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Another Perspective: John E. Mack on Akaba

John E. Mack on efforts to demonstrate that Lawrence exaggerated his role in the Arab Revolt. Excerpt from Mack’s 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning biography A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence

“What of Lawrence himself and his role in the Revolt? In recent decades interest has become so focused upon the legendary or sensational aspects of Lawrence’s career….that sober appreciation of his accomplishments has been difficult….

There are, of course, distortions and partial truths in Seven Pillars, but these have less to do with the facts of Lawrence’s accomplishments than with embellishments of their details for dramatic purposes or with the protection of other people….

The subscribers edition of Seven Pillars….was sent to thirty officers who served in the Revolt….[None] of these men every questioned the veracity of Lawrence’s account. Concerning the attack and seizure of Aqaba by land, for example – the single exploit of the campaigns for which Lawrence is best known – he has been accused of undeservedly claiming credit for its strategy. Suleiman Mousa in particular states that ‘the plan for capturing Aqaba was devised by Faisal and Auda in Wejh.’ But Colonel Edouard Brémond, the leader of the French mission (who resented Lawrence), confirms that the plan was discussed in conference before [Auda] joined in the Revolt, and Jean Beraud Villars, a French biographer of Lawrence, who spoke with Colonel Stewart Newcombe about it, has stated: ‘Colonel Newcombe has confirmed that the Aqaba exploit was entirely conceived by Lawrence who was its real leader and animating spirit, although for reasons of diplomacy that are understandable the official command was left in the hands of the Arab chieftains. Theodora Duncan of California has corresponded with scores of men who were involved in the campaigns, many peripherally, but none has challenged Lawrence’s account of his role in them….

Worthy of particular mention here is the understandable reluctance of committed Arab nationalists to credit a foreigner with the leadership of their own war of liberation – and with a leadership both heroic and successful at that….

Without in any way reducing the value of what other Allied officers, British and French, accomplished in the Revolt, or detracting from the heroic efforts of the Arabs in their own behalf, the evidence, taken all together, supports the view that Lawrence was predominant in organizing, coordinating and shaping the Revolt, in conceiving its possibilities, in obtaining effective British support for it, and in transforming the raw energies of Arab frustration and idealism into an effective guerrilla movement of national liberation.”