Kindergarten SoldierThe Military Thought of Lawrence of Arabia

Kindergarten SoldierThe Military Thought of Lawrence of Arabia
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  Kindergarten Soldier: The Military Thought of Lawrence of Arabia J. A. English  Military Affairs , Vol. 51, No. 1. (Jan., 1987), pp. 7-11. Stable URL:  Military Affairs  is currently published by Society for Military History.Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtainedprior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers,and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community takeadvantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact Nov 26 06:26:41 2007  Kindergarten Soldier: The Military Thought of Lawrence of rabia by J. A English Princess Patricia s Canadian Light Infantry I feel a fundamental crippling incuriousness about our officers. Too much body and too little head. HE slight irony in the foregoing expression of concern by Lawrence of Arabia was that he was physically a rather smallish man with a larger than normal head. He was described, nonetheless, as being incredibly tough. For two years he lived and fought with the Arabs; he wore Arab clothes, ate Arab food, and suffered Arab diseases and fleas. Though he con- sidered himself not a man of action, he made a point of doing anything the Arabs could do and doing it better. Able to ride a camel faster than many of them, he could reputedly also run alongside one that was moving and swing the roughly nine feet into its saddle easier than most others. Because of feats like this, the Arabs readily accepted him and were prepared to follow him to the ends of the earth. Yet, while he might have stepped from the pages of Kipling, Lawrence was more than an imperial hero; he was also a prophet, whose message was that war was not only an affair of flesh and blood, but one of ideas.' It is for this reason J NU RY 987 MI that the chronological development of his military thought should be of interest to practicing military professionals. Notwithstanding that Lawrence's Arab campaign was essen- tially a sideshow to a sideshow, a tussel in a turnip field, he wrote, its aura of high adventure and glamour thrust him into legend. With over 30 books written about him, he remains after Winston Churchill arguably the most renowned Englishman of the 20th century. His own Seven Pillars of Wisdom was ranked by the latter among the greatest books ever written in the English language. While literary quality alone ensures its place in this category, it also continues to stand as an essentially accurate account of the Arab Revolt. Yet it is more than epic history, for hidden within its pages is a profundity of military thought that remains relevant to this day. Lawrence's military leadership, moreover, has been compared with that of Marl- borough and Napoleon, on whose birthdate he was born. He has been hailed as the progenitor of modem guerrilla warfare and as the master from whom Orde Wingate and Lord Wave11 drew lessons of strategy and tactics; the man to whom, according to Sir Basil Liddell Hart, the widespread use of guerrilla warfare  from World War I1 onwards can be indirectly attrib~ted.~ y his own admission, however, Lawrence was unlike a soldier and hated soldiering '; he was essentially an Oxford intellectual who remained obdurately and often infuriatingly civilian be- neath his uniforms. 4 N a truly professional military sense, however, Lawrence was much in advance of most regular officers. And this was directly due to the depth and breadth of his personal learning. Around the age of fifteen he began to read what he subsequently described as the usual school boy stuff': Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World; Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula; Coxe's Marlborough; Mahan's Influence of Sea Power Upon History; and Henderson's Stonewall Jackson (the last, according to Liddell Hart, the bounds of many a Staff College student's horizon ). Mixed with these, Lawrence read many technical treatises by scholars of antiquity such as the Roman Vegetius and the Byzantine Procopius, military sec-retary to Belisarius, who practiced avoidance of pitched battles. Before and during his stay at Oxford, Lawrence also travelled five times to France to study castles and battlefields. He visited Crecy, Agincourt, Rocroi, Malplaquet, Valmy, Sedan, and several other Franco-Prussian fields of battle. He studied the tactics of Henry of Navarre and tried to re-fight the whole of Marlborough's wars. In pursuit of interests that were primarily medieval, he also claimed to have visited every 12th Century castle in France, England, and Wales, and went elaborately into siege manoeuvres. . . . Increasingly, the Crusades became the subject of his special interest, ultimately prompting his 1909 four-month tour of the Levant to study Crusader castles. On his return he submitted his thesis on The Military Architecture of the Crusades, which argued that the Crusaders had taken to the Middle East those very principles of military architecture that certain scholars had previously claimed the Crusaders brought from the Middle East.' Lawrence:~ Oxford curiosity eventually took him past the tactical campaigns of Hannibal, Belisarius, and Napoleon to Clausewitz and his school, to Caemmerer and Moltke, Goltz and the recent [post-18701 Frenchmen, all of whose books seemed to him to be very partial or one-sided. After looking at Jomini and Willisen, he discovered broader prin- ciples in Guibert, Bourcet, de Saxe, and 18th-century think- ers. Clausewitz, however, proved to be intellectually so much the master of them and his book so logical and fascinating, that Lawrence unconsciously . . . accepted his finality and came to believe in him. Thus it was that he also came to be obsessed by the dictum of Foch that the aim in modern absolute war was to seek the destruction of the organized forces of the enemy by the one process battle. To this point, of course, Lawrence's concerns centred mainly on the abstract, the theory and philosophy of warfare especially from the metaphysical side. With the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in June 1916, they would become more concrete. He would find himself as eminence grise to Emir Feisal compelled suddenly to action, to find an immediate equation between . . . book-reading and . [tactical] movements. ' The Revolt began with abortive attacks by inexperienced Arab tribesmen on Turkish ganisons in Medina and Mecca. While poor road communications shortly forced the Turks to abandon Mecca, they chose to dispatch an expeditionary force to Medina, which was linked by rail to the main Turkish Army in Syria. This force subsequently began to advance on Mecca and the Red Sea port of Rabegh, considered by many British officers to be the key to Mecca. The actual defence of Rabegh, however, was thought to depend largely on the availability of regular troops acting in concert with the Red Sea Fleet. Un- fortunately, these were not forthcoming in sufficient number, and when the Turks roughly swept aside Feisal's defending Arab irregulars deployed in what Lawrence had erroneously assessed as impregnable hills, both Rabegh and Yenbo were threatened. In January 1917, therefore, Lawrence and Feisal turned their backs on Mecca and Rabegh and marched 200 miles north via Yenbo to capture Wejh, from where they thought they could better cut Turkish rail communications. Their attention, clearly, remained fixed on Medina and on how to render it vulnerable to capture by severing its umbilical cord, the Damascus-Medina railroad. It was generally believed that the fall of Medina was a necessary preliminary to the further pro- gress of the Arab Revolt.' In the practical domain of warfare, Lawrence was obviously still a neophyte. This was to change in the course of the Hejaz campaign. While engaged in making every effort . to capture Medina, Lawrence fell painfully ill for a ten-day period at Abu Markha. Claiming that as usual in such circumstances his mind cleared and his senses sharpened, he began seriously to review and contemplate the nature and course of the Arab Revolt. It quickly dawned on him that the Hejaz War had actually been won with the capture of Wejh, but that no one had had wit to see it :* We were in occupation of 99 percent of the Hejaz. The Turks were welcome to the other fraction till peace or doomsday . This part of the war was over, so why bother about Medina? It was no base for us like Rabegh, no threat to the Turks like Wejh: just a blind alley for both. The Turks sat in it on the defensive, immobile, eating for food the transport animals which were to have moved them to Mecca, but for which there was no pasture in their now restricted lines. They were harmless sitting there; if we took them prisoner they cost us food and guards in Egypt; if we drove them northward into Syria, they would join the main Army blocking us in Sinai.' The movement to Wejh, in fact, modulated the enemy's action like a pendulum ; rather than enter Rabegh the Turks (who were almost there) fell back to Medina. There they split their forces: one half entrenched about the city; the other dis- persed throughout the length of the Hejaz railway to protect it from Arab irregular action. Lawrence could now see that even to cut the railway would be folly; the ideal was to keep his railway just working, but only just, with the maximum loss and discomfort. n Not surprisingly, Lawrence began to accept that it was pos- sible to follow the direction of de Saxe and attain victory without battle. He postulated, moreover, that because Arab irregulars constituted no organized force, a Turkish Foch could not really have an aim. It appeared to him, consequently, that the Fochian ideal represented but one highly extermi- native variety of war, no more absolute than another. Reminding himself that Clausewitz enumerated all sorts of war . . personal wars, joint-proxy duels, for dynastic reasons commercial wars, for trade objects, he ventured that the Arab aim was geographical, to extrude the Turks from all Arab-speaking lands. In accomplishing this aim, Turks might be killed, for they were disliked very much, but the killing of Turks in itself would never be an excuse or aim. If they would go quietly, the Arab Revolt would end; if not, blood would be shed to drive them out, but as little as possible. AVING generally determined the proper course of the Arab Revolt, Lawrence proceeded to juxtapose the whole house of war in its structural aspect, which was strategy, in its arrangements, which were tactics, and in the sentiment of its inhabitants, which was psychology. The first confusion he suspected was a seemingly false antithesis between strategy and tactics. To Lawrence, these were only points of view from which to ponder the elements of war. Like J.F.C. Fuller, Lawrence agreed there were three elements, but he declared them to be the Algebraical element of things, the Biological element of lives, and the Psychological element of ideas. The first element, or hecastics as Lawrence delighted in terming it, MILIT RY FF IRS  appeared to be purely scientific, subject to the laws of math- ematics, devoid of humanity, and essentially formulable. It dealt with known invariables, fied conditions, space and time, inorganic things like hills and climates and railways, with mankind in masses too great for individual variety assisted by mechanical means. In the Arab case, this aspect meant fo- cussing on how the Turks would defend the areas to be liberated. In Lawrence's view, it would no doubt take the form of a trench line across the bottom if we came like an army with banners. But, he reasoned, suppose we were an influence an idea, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man's mind, and as we wanted nothing material to live on, so perhaps we offered nothing material to the killing. It seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target. He would own the ground he sat on, and what he could poke his rifle at.12 Lawrence ultimately appreciated that the Turks would require roughly 600 000 men to subjugate Arab temtory; as they had but 100 000 troops available, however, the process would be messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife. 13 Lawrence's second element, which he called bionomics had to do with the breaking point, life and death, or less fially, wear and tear. In his opinion, Foch and other philosophers of war had made an art of it and elevated one aspect, the shedding of blood, as the price of victory. It was humanity in battle, a leavening of sensitive and illogical variability, against which generals guarded themselves by the device of a re- serve. It was not the nine-tenths of tactics certain enough to be teachable in schools, but rather the irrational tenth that could be felt mainly by instinct and remained forever the test of genera1s.Bionomics was not limited to humanity, how- ever, and carried over into material. In Lawrence's opinion, the key was to attack, not the Turkish Army but its materials; the destruction of a Turkish bridge or railway, machine or gun, or cache of high explosive was far more profitable than the death of a Turkish soldier. In the Arab Army, on the other hand, mate- rials were easier to replace than casualties. This naturally dictated a war of detachment in which attacks were launched, not necessarily against enemy weaknesses or even strengths, but, instead, against his most tactically accessible material. There thus developed an unconscious habit of never engaging the enemy at all. 14 The Turkish soldier was rarely given a target. Borrowing a word from Xenophon's Anabasis Lawrence described his third or Psychological element as diathetics. The scope of diathetics was unbounded; it encompassed propaganda and the motivation and conditioning of one's own soldiers in groups and as individuals. Essentially, it dealt with uncon- trollable~, ith subjects incapable of direct command. Begin- ning with his own troops Lawrence placed diathetics in per- spective as follows: We had to arrange their minds in order of battle, just as carefully and as formally as other officers arranged their bodies: not only our own men's minds, though them first: the minds of the enemy, so far as we could reach them: and thirdly, the mind of the nation supporting us behind the fiing-line, and the mind of the hostile nation waiting the verdict, and the neutrals looking on.Is In Lawrence's view, the diathethic was more than half the command. He saw war as not just a matter of weapons and bloodshed but of ideas and intellect. In the Arab Revolt regular forces were so scarce that irregulars could not let the meta- physical weapon rust unused. The effectiveness of the Arab army was based on the personal effectiveness of the individual fighter. l6 Lawrence concluded that the Algebraical element translated into terms of Arabia fitted like a glove. Bionomics, in turn, determined the tactical approach most appropriate for Arab tribesmen. Battles in Arabia were considered a mistake, the only direct benefit emanating from the amount of ammunition fired off by the enemy. They seemed to Lawrence impositions on the side which believed itself weaker, hazards made un- avoidable either by lack of land room or by the need to defend a material property dearer than the lives of soldiers. This was his refinement of de Saxe, to whom irrational battles were the refuge of fools. Clearly, the Arabs lacked hitting power, but as they had no material to lose, they had nothing really to defend. Their strength lay in speed and time, in bully beef rather than gunpowder. CCORDING to Liddell Hart, Lawrence was more deeply steeped in knowledge of war than any other general of the [Great] war. He was also, in the assessment of Brigadier Shelford Bidwell, able to say as much in one paragraph as Clausewitz says in a chapter. '* But if Lawrence's highly intellectual approach enabled him to master strategy, his tact- ical skill was founded upon practical experience and an im- pressive ability to appreciate a situation logically. Whenever he took a decision or adopted an alternative, it was only after studying every relevant and many an irrelevant factor. Arab tribal structure, religion, social customs, language, and appetites, as well as geography, were all at his finger-ends. He also had an excellent eye for ground. He quickly pointed out, for example, that an attempt to take Akaba from the seaward would disgorge attacking forces onto a beach where they would be as unfavourably placed as on Gallipoli [and] under observation and gun-fire from coastal granite hills, thousands of feet high, mpracticable for heavy troops: the passes through them being formidable defiles, very costly to assault or to cover. *O One can additionally sense Lawrence's feel for ground from the following topographical description related to his greatest victory, the battle of Tafiieh: The road dipped into a grove of fig-trees, knots of blue snaky boughs; bare, as they would be long after the rest of nature was grown green. Thence it turned eastward, to wind lengthily in the valley to the crest. I left it, climbing straight up the cliffs. [This] shortened my time appreciably, and very soon, at the top, I found a level bit, and then a last ridge overlooking the plateau. This last straight bank, with Byzantine foundations in it, seemed very proper for a reserve or ultimate line of defence for Tafileh. To be sure, we had no reserve as yet but here was their place. The tiny plain [of the coming battlefield] was about two miles across, bounded by low green ridges, and roughly triangular, with my reserve ridge as base.'l In fact, one could draw a parallel between Lawrence's masterful descriptions of ground in Seven Pillars of Wisdom and a soldier training for the sniper trade drawing panoramas. The first uses words; the second, sketches. Both are works of art. As Lawrence saw it, strategy was eternal, and the same and true, but tactics were the ever-changing languages through which it speaks. While a general could learn from Belisarius as from Haig, soldiers could not they had to know their means. 2z That Lawrence knew his means there can be little doubt. He was well acquainted with the use of demolitions and mines, and he took a keen interest in weaponry. While rejecting bayonets as unintelligent masses of steel, generally fatal to the fool behind them, he embraced the light automatic rifle. Ma- chine guns proper, except when mounted in armoured vehicles, were too heavy for the tempi of his battles; automatics such as the Lewis light machine gun or Hotchkiss (more resistant to mud and sand) were his preference. At one point his bodyguard of 8 men possessed 21 automatics. Manifesting a prescience far in advance of his era, he also said that were he to gain control of J NU RY 987
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