>About a year and a half ago, I read T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and was captivated by it–the book gives amazing insight into the modern-day Iraq War and its participants–which I’ve already noted in an article I submitted to Small Wars Journal. From Lawrence and General Allenby’s unconventional views on war, to the overly-conventional views of the mainstream British leadership, to the inability of the Turks to deal with an Arab insurgency, to Lawrence’s planting of IEDs along the railways of Hejaz, the book is describes a situation eerily similar to our current conflict.
Unfortunately, like many great works, some have been guilty of taking Lawrence’s views on war well out of context. Most notably is a line he uses in one of his works advising British service members on how to advise the Arabs during their insurgency, which Lawrence says:
“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.
In The War Within, written by journalist Bob Woodward, General George Casey misattributes this quote to Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He also takes the quote out of context and completely misapplies it–the Iraqi government was not operating tolerably in the days prior to the Surge.
Fortunately, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman assists us in placing the story in context, and even provides a little humor on the subject of the book. If you’ve ever wondered why “Lawrence of Arabia” goes on for four hours and includes several hours’ worth of epic shots of Lawrence simply riding through the desert on a camel, you’ll find it amusing that the book is little different at times. Only Lawrence could describe himself riding along on a camel through a featureless desert for pages on end.
But with that said, I highly recommend reading the entire book, as it’s probably one of the best books I’ve read not simply for the military strategy involved, but also as a historical framework for the Middle East. Plus, it’s a marvelous adventure.