powers--are dead sober.
The show includes a newly found map, showing Lawrence’s proposals to the war cabinet for the reconstruction of the Middle East after the First World War. In it, he suggests separate governments for the Kurdish and Arab areas of Iraq, as well as for the Armenians in Syria. The British administration ignored his suggestions and went along with the Sykes-Picot plan, which lumped Kurds with Arabs--and drew modern Iraq’s borders.
Lawrence’s vision for postwar Iraq also remains relevant. He set out his plan in a 1920 letter to The Times of London. The British were simply setting up a government that was “English in fashion and is conducted in the English language,” wrote Lawrence. Instead, he said, they should build an Arabic language administration, train volunteer Arab troops and get all British soldiers out.
This show also constitutes a shrine. Relics on display range from a golden lock from toddler Lawrence’s head to the cream and gold Bedouin robes and Lee-Enfield rifle he used during his desert campaign. On the audio tour, you can hear his Arabic teacher describing what a brilliant student he was, his only problem being the pronunciation of the Arabic sound "ayn," or the junior officer recalling Lawrence’s love of explosives. Employing his famous tactic of dynamiting railways, recalls a disapproving subaltern, Lawrence “liked to make as big a bang as possible.”
The show echoes Lawrence’s own genius for drama. Strains of Elgar float around a display showing the simple English cottage where he retired to write and serve as a lowly Royal Air Force mechanic. A replica of the hero’s Dorset tombstone, with shriveled oak leaves from a commemorative tree on the road where his fatal motorcycle crash occurred, wanders toward kitsch. Lawrence enthusiasts may crane to see the Brough Superior motorcycle that Lawrence died on, after clipping the back of a boy’s bicycle in a Dorset lane in 1935. But do you really want to see the leather satchel carried by the boy who rode the bicycle? If so, you can.
Despite the occasional Madam Tussaud’s sensibility, the show evokes real wistfulness, not just for a literary and military genius, but for the age he inhabited. In a Britain coping with its demotion from a leading-man role in the Middle East to the ignominy of the part of best friend, it’s moving to be reminded of Britain’s past greatness. Lawrence intersected with a whole host of other famous British great and good. There, in the grainy Pathe footage of his 1935 funeral, is Winston Churchill, Lawrence’s boss when the future prime minister was head of the Colonial Office. E. M. Forster and Siegfried Sassoon, Lawrence’s literati buddies, offer tributes. There, in the glass case devoted to the Dorset cottage where he retired to write, is the footstool given to him by Thomas Hardy’s widow.
Bits of history that capture both Lawrence’s era and our own stay with a visitor much longer than the robes or the bloodied flags. In a 1920 article, he thundered that “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information.” You leave, curiously stirred, unsure whether you’ve seen a show about the past, or the present.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
The Middle East and the West: WWI and Beyond
Geoffrey Gaudreault, NPR
August 20, 2004 · World War I transformed the Middle East in ways it had not seen for centuries. The Europeans, who had colonized much of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, completed the takeover with the territories of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
The modern boundaries of the Middle East emerged from the war. So did modern Arab nationalist movements and embryonic Islamic movements. NPR's Mike Shuster reports on World War I and its aftermath as he continues his series on the history of Western involvement in the Middle East.
With the onset of WWI, the French and the British sent armies and agents into the Middle East, to foment revolts in the Arabian Peninsula and to seize Iraq, Syria and Palestine. In 1916, French and British diplomats secretly reached the Sykes-Picot agreement, carving up the Middle East into spheres of influence for their respective countries. That agreement was superceded by another which established a mandate system of French and British control, sanctioned by the new League of Nations.
Under the mandate system, Syria and Lebanon went to the French. The British took over Palestine and three Ottoman provinces of Mesopotamia and created modern-day Iraq.
"Everyone understood at the time that this was a thinly disguised new form of colonialism...," says Zachary Lockman, professor of Middle East history at New York University. "The British and French had no thought of going anywhere anytime soon, and fully intended to remain in control of these territories for the indefinite future."
But almost immediately after the war, Arab resistance movements emerged to challenge European dominance.
October 23, 2005
Carla Power on the Lawrence of Arabia Exhibit at the Imperial War Museum
I've long been interested in Lawrence's life. When I first visted the IWM in March 1990, I was struck by the fact that virtually nothing on permanent display was devoted to Great Britain's imperial history. The two world wars were the main emphasis. They had imperial aspects, of course, but the European aspects of those two conflicts were the chief focus. There was also a small exhibit devoted to the war in the Falkland islands.
I had been reading about Lawrence at the time, when I was studying in Munich, and so I knew that a portrait of Lawrence painted by James McBey in October 1918, right after Damascus was captured by the British and the Arabs, was in the IWM collection.
Well, I wandered around the entire museum but couldn't find the portrait. There was, however, a post card of it in the gift shop. I showed the card to the cashier, asking whether or not the painting was on display. She said that it wasn't, but that she could send me to someone who could show it to me. I was led through a door and spoke with a man who worked as a curator of some sort. He took me into the storage area and showed me the painting. I noticed that the painting's background is actually blue, although it appears in the photos that I've seen to be brown.
In January 2003 I went to the IWM again, this time to see its exhibit devoted to British poets from the First World War. The museum had been expanded to include a Holocaust exhibit, among other things, but there still wasn't much on the military history of the British empire that didn't relate directly to the two world wars.
October 23, 2005
Seven days in the Middle East the (London) Times, October 12th 2005
THE AGREEMENT WITH THE EMIR HUSAYN 1915
The exchange of letters between the British and the Emir Husayn 1915.
The Sykes-Picot agreement 1915.
HOW MANY ARABS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
HOW MANY JEWS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
THE BALFOUR DECLARATION 1917.
The fall of Jerusalem 1917
Is Jordan Palestine?
ZIONIST PROPOSALS 1919
THE WEIZMANN/FAISAL AGREEMENT 1919
Lawrence’s Middle East peace plan
The League of Nations 1920
The San Remo agreement 1920
The White Paper 1922
The White Paper 1930
The Hope-Simpson report 1936
The British in Palestine 1936
The White Paper 1939
Winston Churchill on the Jews
THE FORSAKEN PROMISE