Artist's Comments

December 1934 portrait
T.E. Lawrence, 1888-1935

My drawing.

About the Subject

The subject is the British Intelligence officer (Lieutenant Colonel) Thomas Edward Lawrence whose exploits in Arabia in WW1 are romanticized in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence's mission in that war was to instigate uprisings by the indigenous Arabs of the Arabian peninsula against the colonial administration of the region which was then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. As a result of Turkey's alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary certain coveted portions of its empire now became fair game for augmenting the ailing British Empire.

With the bulk of the British army bogged down in trench warfare opposite the German army in France, Lawrence's proposal to arouse the Arabs to terrorism was irresistable. His tools of persuasion were gold and promises of independence. The moral twist here is that Lawrence naively believed in what he was doing while the British Foreign Office secretly pursued its imperialistic goals by negotiating the Sykes-Picot Agreement with its ally France in 1916 which defined their respective spheres of interest in the region. Public knowledge of this agreement would have seriously undermined Lawrence's efforts, including his own morale.

In fact the Sykes-Picot Agreement did became public in November of 1917 and the circumstances under which this occurred are quite interesting.

At the start of the war in August 1914, the leadership within the Social Democratic parties, and thus the parties themselves, on both sides of the war supported their respective governments. However, as the war dragged on and the casualties mounted into the millions, the left wingers within these parties who had opposed the war from the beginning began to influence public opinion.

The most prominent of the anti-war leaders were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg from the Social Democratic Party of Germany and V.I. Lenin of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. These leaders ascribed the war to the natural functioning of capitalism: Rosa Luxemburg published her pamphlet Spartacus Letters containing the famous phrase, "Socialism or barbarism," and Lenin published his book, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

One of the left criticisms of the war was that it was a war of imperialism in which the belligerents hoped to gain territory. Out of this grew the left wing slogan, "No territorial acquisition." The propaganda apparatuses of the belligerents immediately denied that territorial acquisition was one of their war objectives.

In November 1917 a relatively bloodless revolution, fueled by public opposition to the war, triumphed in Russia. Czarist Russia had been allied with Britain and France and was privy to the secret protocols. One of the first moves of the new anti-war Russian government was to publish these secret agreements between the allies. One of them was the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

For a brief on-line biography of Lawrence click on the following link:

T.E. Lawrence biography