Revolt in the Desert describes, in Mr. Lawrence's own words, his military expeditions with the pseudo-military forces of the Arabs under Sherif Feisal, who was a son of Hussein, Grand Sherif of Mecca. Mr. Lawrence and Feisal spent much time together during these campaigns, ranging from Judda in what is now Saudi Arabia, to Damscus, in what is now Syria. The basic premise of Mr. Lawrence's involvement with these Arabs was so that he could serve as a liason between them and the British military who were stationed in the Middle East during the First World War.
I am sure that some of you have either seen the movie, "Lawrence of Arabia," or at least have heard of his name. Today, he is considered almost legendary because of what he managed to accomplish with his friends, the Arabs. His book helps to explain something of the Arab culture to the general public, how they are fiercely loyal to their leaders, how they have some of the best hospitality Lawrence has ever seen, how polite and respectful they are of their guests, and, how little credit the Arabs should have received from the British military and the British Government for their accomplishments.
Mr. Lawrence learned that he and his fellow Arab friends were considered something of a "side show" when compared with the rest of the war taking place on the European continent. He, Sherif Feisal and their allies, continued on with their struggle against the Ottoman Turks, who were allied with the Germans during the war. The basic strategy of Lawrence and company, was to lay explosives on the railroads, and try to destroy any supply trains that came through, as well as simply destroying the railroad tracks themselves. One of the most memorable passages from this book describes the setting of explosives charges and so, here is a two paragraph excerpt from pages 140-141:
"Back with our camels, we dumped the loads, and sent the animals to safe pasture near some undercut rocks from which the Arabs scraped salt. The freedmen carried down the Stokes gun with its shells; the Lewis guns; and the gelatine with its insulated wire, magneto and tools to the chosen place. The sergeants set up their toys on a terrace, while we went down to the bridge to dig a bed between the ends of two steel sleepers, wherein to hide my fifty pounds of gelatine. We had stripped off the paper wrapping of the individual explosive plugs and kneaded them together by help of the sun heat into a shaking jelly in a sandbag.
The burying of it was not easy. The embankment was steep, and in the sheltered pocket between it and the hill-side was a windlaid bank of sand. No one crossed this but myself, stepping carefully; yet I left unavoidable great prints over its smoothness. The ballast dug out from the track I had to gather in my cloak for carriage in repeated journeys to the culvert, whence it could be tipped naturally over the shingle bed of the water-course."
Imagine what it must have been like, to be in the blazing sun, going back and forth for two hours to bury a charge with which to destroy a supply train. At the same time, knowing that it was possible the charge would not go off. What they did was extremely risky, and should be given full credit by those who live today. T.E. Lawrence was a man who knew the culture, knew the history, knew the customs, of the Arabs and was able to make use of these facts to gather together a band of warriors who would normally never be able to join as one group. He had charisma, as well as the blessing of the Grand Sherif of Mecca.
He became great friends with Sherif Feisal, and was able to help them realize their dream of independence from the oppressive Ottoman Empire. While in official reports, the Middle East flank was considered less important than what occurred in Europe, the fact remains that Lawrence and the Arabs managed to draw many soldiers away from the front lines to deal with the "rabble" in Arabia. The success that Lawrence achieved has gone a long way, and today, we see an Arabia that holds much of its independence to Mr. Lawrence.
I recommend this book because it illustrates a culture that today we know practically nothing about, and that we need to know more about. The events of 9/11 showed me that the United States does not understand enough about other cultures to deal with them correctly, and not insult, or offend them. Reading Mr. Lawrence's book will be a great start for those who wish to learn about a culture that is older than our own by hundreds, if not thousands of years. Mr. Lawrence knew the Arab culture backwards and forwards, and would have gone on to do great things with them and the British government during the Second World War, had he not died in an accident.
It is impossible to imagine what a single individual could have done, but, judging by what he had done during the First World War, we cannot help but wonder. The Arab culture has many fascinating sides to it, and Lawrence used each and every one of them to his advantage, and the end result was the liberation of the Arabs from Ottoman rule. "Lawrence of Arabia" was a real man, a human being just as you and I are, but, he realized the potential of the scattered Arab tribes, and brought them to fulfill their dream. Independence is something shared by all cultures, in one form or the other, and Lawrence helped to achieve it for these errant Arab tribes.
Title: Revolt in the Desert