Selections for 21st Century Conditions, from
SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM: A TRIUMPH by T.E. LAWRENCE [of Arabia]
DE LUXE EDITION, 1938, GARDEN CITY PUBLISHING CO.
selections and italics by QMS
“Rebellion was the gravest step which political men could take, and the success or failure of the Arab revolt was a gamble too hazardous for prophecy. Yet, for once, fortune favoured the bold player, and the Arab epic tossed up its stormy road from birth through weakness, pain and doubt, to red victory. It was the just end to an adventure which had dared so much, but after the victory there came a slow time of disillusion, and then a night in which the fighting men found that their hopes had failed them. Now, at last, may there have come to them the white peace of the end, in the knowledge that they achieved a deathless thing, a lucent inspiration to the children of their race.” 54
“The Sherif's rebellion had been unsatisfactory for the last few months: (standing still, which , with an irregular war, was the the prelude to disaster): and my suspicion was that its lack was leadership: not intellect, nor judgment, nor political wisdom, but the flame of enthusiasm, that would set the desert on fire.” 67
“Men have looked upon the desert as barren land, the free holding of whoever chose; but in fact each hill and valley in it had a man who was its acknowledged owner and would quickly assert the right of his family or claim to it, against aggression. Even the wells and trees had their masters, who allowed men to make firewood of the one and drink of the other freely, as much as was required for their need, but who would instantly check anyone trying to turn the property to account and to exploit it or its product among others for private benefit. The desert was held in a crazed communism by which Nature and the elements were for the free use of every known friendly person for his own purposes and no more.” 84
“Neither Sykes nor Picot had believed the thing really possible; but I knew that it was, and believed that after it the vigour of the Arab Movement would prevent the creation – by us or others – in Western Asia of unduly 'colonial' schemes of exploitation.” 132
“It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbors' beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed liked the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness. Doubtless they must recur so long as the causes – sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the desert-dwellers.” 148
“The first confusion was the false antithesis between strategy, the aim in war, the synoptic regard seeing each part relative to the whole, and tactics, the means towards a strategic end, the particular steps of its staircase. They seemed only points of view from which to ponder the elements of war.
The Algebraical element of things, a Biological element of lives, and the Psychological element of ideas. The algebraical element looked to me a pure science, subject to mathematical law, inhuman. It dealt with known variables, fixed conditions, space and time, inorganic things like hills and climates and railways, with mankind in type-masses too great for individual variety, with all artificial aids and the extensions given our faculties by mathematical invention. It was essentially formulable.
… calculate how many square miles? … And how would the Turks defend all that? No doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if we came like an army with banners; but suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, in vulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man's mind; and as we wanted nothing material to live on, so might we offer nothing material to the killing.” 192
[about the Turks and Germans] “They would believe that rebellion was absolute like war, and deal with it on the analogy of war. Analogy in human things was fudge, anyhow; and war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.” 193
[on the art of war, defined by “war philosophers”, based on “the biological factor”; reserves, #s, “effusion of blood”:] “A line of variability, Man, persisted like leaven through its estimates, making them irregular.” 193
“Nine-tenths of tactics were certain enough to be teachable in schools; but the irrational tenth was like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and in it lay the test of generals. It could be ensued only by instinct (sharpened by thought practising the stroke) until at the crisis it came naturally, a reflex.” 193
“The decision of what was critical would always be ours. Most wars were wars of contact, both forces striving into touch to avoid tactical surprise. Ours should be a war of detachment. We were to contain the enemy by the silent threat of a vast unknown desert, not disclosing ourselves until we attacked... We might turn our average into a rule (not a law, since war was antinomian) and develop a habit of never engaging the enemy.” 194
[on propaganda and preaching] “It was more subtle than tactics, and better worth doing, because it dealt with uncontrollables, with subjects incapable of direct command. It considered the capacity for mood of our men, their complexities and mutability, and the cultivation of whatever in them promised to profit our intention. We had to arrange their minds in order of battle just as carefully and as formally as other officers would arrange their bodies. And not only our own men's minds, though naturally they came first. We must also arrange the minds of the enemy, so far as we could reach them; then those other minds of the nation supporting us behind the firing line, since more than half the battle passed there in the back; then the minds of the enemy nation waiting the verdict; and of neutral; circle beyond circle... There were many humiliating material limits, but no moral impossibilities; so that the scope of our diathetical activities was unbounded.” 195
“We had nothing material to lose, so our best line was to defend nothing and shoot nothing. Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power. The invention of bully beef had profited us more than the invention of gunpowder, but gave us strategical rather than tactical strength, since in Arabia range was more than force, space greater than the power of armies.” 196
“'What will now happen with this knowledge?' asked Mohammed. 'We shall set to, and many learned and some clever men together will make glasses as more powerful than ours, as ours than Galileo's; and yet more hundreds of astronomers will distinguish and reckon yet more thousands of now unseen stars, mapping them, and giving each one its name. When we see them all, there will be no night in heaven.'
'Why are the Westerners always wanting all?' provokingly asked Auda. 'Behind our few stars we can see God, who is not behind your millions.' 'We want the world's end, Auda.' 'But that is God's,' complained Zaal, half angry. 'And has each the Prophet and heaven and hell?' Auda broke in on him. 'Lads, we know our districts, our camels, our women. The excess and the glory are to God. If the end of wisdom is to add star to star our foolishness is pleasing.” 282
“Jerusalem, was a squalid town, which every Semitic religion had made holy. Christians and Mohamedans came there on pilgrimage to the shrines of its past, and some Jews looked to it for the political future of their race. These united forces of past and the future were so strong that the city almost failed to have a present. Its people, with rare exceptions, were characterless as hotel servants, living on the crowd of visitors passing through. Ideals of Arab nationality were far from them...” 333
[on Syria and Syrians] “They were discontented always with what government they had; such being their intellectual pride; but few of them honestly thought out a working alternative, and fewer still agreed upon one... Some cried aloud for an Arab kingdom. These were usually Moslems; and the Catholic Christians would counter them by demanding European protection of a thelemic order, conferring privileges without obligation. Both proposals were, of course, far from the hearts of the national groups, who cried for autonomy for Syria, having a knowledge of what autonomy was, but not knowing Syria, for in Arabic there was no such name, nor any name for all the country any of them meant. The verbal poverty of their Rome-borrowed name indicated political disintegration. Between town and town, village and village, family and family, creed and creed, existed intimate jealousies sedulously fostered by the Turks. Time seemed to have proclaimed the impossibility of autonomous union for such a land. In history, Syria had been a corridor between sea and desert, joining Africa to Asia, Arabia to Europe. It had been a prize-ring, a vassal, of Anatolia, of Greece, of Rome, of Egypt, of Arabia, of Persia, of Mesopotamia. When given momentary independence by the weakness of neighbors it had fiercely resolved into discordant northern, southern, eastern and western 'kingdoms'... for if Syria was by nature a vassal country it was also by habit a country of tireless agitation and incessant revolt... The master-key of opinion lay in the common language: where also, lay the key of imagination... Patriotism, ordinarily of soil or race, was warped to a language... A second buttress of a polity of Arab motive was the dim glory of the early Khalifate, whose memory endured among the people... Yet we knew that these were dreams. Arab Government in Syria, thought buttressed on Arab prejudices, would be as much 'imposed' as the Turkish Government, or a foreign protectorate, or the historic Caliphate. Syria remained a vividly coloured racial and religious mosaic. Any wide attempt after unity would make a patched and parcelled thing, ungrateful to a people whose instincts ever returned toward parochial home rule.” 335-6
“Then would come reaction; but only after victory; and for victory everything material and moral might be pawned.” 337
“We should never try to improve an advantage. We should use the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest place.” 337
“In a real sense maximum disorder was our equilibrium.” 338
“Any of our Arabs could go home without penalty whenever the conviction failed him: the only contract was honour.” 339
“The deeper the discipline, the lower was the individual excellence; also the more sure the performance. By this substitution of a sure job for a possible masterpiece, military science made a deliberate sacrifice of capacity in order to reduce the uncertain element, the bionomic factor, in enlisted humanity. Discipline's necessary accompaniment was compound or social war – that form in which the fighting man was the product of the multiplied exertions of a long hierarchy, from workshop to supply unit, which kept him active on the field.
The Arab war should react against this, and be simple and individual. Every enrolled man should serve in the line of battle and be self-contained there. The efficiency of our forces was the personal efficiency of the single man. It seemed to me that, in our articulated war, the sum yielded by single men would at least equal the product of a compound system of the same strength.” 339
“Guerillas must be allowed liberal work room: in irregular war, of two men together, one was being wasted. Our ideal should be to make our battle a series of single combats, our ranks a happy alliance of agile commanders-in-chief.” 340
“We went about in parties, not in stiff formation, and their aeroplanes failed to estimate us. No spies could count us, either, since even ourselves had not the smallest idea of our strength at any given moment. On the other hand, we knew them exactly; each single unit, and every man they moved. They treated us as regulars, and before venturing a move against us calculated the total force could meet them with. We, less orthodox, knew exactly what they would meet us with. “This was our balance. For these years the Arab Movement lived on the exhilarating but slippery tableland between 'could' and 'would'. We allowed no margin for accident: indeed 'no margins' was the Akaba motto, continuously in the mouths of all.” 381
“the civil population of the enemy area was wholly ours without pay or persuasion. In consequence our intelligence service was the widest, fullest and most certain imaginable.” 385
“We underestimated the crippling effect of Allenby's too plentiful artillery, and the cumbrous intricacy of his infantry and cavalry, which moved only with rheumatic slowness.” 385
“Yet I could not explain to Allenby the whole Arab situation, nor disclose the full British plan to Feisal.” 386
[on the revolt of the Arab peasantry] “They could only rise once, and their effort on that occasion must be decisive.” 386
“I weighed the English army in my mind, and could not honestly assure myself of them. The men were often gallant fighters, but their generals as often gave away in stupidity what they had gained in ignorance.” 386
“The abstraction of the desert landscape cleansed me, and rendered my mind vacant with its superfluous greatness: a greatness achieved not by the addition of thought to its emptiness, but by its subtraction. In the weakness of earth's life was mirrored the strength of heaven, so vast, so beautiful, so strong.” 512
“I explained that we should live on the country. Young thought it a poor country to live on. I called it very good.” 541
“I had been told the theory, could repeat some of it: but it was in my head, and rules of action were only snares of action till they had run out of the empty head into the hands, by use.” 618
“My head was working full speed in these minutes, on our joint behalf, to prevent the fatal first steps by which the unimaginative British, with the best will in the world, usually deprived the acquiescent native of the discipline of responsibility, and created a situation which called for years of agitation and successive reforms and riotings to mend.” 636
“I had studied Barrow and was ready for him. Years before, he had published his confession of faith in Fear as the common people's main incentive to action in war and peace. Now I found fear a mean, overrated motive; no deterrent, and, thought a stimulant, a poisonous stimulant, whose every injection served to consume more of the system to which it was applied. I could have no alliance with his pedant belief of scaring men into heaven... My instinct with the inevitable was to provoke it.” 636
“Our aim was an Arab Government, with foundations large and native enough to employ the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the rebellion, translated into terms of peace. We had to save some of the old prophetic personality upon a substructure to carry that ninety per cent of the population who had been too solid to rebel, and on whose solidity the new State must rest.
Rebels, especially successful rebels, were of necessity bad subjects and worse governors. Feisal's sorry duty would be to rid himself of his war-friends, and replace them by those elements which had been most useful to the Turkish Government...
Quickly they collected the nucleus of a staff, and plunged ahead as a team. History told us the steps were humdrum: appointments, offices and departmental routine. First the police. A commandant and assistants were chosen: districts allotted: provisional wages, indents, uniform, responsibilities. The machine began to function.” 649
“anyone who pushed through to success a rebellion of the weak against their masters must come out of it so strained in estimation that afterward nothing in the world would make him feel clean.” 659
“We took Damascus, and I feared. More than three arbitrary days would have quickened in me a root of authority. There remained historical ambition, insubstantial as a motive by itself. I had dreamed, at the City School in Oxford, of hustling into form, while I lived, the new Asia which time was inexorably bringing upon us. Mecca was to lead to Damascus; Damascus to Anatolia, and afterwards to Bagdad; and then there was Yemen. Fantasies, these will seem, to such as are able to call my beginning an ordinary effort.” 661