RE: Lawrence of Arabia and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, revisited

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Thu 05 Dec 2002 - 15:12:05 GMT

  • Next message: Lawrence DeBivort: "Perseverance of a minority community"

    Greetings, Jeremy,

    I did not know of this UK 1906 Alien's Act: thanks for the reference, I'll check it out. Good choice on the Weizmann quote (what a great book!)--but have never been able to confirm the Balfour statement independently. Have you or your mother seen it quoted anywhere else?

    My edition of PILLARS is 1936, and I cannot locate the passages you refer to. Can you give me a chapter and first line citation?

    There is this, in Pillars, but it is hard to tell what is his actual thinking at the time, and what is hindsight. (Daniel Ellsburg bludgeons himself for not having been able to stop the Vietnam war earlier, but will not acknowledge to himself that he did the best he could, and that maybe that is sufficient to demand of anyone. Perhaps Ellsburg is like T.E. Lawrence?)

    T. E. Lawrence, SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1936. Pp. 275-6. This is from Chapter 47, but in the synopsis it is listed as Chapter 48. Jeremy, perhaps your edition has got this straightened out?

    1919 --

    "Rumours of the [Sykes-Picot] fraud reached Arab ears [as I described in my last email on this], from Turkey. In the East persons are more trusted than institutions. So the Arabs, having tested my friendliness and sincerity under fire, asked me, as a free agent, to endorse the promises of the British Government. I had had no previous or inner knowledge of the McMahon pledges and the Sykes-Picot treaty, which were both framed by war-time branches of the Foreign Office. But not being a perfect fool, I could see that it we won the war the promises to the Arabs were dead paper. Had I been an honourable adviser I would have sent my [Arab warrior] men home, and not let them risk their lives for such stuff. Yet the Arab inspiration was out main tool in winning the Eastern war. So I assured them that England kept her word in letter and spirit. In this comfort they performed their fine things: but of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed.

    "Clear sight of my position came to me one night, when old Nuri Shalaan in his aisled tent brought out a file of documents and asked which British pledge was to be believed. In his mood, upon my answer, lay the success of failure of Feisal. My advice, uttered with some agony of mind, was to trust the latest in date of the contradictions. This disingenuous answer prompted me, in six months, to be chief confidence-man. In Hejaz the Sherifs were everything, and I had allayed my conscience by telling Feisal how hollow his basis was. In Syria England was mighty and the Sherif low. So I became the principal.

    "In revenge I vowed to make the Arab Revolt the engine of its own success, as well as handmaid to our Egyptian campaign: and vowed to lead it so madly in the final victory that expediency should counsel to the Powers a fair settlement of the Arabs' moral claims. This presumed my surviving the war, to win the later battle of the Council Chamber -- immodest presumptions, which still balance in the fulfilment. Yet the issue of the fraud was beside the point."

    In my edition, Lawrence has added a footnote at this point:

    "1919: but two years later Mr. Winston Churchill was entrusted by our harassed Cabinet with the settlement of the Middle East; and in a few weeks, at his conference in Cairo, he made straight all the tangle, finding solutions fulfilling (I think) our promises in letter and spirit (where humanly possible) without sacrificing any interest in our Empire or any interest of the peoples concerned. So we were quit of the war-time Eastern adventure, with clean hands, but three years too late to earn the gratitude which people, if not states, can pay."

    Lawrence does not specify which British pledges Nuri Shalaan had in hand. The Wingate and Hogarth Declarations? Lawrence was probably as confused as the Arabs by the stream of contradictory statements the UK was making to them, confusion compounded by the fact, apparently, that he was not advised of them by his own government, not in possession, in the Hejaz, of official copies. He resolves the possible British deception by committing himself to Arab independence, and creating the political basis upon which the Arabs assert their rightful independence.

    Cheers, Lawry

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Jeremy Bradley
    > Sent: Wednesday, December 04, 2002 6:27 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: Lawrence of Arabia and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, revisited
    > Snip............Lawry wrote:
    > >I can find nothing in the various volumes of Lawrence letters to suggest
    > >that he knew of the S-P agreement; indeed in 1917 he reports on
    > a discussion
    > >he had with Sharif Hussein, head of the Arab Revolt, in which
    > Hussein tells
    > >Lawrence of the visit by Sykes to explore Hussein's post-war
    > thoughts. This
    > >letter does not conclusively prove that Lawrence did not know of the
    > >agreement, but it does suggest that he only knew of it second hand and no
    > >more than the Arabs themselves had come to suspect.
    > >
    > >God is in the details...
    > >
    > >So, I think this is the best I can do for now, Grant.
    > >
    > >Cheers,
    > >Lawry
    > >
    > Yes I think that you have it right there Lawry. My mother is a Lawrence
    > buff, and she has researched this too. She also agrees that Lawrence may
    > have suspected that there was some deception (see Lawrence, TE, "Seven
    > Pillars of Wisdom" BCA, London 1970, p.572-3).
    > IMO the deception was based in the British anti-Semitic sentiment (see the
    > Alien's Act, 1906). The support of Zionism was seen as an answer to the
    > 'Jewish problem', as mentioned in the Act.
    > I will add a quote, by way of giving a postscript to the deception and
    > showing the recipe for the ensuing disaster, from Lord Balfour.
    > Balfour was
    > both author of the 1917 declaration which re-classified Palestinian Arabs
    > as 'non-Jewish' Palestinians, and vocal supporter of the abovementioned
    > Act. In a memorandum to the Cabinet in 1919 Balfour wrote:
    > "In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of even
    > consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country…the four
    > Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong,
    > good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future
    > hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the
    > seven hundred thousand Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land…So far as
    > Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is
    > not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in the
    > letter, they have not always intended to violate" ( quoted in:
    > Weizmann, C.
    > "Trial and Error" London, 1950, p.115) .
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > see:

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 05 Dec 2002 - 15:05:41 GMT