Norman Stone

Spoils of Victory

Lawrence of Arabia’s War: The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WWI


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The end of the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire and Britain’s role in creating the modern Middle East are endlessly interesting subjects, and so too is the role of T E Lawrence in all that. The Arab Revolt got going in June 1916, when the Battle of Verdun was already raging and the Battle of the Somme was weeks away from beginning. It added much-needed glamour to the First World War. Lawrence could have stepped right out of the pages of John Buchan’s Greenmantle, a novel set during the Anglo-German tussle for control over the Ottoman Empire, in which the sinister Hilda von Einem and Colonel von Stumm intrigue to get a Muslim Holy War going against the British. Encouraging the ruler of Mecca to make war on the sultan was an inspired way of keeping the Middle East safe – for a time – for the British, though Lawrence himself eventually despaired at what they made of it and died early, perhaps at his own hands. He was a man who knew how to play establishments, whether Arab or British, and who found he was matched with his hour in 1916. 

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