Aditya: “A Sword with Two Edges”: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and the End of Empire

Stubbs, Jonathan. “A Sword with Two Edges”: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and the End of Empire. Journal of American Studies of Turkey 37 (2013): 11-30. Web.
Stubbs begins his article by citing from the Quadrennial Defense Review Report of the United States Department of Defense where he quotes, “One historical example […] comes from the Arab revolt in 1917 in a distant theater of the First World War, when British Colonel T. E.Lawrence and a group of lightly armed Bedouin tribesmen seized the Ottoman port city of Aqaba (11).” This according to Stubbs presents the crux of his article, the contemporary relevance of someone like Lawrence. To him, Lawrence needs to be deeply examined before one sets out to apply his methods in the field, case in point here being Iraq.
Stubbs ironically highlights that it was an American who almost a century ago, brought Lawrence to the notice of the American Public. Lowell Thomas was an American war correspondent who had been granted exclusive access to the Arab theater of the war and was pivotal in forging what Stubbs calls, ‘the myth of Lawrence of Arabia’ (Stubbs 27).
Stubbs slowly begins to establish the long held British notions of the White Man’s Burden and how the Lawrence myth helps fortify American self doubt over its involvement in Iraq. Lawrence was painted as an exotic outsider who’s presence was necessary to civilize and consolidate the Arabs. He quotes a New York Times article from 1926 that essays the feeling, “[I]n the realm of high adventure undertaken at great risk for great ends there is no figure today more romantic and mysterious than that of Lawrence of Arabia” (Savage 3).
It is then that Stubbs enters into the idea of the film on the life of Lawrence, the colonial mindset that dictates how his life should be depicted begins in the early stages. The original scriptwriter, Michael Wilson had his own reservations of the film, “A man attempts to shed one identity (English) and to assume another (Arab). He cannot achieve the latter goal; neither can he turn back his previous identity and earlier values. In trying to serve two masters, Lawrence betrayed them both.” (Stubbs 17). The central flaw to this argument Stubbs believes is that Lawrence is not someone who can be viewed in black or white and that there are shades of grey to his identity. The shades of grey, Stubbs argues, takes root in Lawrence’s own autobiography, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” where Lawrence himself begins doubting his infallibility, he starts doubting the outcome of all his actions during the Arab revolt.
The cinematic aspect is discussed in detail by Stubbs who believes that the people who believed that the movie would unearth the mystery behind the man were disappointed to find that that notion was far from true and the movie depicts him in all his ambiguity.
Towards the end of his piece, Stubbs talks about the Imperial notion of the failure of Postcolonial Nationalism and how, the movie only reaffirms such Imperial views even though it was made in the 1960’s, a period where England’s image as a world power was already waning. Stubbs believes that Lawrence has always been a poster boy for the noble ideas behind Imperial expansionism; initially for Britain and now, in the present day, for the United States of America.
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