T. E. Lawrence to William Yale
14 Barton St.,
Robert Graves passed me your letter, and I have delayed answering it, while I tried to borrow for myself a copy of my Seven Pillars, to see what I said 10 years ago. However I've not found one, and my leave expires on Thursday, so I must write from memory of what happened in Damascus. [37 lines omitted about the Damascus Hospital, see Seven Pillars Chs CXXI and CXXII] I left on October 4th, I think, for England.
About the Lebanon and Beyrout. I had secured a promise, from Feisal and his staff, that they would leave it alone, for the European allies to occupy. This promise was made me in Wejh, as Graves seems to have stated. (I have no copy of Graves' book, either!) Upon the taking of Damascus, Feisal and myself lost control. The Syrians (Ali Riza and the Bekri brothers) took charge, and galloped (metaphorically) straight for the coast. My intention had been to occupy from the gap of Tripoli northward to Alexandretta, and I had told Feisal that in the welter which would follow victory he would stand a very decent chance of getting this area eventually allotted to the Syrian kingdom upon terms. I still think that it was a possibility, and that the precipitate occupation of Beyrout and Lebanon wholly threw away the local people's chances. Shukri was sent to Beyrout by Ali Riza. I was much too engaged in struggling with difficulties of Damascus to attempt to cope with Ali Riza. Anyway, all my thought was of going home, where I meant to get transferred to the French front. The eastern business was badly on my nerves.
There was nothing either Sherifian or mine, therefore, in the occupation of Beyrout. I was opposed to it, on grounds of interest, and Feisal had ordered his people to have nothing to do with littoral Syria south of the Tripoli gap. You can support this statement, perhaps, if you will see that no one of the Sherifs, or of the Arab army, or of us, went there. It was entirely a Damascus move: as was the fatuous proclamation of King Hussein in Damascus. These things were as much anti-Feisal as anything. The Damascenes hoped to avoid the near activities of Feisal by appealing to the distant Hussein, who hated Feisal. I had no intention of proclaiming or creating any king in Damascus. Feisal governed it as an army commander of Allenby's, an unassailable position. King Hussein was a nuisance to me, only. If Shukri told you I had urged him to Beyrout, it was probably that he was getting frightened at the magnitude of his error, and wanted to make-believe that he had authority.
Your remark that 'British political officers were working to create a situation in Syria which would make impossible... the Sykes-Picot treaty' amazes me. The S-P treaty was the Arab sheet-anchor. The French saw that, and worked frantically for the alternative of the mandate. By a disgraceful bargain the British supported them, to gain Mesopotamia. Under the S-P treaty the French only got the coast: and the Arabs (native administration) were to have Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Damascus, and Trans-Jordan. By the mandate swindle England and France got the lot. The S-P treaty was absurd, in its boundaries, but it did recognize the claims of Syrians to self-government, and it was ten thousand times better than the eventual settlement*
In justice to England I must add that financial pressure, the Mesopotamian rebellion of 1920, and perhaps conscience aroused by my agitation in London, did finally persuade England to abrogate, de facto, her mandates in Irak and Trans-Jordan, though she still holds them, de jure, to exclude third parties. It is my deliberate opinion that the Winston Churchill settlement of 1921-1922 (in which I shared) honourably fulfils the whole of the promises we made to the Arabs, in so far as the so-called British spheres are concerned. If we had done this in 1919 we could have been proud of ourselves. The French had made no promises, and they refuse to adopt our liberal policy. That is a pity, but past our curing.
This letter has grown too absurdly long. As if anybody now cares what I did, or you did, or England or France or the Arabs did, ten years ago. Leave it for 50 years. If Irak continues to put up a decent show, across three generations, then the Arab Revolt was worth while. In our lifetimes we cannot reap either credit or disgrace: and after I'm dead my bones will not care. Winston's settlement so pleased me that I withdrew wholly from politics, with clean hands, I think, and enlisted in the Air Force, where I have the happiness to be, still. It is not glorious, but very free of cares, healthy, and interesting. I have not been to the Middle East, or read a book or article about it, or written or received a letter thither or thence, since 1922 when I joined the R.A.F.
You say you want to read The Seven Pillars. It is a rotten book, a dull book, hysterical, egotistical and long. It is also (God be praised) rare. As I said, I can't borrow a copy, here, for my own reference in writing you. I believe some copies did go to U.S.A.; but they say it's a large country. Mrs Lamont had one. Doubleday the elder had one: also Kermit Roosevelt. Speculators pushed its price into hundreds of pounds, and all wise people promptly unloaded: so I hope they have parted: for the thing has slumped. That's the English edition. There is also a U.S.A. edition, not complete. A copy of this is available, I fancy, in Congress Library at Washington: but how Washington lies from New Hampshire I don't know! Believe me, if you don't see it you miss nothing.
Oh! peace negociations! Feisal and Jemal were carrying on quite serious peace negociations all 1918. I saw both sides' letters unbeknownst: I should have been morally indignant with Feisal, only England was secretly negociating with Talaat, also to my unofficial knowledge, all 1918 too. All is fair in love, war, and alliances. Poof! Me for the Air Force!
T. E. Shaw
*This should be qualified. There was a secret Paris settlement, a working arrangement between Clemenceau and Feisal, which had germs of hope: Millerand tore it up, and launched Gouraud on Damascus with his army!
|Last revised:||8 March 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset