“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
The Lawrence of Arabia is one of my favorite historical characters. I understand him. If you have not seen the 1962 film by David Lean, you should do yourself the favor of seeing it now, because it is directly applicable to the current crises in the Middle East. The classic film is not 100% biographical, but it is like Lawrence’s classic piece of literature titled The Seven Pillars of Wisdom which is studied heavily by today’s American troops in the Iraq region and others who take part in the violence so prevalent in the Holy Land to this current day. But to understand the Lawrence of Arabia it takes a different kind of mind, one who dreams by the day—and most people just aren’t like that. Lawrence was a bit of living folklore and he used that to his strategic advantage. It was he who gave the Arabs and the British troops the testicular fortitude to push back the Turks and start the defeat of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. If not for T.E. Lawrence the Ottoman Empire may have never been defeated, and their support may have assisted Germany into winning World War I. If there was a figure who most impacted the first Great War it was the Lawrence of Arabia. Yet, after the Treaty of Versailles and the English betrayal of Lawrence and Price Feisal, Lawrence changed his name, took a low-level job with the air force and dropped out of the radar even though he was one of the most popular men in the world at the time. The answer as to why he did what he did can only be understood by dreamers of the day. Most in his position would have milked out the riches and popularity for all he could, but not Lawrence. He withdrew to the countryside in disgust of the politics and refused to participate for the rest of his days.
Lawrence returned to the United Kingdom a full Colonel. Immediately after the war, Lawrence worked for the Foreign Office, attending the Paris Peace Conference between January and May as a member of Faisal’s delegation. He served for much of 1921 as an advisor to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office.
On 17 May 1919 the Handley Page Type O carrying Lawrence on a flight to Egypt crashed at the airport of Roma-Centocelle. The pilot and co-pilot were killed; Lawrence survived with a broken shoulder blade and two broken ribs. During his brief hospitalization, he was visited by King Victor Emmanuel III.
In August 1919 Lowell Thomas launched a colorful photo show in London entitled With Allenby in Palestine which included a lecture, dancing, and music. Initially, Lawrence played only a supporting role in the show, but when Thomas realized that it was the photos of Lawrence dressed as a Bedouin that had captured the public’s imagination, he photographed him again, in London, in Arab dress. With the new photos, Thomas re-launched his show as With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia in early 1920; it was extremely popular. Thomas’ shows made the previously-obscure Lawrence into a household name.
In August 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross. At the RAF recruiting centre in Covent Garden, London, he was interviewed by a recruiting officer – Flying Officer W. E. Johns, later to be well-known as the author of the Biggles series of novels. Johns rejected Lawrence’s application as he correctly believed “Ross” was a false name. Lawence admitted this was so and the documents he provided were false and left. But he returned some time later with an RAF Messenger, carrying a written order for Johns to accept Lawrence.
However, Lawrence was forced out of the RAF in February 1923 after being exposed. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925. A fresh burst of publicity after the publication of Revolt in the Desert(see below) resulted in his assignment to a remote base in British India in late 1926, where he remained until the end of 1928. At that time he was forced to return to Britain after rumours began to circulate that he was involved in espionage activities.
He purchased several small plots of land in Chingford, built a hut and swimming pool there, and visited frequently. This was removed in 1930 when the Chingford Urban District Council acquired the land and passed it to the City of London Corporation, but re-erected the hut in the grounds of The Warren, Loughton, where it remains, neglected, today. Lawrence’s tenure of the Chingford land has now been commemorated by a plaque fixed on the sighting obelisk on Pole Hill.
He continued serving in the RAF based at Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, specializing in high-speed boats and professing happiness, and it was with considerable regret that he left the service at the end of his enlistment in March 1935.
Lawrence was a keen motorcyclist, and, at different times, had owned eight Brough Superior motorcycles. His eighth motorcycle is on display at the Imperial War Museum. Among the books Lawrence is known to have carried with him on his military campaigns is Thomas Malory‘s Morte D’Arthur. Accounts of the 1934 discovery of the Winchester Manuscript of theMorte include a report that Lawrence followed Eugene Vinaver—a Malory scholar—by motorcycle from Manchester to Winchester upon reading of the discovery in The Times.
Lawrence could have had the world but he insisted on an authentic life away from the dreamers of the night, those encumbered souls lost to the globe of politics. For all his ability to unite the entire Arab civilization against the Turks and retake the Holy Land for England, nobody at the time or since has possessed the ability to duplicate his abilities. Of all the things T. E. Lawrence did which no military mind reading his Seven Pillars of Wisdom can ever understand is that Lawrence achieved his first military conquest by breaching completely the orders of his superiors.
In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces including Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the strategically located but lightly defended town of Aqaba. On 6 July, after a surprise overland attack, Aqaba fell to Lawrence and the Arab forces. After Aqaba, Lawrence was promoted to major, and the new commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Sir Edmund Allenby, agreed to his strategy for the revolt, stating after the war:
“I gave him a free hand. His cooperation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign. He was the mainspring of the Arab movement and knew their language, their manners and their mentality.”
Lawrence now held a powerful position, as an adviser to Faisal and a person who had Allenby’s confidence. But the Lawrence of Arabia conducted the whole operation without any input from his British superiors stationed in Cairo. He performed the entire task on his own as a day time dreamer who wanted to bring freedom to the Arab people from not only the Turks, but also the powers of Europe. So he organized the invasion and only after it was successful was General Allenby so permissive.
But the dream died once politics entered the picture and Lawrence was forced to deal with those corrupt dreamers of the night. He was able to achieve the greatest of military victories in one of the most hostile regions of the world—nearly on his own with sheer charisma. But he could not deal with politicians as their minds were encumbered by needless restriction—so he changed his name and left the world of chaos to them so that he would be free to read, write, and play with his motorcycles.
He was one of the greatest military minds every to be born and he was great because he did not follow orders, and acted as a day time dreamer that was dangerous to the men who were night-time dreamers. Because those night-time dreamers did not regard the area of Arabia to be so pivotal in world affairs at the time, they put up with Lawrence’s insurgency and lack of ability to follow orders by a superior. But as fate would have had it that was exactly the attitude required to unite the Arabs for the first and only time in world history. And it is the missing ingredient in that region to this day. Military minds can read Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but unless they learn to be day time dreamers—they will never understand how Lawrence did what he did. The best and brightest in our world from the past and future will always be day time dreamers. But their antagonists are always those restricted night-time dreamers—those slugs of mental acuity. They fail at everything they do because their dreams and actions are not aligned. Whereas Lawrence was always living a dream as quick as he thought them. The difference between him and everyone else was that he acted on those dreams with great—unprecedented success.