237. Oppression (V)
Updated: May 12
T.E. Lawrence was, in a way, a prototypical “traveller”, a man who was alienated from Western civilisation; a man who would, in a sense, betray and cast aside his civilisation and speak out against the British Empire. Yet Lawrence was not amenable to Marxism or socialism; he admired the barbarian nomads: he held the nomads in high esteem because they maintained an austere code; they were a noble race who kept their word. They were illiterate, but with literacy comes lawyers and clever lies. The Arab is knightly: I swear this to you, and may my blood water the desert if I betray my word.
To admire this vital culture—as opposed to decadent British civilisation—was to be against Britain in a way that was medieval: pre-liberal, let alone pre-socialist. Indeed, Lawrence first visited the Middle East to sketch Crusader castles, to record medieval England in Arabia. This is what gives Lawrence a fascistic complexion: fascism sought to reanimate aristocratic social organisation with the tools of modernity. The fascist ideal was the airman, the airman brought back the knight of old—chivalrous, elitist, and individualistic—combined with the day’s most advanced technology, the aeroplane. Modern warfare had, in general, reduced man to a number: millions of men walked towards the enemy’s lines in WWI to be machine-gunned or gassed to death. There was little warriorship here, just the numbers game of attrition.
The airmen managed to recover the individual in modernity: those knights of the skies, men with names—“the Red Baron”, a natural aristocrat. Similarly, Lawrence waged a new type of war—guerrilla warfare—with primitive tribesmen against 19th-century technology; he blew up the Ottoman railway. Death to the steel beast, but death thru thoroughly modern dynamite.
Lawrence joined the Royal Air Force and he also served in the Tank Corps; both the most modern services in the British armed forces. In the RAF, he was involved in the design of speed boats to recover downed airmen. In short, he combined technology’s white hot edge with an ancient, pre-modern sensibility. His little cottage—Clouds Hill—is filled with wooden carvings and etchings, and yet it also contains then ultra-modern aluminium fittings; even in his home Lawrence combined the most antient with the modern; he died on a motorbike, another new invention—the modern technology most similar to a horse or camel, individualistic and dangerous.
Lawrence really stands for the survival of the individual in a high technology machine age; he was a cyborg. He certainly had an inhuman indifference to pain, just as a yogi or a cyborg would do; or just as the blond android “David” in Scott’s Prometheus does—a character who consciously models himself on Lawrence. The Promethean spirit strikes again. Lawrence died on his way to telegram his friend, the author Henry Williamson—a Mosleyite—and the rumour is that there was a desire for Lawrence to broker peace between the British and Hitler—well, maybe.
Lawrence was not against the Jews; he supported Zionism as a modernistic—dare we say “fascistic”, without prejudice—project in the Middle East. Yet Chaim Weizmann promised Lawrence that no Palestinian peasants would be displaced to build Israel: this did not transpire, and Lawrence, fanatical about his word, would have been chagrined at that—yet to think Israel could be built without the displacement of Palestinians was, perhaps, naïve on Lawrence’s part.
Lawrence remains an ambiguous figure for this reason: there has always been a streak among European diplomats, dubbed “the Arabists” by American Zionists, that prefers the Arabs and their aristocratic code of blood and honour over Israel and the Jews—a more slick and Pharisee-like people. Islam is almost ultra-Protestantism in its warrior-like iconoclastic monotheism—Hitler, Cromwell, and Mohammad are the same type of man—and Lawrence is the standard-bearer for this repressed side of European man: our bad conscience, that we did not keep our word to the Arabs and that the Middle East must burn until our promise is kept.