There have been many examinations of the life and exploits of Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO, better known as T.E. Lawrence, or even more so as “Lawrence of Arabia”. In this writer’s opinion, there can not be enough examinations of such an outstanding existence as the one lived by T.E. Lawrence. Perhaps the readers here will not learn anything new about the man from this short piece, but if all that you take from this piece is a reminder that such a human lived, and lived well, then that is enough. Obviously there are a great many things that we in our community of “freedomistas” and liberty lovers, or dare I call us guerrilla partisans at the risk of triggering an “ERPO”, can learn and apply to our cause going forward.
Born in Wales in 1888, T.E. Lawrence went on to become a British Army intelligence officer during World War I. He was sent to Saudi Arabia in 1916 where he eventually became involved in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. He used his strategic genius to guide guerrilla activities, counseled factions to work together, planned and executed guerrilla activities and worked up to the level of military advisor for high ranking personnel. Upon his arrival in the theatre, he quickly recognized that the forces he was fighting with were not at the level of the regular Turkish/Ottoman troops, and he therefore convinced and committed the local tribesmen to guerrilla warfare with great success.
In examining Lawrence’s writings and writings about him, we see the foundation of what it is to operate as a guerrilla force. Attacking supply lines, communications, striking the enemy at their weak points while avoiding their strengths. Lawrence was able to embed himself with the local Arab populations, blend in well (despite being unmistakably a white Brit) by learning “their language their manners and their mentality”, as said by General Allenby, and live amongst them for months at a time with little to no support from higher up any chain of command. If there is to be a “Guerrilla Warfare 101” textbook, let it be the life of T.E. Lawrence, or maybe more so, his autobiography “Revolt in the Desert”.
Having read several substantial texts on Lawrence, one takes notice of a favorite tactic, that is the destruction of railroads used by the Ottomans to move troops from one stronghold to another. On at least several occasions, Lawrence himself used explosives to destroy rails and trains, allowing his small band of Bedouin Arabs to outmatch larger numbers of soldiers who were focused on trying to escape the wreckage. This caused the Ottomans to commit larger amounts of resources to defending areas that otherwise had little strategic value. When the Ottomans moved soldiers to a location, Lawrence and his wild band of fighters would simply relocate and attack the next vulnerable target.
Likewise was his strategy against communication wires. It was an easy target that required minimal resources, minimal manpower, short time and just a small risk, while the Ottomans had to once again commit resources to repairing and defending the lines. Resources that were moved by rail. The main objective is to magnify your advantages, mitigate your disadvantages, while neutralizing or avoiding your enemy’s strengths and punishing their weaknesses. Only a few small victories by a guerrilla force can effectively demoralize a larger and well equipped enemy. Lawrence used this to great effect.
Another key point to be learned from Lawrence is a lesson in OPSEC. Operating in a guerrilla environment means one needs to be practicing OPSEC at all times, and Lawrence was a master at it, even keeping the details of some of his missions a secret from his own superiors.
Something else we can observe is how adept he was at climbing the hierarchy of whatever local leadership was in place, and getting himself into a position of great influence and trust. I’ve said before to people who know me that if you want to be famous or well known, get yourself elected to office. But if you want to have some real influence, find who is in charge and become their advisor. Lawrence was a natural at this, at one point gaining enough influence to convince military leadership of how to go about fighting in the theatre during the Arab Revolt.
I highly recommend reading T.E. Lawrence’s writings. There has possibly not been a better representation of a true guerrilla warrior in modern times, and it behooves us all to absorb what we can from the greats that came before us if we stand any chance at regaining what our enemies seek to take away.