How historically accurate was (the end of) "Lawrence of Arabia"?

At the end of the film Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence – by this time a dedicated Arab nationalist – tries to persuade the British authorities to give artillery to the Arabs. When he leaves the room, two Brit officials discuss the idea:
OFFICIAL #1: What do you think?

OFFICIAL #2: If we give them artillery, they’ll be independent.


OFFICIAL #2: Then we can’t let them have it.
It is also implied, though not clearly stated, that Lawrence wants a united Arabia – all Arab lands east of Egypt, with its capital at Damascus.

Did Lawrence really want this?

Did any Arabs really want it?

How did it happen that, instead, the world wound up with a plethora of Arab ministates?

Would things have gone any differently if Prince Faisal had been provided with artillery?

What role did oil play in these decisons? (Made in 1918, when oil was not quite as geopolitically important as it later became.)

Did Lawrence really want this?

What Lawrence really wanted can only be guessed at. Having seen the movie, read “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” (which is an interesting read) and seen an in depth documentary, I would guess that the answer is “yes”.

He made promises to the Arabs concerning self determination in order to get them to fight against the Turks in GB’s interest. He was aware that GB would very likely not keep his promises. I think it is fair to say that he was an “Arab-ophile” and generally sympathised with them and their desire (like anyone) to rule themselves. He was also an English army officer. By the end of the war he was very close to many Arabs. He was deeply deeply conflicted.

Almost certainly some did, such as, at the very least, those who thought they would rule over it.


Would any of that have anything to do with Lawrence being (like so, so many Arabs) gay?

Meant to add a :slight_smile: to the above, if that helps any.

I just finished watching this film again last night, so:

Actually this was in the middle of the film, not the end. Allenby agrees to give Lawrence everything he wants (money, rifles, armoured cars, artillery) and as soon as Lawrence walks out of the room the above conversation takes place.

They found his hand-drawn maps of his suggested division of the middle east a couple of years ago; there are more than one country but the Arabian peninsula was to be united, yes.

“Any” in the sense of “more than none”? Yes, Faisal of course for one. As portrayed in the film, many were still very tribal of course.

This is explicitly addressed toward the end of the film. The Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britian divided up the (ex-Ottoman) middle east between them. Not sure how you could have missed that, Claude Rains has a whole speech on the topic. The division was further formalised and refined in the Balfour Agreement and the Treaty of Sevres.

The mentality at the time was that artillery was “queen of the battlefield” and the experiences on the Western Front confirmed that. So I guess the film is saying undue importance was placed on artillery at the time. As the Arab army were irregular cavalry it’s unlikely a few guns would have made any real difference militarily during WWI, there were no seiges in that theatre. I suppose the real fear was what would happen to them after the war.

To be honest I’m not sure what stage of the move from coal to oil the Royal Navy was up to at the time. Certainly it was primarily coal and the RN had coaling stations set up around the world to keep the fleets going (eg that was the main purpose of the British ownership of the Faulkland Islands). But perhaps the RN could see the future was oil even then and if so that would mean that middle eastern oil would have been a major factor, yes. Interestingly the British got all the oil areas in the division (basically Iraq and the southern gulf coast) - make of that what you will.


No idea, but I don’t think it is necessary to surmise anything on that topic to explain his inner turmoil.

As stated before - the Sykes-Picot agreement, along with many smaller agreements and the Treaty of Versailles- divvyed up the former Ottoman Empire amongst the French and the British, who created Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel.

The rest of the Arabian penninsula was made up of tribes which became “formalized” as countries as time went on. Arabia was never unified, even at the height of the Saudi conquests.

Maybe. Faisal was elected King of Syria in 1920 before the French took control, and the French had to fight to oust him. Had he a few more divisions of artillery, maybe he wouldn’t have been so easy to displace, and he wouldn’t have been given Iraq to rule by the British. How significant a change that would be is debatable.

If you’re instead talking about unifying the Arabs, remember that there were two specific campaigns of Arab unity going on simultaneously: Faisal was trying to free the Ottoman Arabs while the Saudis were conquering the Penninsula Arabs. Faisal was uninvolved in the Saudi effort.

While not quite as important, it was still extremely important, especially to the British- most of the new naval ships being built were oil-burning, with coal being seen as too expensive (and too controlled by the Americans) to continue with.

The current shape of the state of Iraq was set up by the British specifically to include new oil fields that BP had discovered. Check out the book Banking on Baghdad by Edwin Black* for a good detailed look on how petroleum deposits helped determine how Iraq, Syria, and Jordan were shaped.

*Disclaimer: I was a footnoter for this book, therefore am biased as to how accurate I think it is. :wink:


I would second the reading of the book, I did both also and also found Seven Pillars of Wisdom a good read.