Lawrence of arabia and american culture

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The Making of a Transatlantic Legend

Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture, Number 47 M. Thomas Inge, Series Adviser
GREENWOOD PRESS Westport, Connecticut  London
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hodson Joel C.
Lawrence of Arabia and American culture: the making of a transatlantic legend / Joel C. Hodson.
p. cm.--(Contributions to the study of popular culture, ISSN 0198-9871; no. 47)
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. ISBN 0-313-29617-0 (alk. paper)
1. Lawrence, T. E. ( Thomas Edward), 1888-1935. 2. Soldiers--Great Britain--Biography--History and criticism. 3. Great Britain. Army-Biography--History and criticism. 4. World War, 1914-1918-Campaigns--Middle East--Historiography. 5. Middle East-History--20th century--Historiography. 6. Popular culture--United States--History--20th century. 7. Lawrence of Arabia (Motion picture) 8. Middle East--In literature. I. Title. II. Series.
D568.4.L45H63 1995 940.4'15'092--dc20 95-9873 [B]
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data is available.
Copyright © 1995 by Joel C. Hodson
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, by any process or technique, without the express written consent of the publisher.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 95-9873 ISBN: 0-313-29617-0 ISSN: 0198-9871
First published in 1995
Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881 An imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America
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The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National Information Standards Organization (Z39.48-1984).
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
In Memory of IBRAHIM ÜNAL ( 1922-1992), Turkish Diplomat and Friend

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Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Lowell Thomas and the Origins of the Popular

Legend of Lawrence of Arabia 11

Chapter 2 Backstage at the Theatre 27

Chapter 3 Propaganda and Propagation 45

Chapter 4 Diffusion of the Legend, 1920-1940: The Cases of

Colonels Lawrence and Lindbergh 59

Chapter 5 Redefinition and Literary Reception, 1920-1940 79

Chapter 6 Interlude, 1940-1960: Lawrence and Hemingway 95

Chapter 7 Commercialization of the Legend, 1960-Present:

Lawrence and Hollywood 107

Chapter 8 Assaying the Legends 131

Appendix: Notes on Sources about Lowell Thomas 143

Notes 149

Selected Bibliography 169

Index 185

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T. E. Lawrence, London, autumn 1919 ii

Lawrence with Commander D. G. Hogarth and Colonel Alan

Dawnay, Cairo, spring 1918 5

Lawrence on the balcony of Fast's Hotel, Jerusalem, February

1918 17

Lawrence and Lowell Thomas, Aqaba, Jordan, March 1918 19

British staff, Aqaba, March 1918 20

Program cover page for "With Allenby in Palestine and

Lawrence in Arabia," London, December 1919 33

Lawrence and Lowell Thomas in London, August-September

1919 37

Uncropped photograph of Lawrence, London, autumn 1919 38

Lawrence, London, autumn 1919 69

Rudolph Valentino in Arab garb 70

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This is a book about how the popular legend of Lawrence of Arabia, a British military figure, was created and nurtured in the United States, how the story was imported to England, and how and why for the past seventy-five years it has continued to resonate on both sides of the Atlantic.
The book developed from discussions about nationalism with the late Marcus Cunliffe, a longtime British observer of American culture. During one of these conversations, I asked him why the image of T. E. Lawrence in flowing Bedouin robes is fixed in the imagination and memory of the public while his contributions to British national aims and other accomplishments have often been forgotten. The question prompted a discussion about heroes and the popular culture machinery that goes into the creation of modern-day legends and myths. I suggested Lawrence of Arabia was as much an American creation as a British one, an observation that led to this present study.
Although Marcus Cunliffe did not live to see even one of its chapters written, Lawrence of Arabia and American Culture owes its origins to his encouragement and initial guidance. Other friends at The George Washington University, in particular Bernard Mergen and John Maxwell Hamilton, read drafts and offered valuable criticism of the manuscript. Philip O'Brien ( T. E. Lawrence: A Bibliography, 1988) supported the project with a steady stream of correspondence. Other scholars on both sides of the Atlantic answered my queries, occasionally spurred me on with questions of their own, and sent materials. I would like to thank Robert Hatch, Jr., Phillip Knightley, and Kevin Brownlow of London for their correspondence; the late Elie Kedourie who graciously gave of his time while a Wilson fellow;
Gary Crowdus and Larry Ceplair for their research about the Lean-Spiegel film Lawrence of Arabia; Bob Morris and Lawrie Raskin in Toronto; Denis McDonnell of T. E. Notes; Fred Crawford for the free exchange of information about Lowell Thomas and for reading the draft; and Joseph Berton for most of the photographs. I am grateful to Lowell Thomas, Jr. for permission to use his father's materials, as well as to Edwards H. Metcalf for guiding me through his extensive private collection of T. E. Lawrence materials at the Huntington Library, and to Zelma Wilson for permission to quote from Michael Wilson's papers.
I also thank the many librarians and curators who helped at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California; the Houghton Library, Harvard University; the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin; the University of California at Los Angeles Theater Arts Library; the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; the National Archives, Library of Congress, Middle East Institute, and Broadcast Pioneers Library in Washington, D.C.; the Princeton University Library; the Air Historical Branch, Royal Air Force and the English-Speaking Union Archives, London. Finally, I wish to thank my wife, Can, whose critical commentary and unfailing patience made the writing of this book possible.
Chapter 6 has been adapted from an essay published in The Hemingway Review 10, no. 2 ( Spring 1991): 2-16. Copyright 1991 by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation. All rights reserved. Quotations from For Whom the Bell Tolls are excerpted with permission from the Ernest Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust and by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Copyright 1940 by Ernest Hemingway. Copyright renewed 1968 by Mary Hemingway. Portions of Chapter 7 appeared in "Who Wrote Lawrence of Arabia?: Sam Spiegel and David Lean's Denial of Credit to a Blacklisted Screenwriter," Cineaste 20, no. 4 ( Fall 1994): 12-18.
Excerpts from the 1922 Oxford edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and from T. E. Lawrence's letters still in copyright are published by permission of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust.
The photographs of T. E. Lawrence and Lowell Thomas reproduced in this book were originally made by Harry Chase and are published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr. They are located at the Lowell Thomas Communication Center Archives, Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York and at the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The program cover page for "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia," London, December 1919, is from the collection of Philip O'Brien. The production still of Rudolph Valentino from The Sheik,
Famous Players & Lasky Corporation, was provided by Jerry Ohlinger's Movie Material, New York.

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In 1919, when his exploits in the Near East were made known to the public, first in New York and then in London, Thomas Edward Lawrence became the most celebrated hero of World War I. As the dashing white-robed Lawrence of Arabia, his transatlantic appeal in the 1920s was comparable only to that of Charles Lindbergh, whose solo flight between continents in 1927 elevated the young mail pilot to the status of a god. Everything about Lawrence's life and various careers, including his accidental death in 1935, was immediately seized upon by tabloid reporters and later scrutinized by biographers and historians. Lawrence of Arabia subsequently became, with the possible exceptions of Winston Churchill and Edward VIII, the most famous Englishman of the twentieth century.
Nearly fifty biographies and scores of critical works have been written about T. E. Lawrence. Despite the scrutiny his life has received, and also in part because of it, Lawrence is often perceived today as a reckless oriental adventurer and pathological personality, a sadomasochistic exhibitionist. During the early 1920s, however, he was depicted as a modern-day Richard Lion-Heart and generally viewed as a national hero in excelsis to be held up as a character model for English-speaking school boys. Somewhere between these two overstated extremes are to be found the essential materials on which the Lawrence of Arabia legend is constructed. Facts and inferences about Lawrence have often been misconstrued, sometimes deliberately by debunkers and defenders alike in order to advance their particular agendas. In some instances, Lawrence's statements and actions have simply been misunderstood because of ignorance or, as frequently
happens in historical interpretation, the superimposition of present standards and values on the past. This "presentism" can render Lawrence an almost incomprehensible figure.
At the center of the problem of unraveling the legend are Lawrence himself and his popularizer, American journalist and adventurer Lowell Thomas. For a person trained as a historian, Lawrence played fast and loose with the truth, unmindful at times of the consequences. In the exuberance of telling the most romantic story of the First World War, Thomas, too, created and propagated fictions about Lawrence in his phenomenally successful public lectures, magazine articles, and books about him. There does exist, however, a core of generally agreed upon facts and circumstances leading up to 1919 on which the popular legend of Lawrence of Arabia is based.
The legend originates from the complex politics of the prewar Middle East and a marriage of convenience between British imperialism and Arab nationalism. Prior to World War I, Arabia was under the domination of the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire had once stretched from the gates of Vienna to the Caspian Sea, south to include much of Persia and Arabia and west again all the way to Tunis along the Mediterranean. At its height, the empire was a large, often loosely governed composite of European, Mediterranean, Balkan, Turkic, and Near Eastern peoples and cultures. Since the conquests of the late 1600s, its borders had been slowly eroding until, by the end of the nineteenth century, the empire was irreparably weakened by the Greek Revolution and a series of wars with Russia. Turkey became known as "the Sick Man of Europe." The predatory powers of Europe began to usurp its territory as civil unrest within the empire further weakened the sultanate. Most of what remained of European Turkey was lost in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Meanwhile, the Hashemite Arabs to the south, rulers of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, began to stir in reaction to worsening relations with Istanbul and a tightening of administrative control over the Arab provinces.
In February 1914, several months before the outbreak of the First World War, Emir Abdullah, the second son of Hussein Ibn Ali, the Sherif of Mecca, met with the British Agent in Egypt, Lord Kitchener. Arab relations with the Turkish government were severely strained, and Abdullah broached the subject of British aid for his father in case the Turkish government sought to depose him. The Anglo-Hashemite Arab alliance, dating in effect from this time, ended Ottoman domination of Arabia and started a series of events that gave a young T. E. Lawrence his opportunity to make history. 1
War broke out in August. In the diplomatic scrambling that preceded the conflict, Turkey approached Britain in search of an ally. It was a logical step. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, Britain had bolstered the Ottoman sultanate. The integrity of the Ottoman Empire helped to safeguard England's position in the Mediterranean and its communication with India by blocking competing Russian and French ambitions in the region. But as political historian Elie Kedourie has noted, "the fate of the Ottoman Empire was not [ Britain's] prime consideration." Ottoman overtures were rebuffed and Britain formed an entente with Russia, Turkey's traditional enemy, instead. As a consequence, Turkey joined the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. 2
Ever since the Indian Mutiny in the late 1850s, Britain had feared another religious uprising among the Muslims of its colonies. With Turkey allied with the Central Powers, England was officially at war with the sultan, whom the predominant Sunni Muslims of India considered the caliph of Islam. Might Muslim radicals in India side with Turkey against the infidels? Moreover, Turkey was strategically placed to block munitions supplies to Russia through the Dardanelles as well as positioned to threaten the Suez Canal. Britain understandably reconsidered its policy concerning the Arabs. Previously noncommittal, the Foreign Office came to realize the advantage of an alliance with Hussein of Mecca who, by birth and geography, also claimed to be caliph of Islam. An alliance with the Meccan leader would prevent the conflict in the Near East becoming a holy war. A series of involved negotiations, orchestrated by Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, concluded in a compact between the Hashemite ruler and the British government, which essentially promised postwar independence in exchange for support against the Turks. Written in the form of a letter in October 1915, the McMahon pledge was given with knowledge of the War Office in London. The compact, however, did not take tangible form until the Arab Revolt against the Turks began in earnest the following year. 3
Britain's position in the Near East in 1915-1916 was fairly critical. The Allied invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli had failed, at a cost of 250,000 casualties, and the remaining troops were finally evacuated in early 1916. General Townsend's Army in Kut-el-Amara, Mesopotamia, surrendered a few months later. The combined humiliations made the threat of a Turkish invasion of Egypt a possibility. As the war reached a deadlock in Europe and the Near East, President Woodrow Wilson, who had authority from the U.S. Congress to end economic relations with belligerent parties, was
poised to compel Britain to negotiate peace. In short, the existence of Britain's empire in the East was threatened.
The Arab Revolt, begun in early June 1916, was thus welcomed by British Headquarters in Cairo as an opportunity to disrupt Turkish plans for a second offensive against the Suez Canal and to begin its own military offensive. The revolt began successfully with the taking of Mecca, Jidda, and other important Turkish garrisons in Arabia but stalled at Medina, where Ottoman artillery turned back Arab tribesmen attacking the city's defenses. In order to take advantage of the fledgling revolt and boost Arab morale, Britain needed to actively support the uprising with arms, money, and military advisers.
As a British intelligence officer already deeply involved in Arab affairs, T. E. Lawrence became chief liaison officer between British Headquarters in Cairo and the Arab forces. He had begun the war as a civilian cartographer, spoke passable Arabic, and had considerable prior experience in the Near East as an archaeologist. He proved to be sympathetic to the Arab cause and soon became Sherif Feisal's--Hussein's third son and a field commander of the Sherifian forces--confidant and military adviser. With substantial material support from Britain, Feisal reorganized the Arab army. Using guerrilla tactics, Lawrence harassed Turkish lines of communication in Arabia, occupying a large portion of the Turkish forces whom the British would otherwise have had to face directly. In the final drive to Damascus, the Arab forces destroyed the Turkish 4th Army. Although the military value of the Arab Revolt has been debated, the Arab forces served as the right flank of General Edmund Allenby's army in Palestine.
For two years Lawrence fought alongside the Arabs, traveling back and forth between Feisal and British Headquarters. It was a dual role that earned him steady promotion and military honors from the British High Command as well as cautious appreciation from the Arabs. But the role of liaison officer took its toll. By the time Turkish resistance collapsed and AlliedSherifian forces entered Damascus in October 1918, Lawrence, often ill and reputedly once captured and tortured by the enemy, was exhausted. His divided loyalties also occasioned severe mental anguish. Lawrence served incompatible masters: Arab nationalism and British imperialism. He knew the "secret" Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 had divided up the spoils of Near East conquest among Britain, France, and Russia. He thus campaigned alongside Feisal knowing but not telling him that previous British promises to support Arab independence were "dead paper."
In his memoir of the war, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence often recalls his conflicting loyalties. His guilt is poignantly expressed in a

Lawrence with Commander D. G. Hogarth and Colonel Alan Dawnay, Cairo, spring 1918. Photograph by Harry Chase. LTCCA. Published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr.

passage written shortly after the war, when events were fresh and he could remember the fatigue of the final drive on Damascus. The passage, excised from later editions of Seven Pillars, describes the first night Lawrence spent in the liberated Syrian city. He is listening from his hotel room to the muezzin's late-night call to prayer. Lawrence's stated aim, the liberation of Damascus, has been achieved, but many of his prewar Syrian friends, and one to whom he would dedicate Seven Pillars, are dead. Overcome by loneliness, yet ironically surrounded by a city that hailed him a conquering hero that morning, he feels
a stranger to those whom I had led . . . for two years, and tonight it seemed that I had given them all my gift, this false liberty drawn down to them by spells and wickedness, and nothing was left me but to go away. The dead army of my hopes, now turned to fact, confronted me, and my will, the worn instrument which had so long frayed our path, broke suddenly in my hand and fell useless. It told me that this eastern chapter in my life was ended. 4
Lawrence applied for leave and left Damascus immediately. Turkey capitulated on 30 October 1918. The war in Europe ended less than two weeks later.
The eastern chapter of his life, however, was not finished. Immediately after the war, Lawrence began lobbying for Arab self-determination and preparing for the Peace Conference. He served as a member of the British Delegation in Paris and also acted as Prince Feisal's adviser and interpreter. When the Arab cause faltered at the conference, he began a publicity campaign in the pages of British newspapers, using his newly found celebrity status as a war hero to promote the cause of Arab self-determination. Later, when it became clear that England's postwar Middle East policy was a failure, Winston Churchill asked him to join the Colonial Office as adviser on Arab affairs. He attended the Cairo Conference in 1921 and helped to reshape British policy toward the Middle East.
Throughout this period, Lawrence relived his Arabian experience writing Seven Pillars. Despite enlisting in both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Tank Corps under assumed names, he was discovered and continually hounded by the press. Whatever occupation he took up, he remained an international celebrity because of his association with Arabia. The eastern chapter of his life continued until his death in 1935.


Lawrence never visited the United States. Nor should his story, on the surface at least, have generated much interest in America. The United States
has little or no tradition of oriental adventurers. American soldiers did not participate, as organized units, in the Palestine or Arabian campaigns, sideshows of a foreign war that the United States entered reluctantly. The interwar years also marked a period of political, as well as cultural, isolationism in this country. Moreover, America has always had its own heroes, real and folkloric, to celebrate. Fascination with a British military hero does not seem compatible with American predisposition.
Yet, for seventy-five years Lawrence of Arabia has remained a subject of considerable public, as well as scholarly, interest in the United States. During his lifetime, he had continuous news appeal, first as a military hero of an exotic episode of the war and afterward as an eccentric recluse, supposed secret agent, and literary-intellectual. Americans contributed as much as, if not more than, the British to the Lawrence legend. The two greatest stimuli, Lowell Thomas's lectures--estimated to have reached four million people in the 1920s--and the 1962 Hollywood film Lawrence of Arabia, were American-inspired. More than a thousand newspaper articles, book and film reviews, periodical essays, books, and scholarly studies about Lawrence have also been written by Americans. As a result, few people in the United States need to be told who Lawrence of Arabia was.
American interest in and contributions to the propagation of the Lawrence of Arabia legend, as well as American critical study of Lawrence's life and works, have often been overlooked. British scholars writing about Lawrence have naturally been more interested in what Lawrence meant to England than in what Americans thought. Until the publication of Richard Aldington's controversial "biographical enquiry" of Lawrence in 1955, British biographers of Lawrence tended to disparage or dismiss altogether the part that Lowell Thomas played in making Lawrence a household name. Military historian Basil Henri Liddell Hart, for instance, did not even mention Thomas in a book that was published in the United States under the title Colonel Lawrence, the Man Behind the Legend. Even recent biographers have not looked much beyond Thomas's autobiography for information about an important relationship and a critical period of Lawrence's life, although Thomas left behind a large body of Lawrence related materials. These include at least six previously unpublished Lawrence letters and various photographs which demonstrate that Lawrence was far more involved in the propagation of his own legend than biographers have generally thought or have been willing to admit. 5
The oversight begs questions: How much did Thomas and other Americans contribute to the legend, or legends, of Lawrence of Arabia? What was the American interest in the story and how was it received in the United
States? We know that Thomas first presented Lawrence's story to the general public in New York City and then afterward imported it to England under the auspices of the English-Speaking Union. What transatlantic influences can be measured? The Lowell Thomas travelogue, "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia," reached more people worldwide than any similar performance in history and was the ultimate commercial entertainment of its time. What went into the making of this popular culture machine of the 1920s? Why hasn't its product, the often assailed Lawrence legend, like the battered and rusted armor of erstwhile campaigners, been stacked away in London's Imperial War Museum and forgotten?

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