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Perspective: David Fromkin on Paris Conference

Excerpt from David Fromkin’s “The Importance of T.E. Lawrence,” The New Criterion, September 1986, Volume 10

“From 1916-1918 Lawrence was to be instrumental in keeping Hussein’s movement alive and in directing it along lines that proved helpful – though not of any vital importance- to the Allied war effort. It was creditable service that, however, had no material effect on the conduct or outcome of the war. It was rather in shaping the peace that T.E. and the Hejaz moment that he inspired made their mark. Britain’s new Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, wanted to take the whole of the Arab Middle East for the British Empire in the post war world: and it was here that Lawrence with a gift for self glorification that served his country’s purposes, was to prove so useful. Lawrence’s real achievement in his two years with the Arabians in the World War was to invent a role for Emir Hussein’s small band: a role so visible, that commanded so much attention and proved so easy to exaggerate that when the War was over, Britain could pretend that she could not honor her promise to deliver Syria to France, because Hussein (said the British, lying outrageously) had won Syrian the War. The pretense that Syria was liberated by the Arabs themselves. Pretense indeed: There were one million British troops fighting in the Middle East in 1918, and only thirty-five hundred Arabs, so on the face of it, it was Britain’s war. Hussein was Britain’s man; in pushing Hussein’s claims, Lawrence was advancing Britains’.”