16

It Says So In Your Dossier

I have been reading a biography of Lawrence of Arabia the past few days, Hero by Michael Korda, and it has directed my attention back to the magnificent film, Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  I have always thought highly of the below scene:

 

 

 

 

Veteran British actors Donald Wolfit and Claude Rains were at the top of their games.  Wolfit portrays General Archibald Murray as a military martinet.  Claude Rains is the cynical, intelligent and slightly sinister British civil functionary, Mr. Dryden, a fictional amalgamation of several historical figures.  Peter O’Toole, in his first major film role, gives the performance of his career as T.E. Lawrence, a mysterious messianic figure for the Arabs, driven more than half mad by what he experiences in the film.  Throughout his career O’Toole would specialize in characters who were close to being crazy.

The interesting thing about the scene is that Murray, clearly meant to be an unsympathetic character, says nothing but the truth.  The war against the Turks was a sideshow, and the revolt among some of the Bedouin against the Turks was  a sideshow of a sideshow, with all of it having close to zero impact on the outcome of World War I, which was decided by the fighting in France.

The scene also demonstrates the ability of film to mangle history.  Murray, rather than contemptuous of Lawrence, thought highly of him, and it was largely due to Lawrence’s reports that Murray supported the Arab Revolt.  Murray also, rather than being a military buffoon, was instrumental in amassing the forces that his successor General Edmund Allenby utilized with such smashing success.

The scene, as does the entire film,  rewards careful observation.  I have always regarded the following back and forth as wryly personally meaningful to me:

MURRAY
Now, the Arab Bureau seem to think you
would be of some use to them in Arabia.
Why? I can’t imagine! You don’t seem able
to perform your present duties properly.

LAWRENCE
I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great
state from a little city.

MURRAY
What!

LAWRENCE
Themistocles, sir. A Greek philosopher.

MURRAY
I know you’ve been well educated,
Lawrence. It says so in your dossier.

If any readers have not seen this film, they should remedy that lack as quickly as they can.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

16 Comments

  1. It is a great movie: beautifully photographed and outstandingly acted. It is tangentially true to the book and author’s intent.

    Coincidentally, I am re-reading Seven Pillars in its 1935 (first public issue) hard cover edition. From a October 2013 WSJ review: The book is a memoir of the Arab Revolt, epic in scale, lyric in execution, triumphant narrative and prose composition, nuanced personal portraits, romance of war and horrors of combat, exciting battle narratives, gorgeous desert descriptions, makes no excuses for failures, praises colleagues. At the close, Lawrence writes, “. . . then I knew how sorry I was.”

    Here is a fair quote from Book IX, Chapter XCIX, page 548, “The Last Preaching” set in Prince Feisal’s tent with various fighting sheiks. “Even I, the stranger, the godless fraud inspiring an alien nationality, felt a delivery from the hatred and eternal questioning of self; . . . ” Lawrence was fairly sure the British would not live up to their assurances regarding post-war independence. He struggles with this throughout. I see nothing in the book intimating that he liked killing or was a war-lover. It was more him challenging himself and doing his duty as he saw it; and was he careless of his safety and life. I am convinced that cynical) that the author’s intent was not to subtitle the book, “Or, How I Won The Arab Revolt.” That’s all my opinion for what it’s worth.

    Earlier in Chapter V he writes a sentence about how men act (conspiracy, revolution) to redress wrongs when “deprived of constitutional outlet . . . ” And, “. . . while opinions are arguable, convictions needed shooting to be cured, . . . ” Makes sense to me.

    Finally, Themistocles is credited with the quote; but I see him as an Athenian general and politician, less as a philosopher. He fought at Marathon and was general at Salamis.

  2. T Shaw wrote, ” Lawrence was fairly sure the British would not live up to their assurances regarding post-war independence.”

    The Balfour Declaration, which flatly contradicted both the Skyes-Picot agreement between Britain and France and the Husayn-McMahon correspondence, between the British High Commissioner in Egypt and the Emir of Mecca.

    As G K Chesterton wrote,
    “No battle-noise and no battle-news,
    But shaking of shekels and laughter of Jews,
    And a rattle of golden balls they toss
    High o’er the ruin of Crescent and Cross,
    And a usurer’s voice in cold command,
    These are the sounds from the Holy Land.”

  3. http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH1-Engi-t1-body-d18.html
    An interesting account of the NZ Field Engineers, part of the ANZAC force which included the Light Mounted Australian Horse which was victorious at the Charge on Beersheba.
    This may have been a minor part of WW I, but it did tie up many German troops in the Eastern Mediterranean. Despite the Galipoli disaster, many ANZAC troops remained in Egypt from which these lesser victories developed, while many , including my grandfather and three uncles, went and fought in the quagmire of the French/Belgian Western Front.

  4. Here is a curious family anecdote about Allenby’s campaign.

    Here is a curious family anecdote about Allenby’s campaign.

    At a meeting in London with Gen Allenby, my grandmother’s cousin, Gen Sir Belvoir de Lisle, GOC 1ST Cavalry Divison. “The Beaver,” as he was known from the British pronunciation of “Belvoir,” had told him that the Bible prophesied his victory.

    The Beaver’s prophecy, could well have been borne out by events. On Saturday 8 December, the first lesson from Morning Prayer was Isaiah 31: “For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also He will deliver it; and passing over He will preserve it” (Is. 31:4-5). It was also the Feast of Hanukkah, commemorating an earlier deliverance of Jerusalem by Judah Maccabeus

    As for the words, “As birds flying,” the Royal Flying Corps had complete air supremacy over Palestine and Allenby ordered British planes to make reconnaissance flights over Jerusalem and to drop leaflets calling upon the Turkish garrison to surrender, but directed them not to strafe or bomb the Holy City. With all of the British air activity, panic broke out among the garrison who had no air support to speak of, and the Turkish officers could not get the situation under control.

    In the event, Jerusalem was surrendered to General O’Shea at about 7 o’clock that evening

    Sir Belvoir, born in 1864, only died in 1955. As a schoolboy, I remember meeting him on several occasions, when he was visiting Scottish relations. Once, he inspected my horse’s bit with great contempt and snarled, “If you can’t ride that horse in a plain snaffle, you can’t ride that horse!” I have shunned “iron-mongery” ever since – Perhaps, the fulfilment of another Biblical prophecy: “that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice (Ps 51:8).

  5. “As G K Chesterton wrote,”

    Ah, Chesterton always had a bug up his bottom about the Jooos.

    “For if the advantage of the ideal to the Jews is to gain the promised land, the advantage to the Gentiles is to get rid of the Jewish problem, and I do not see why we should obtain all their advantage and none of our own. Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations, and to these I would give a special position best described as privilege; some sort of self-governing enclave with special laws and exemptions; for instance, I would certainly excuse them from conscription, which I think a gross injustice in their case. [Footnote: Of course the privileged exile would also lose the rights of a native.] A Jew might be treated as respectfully as a foreign ambassador, but a foreign ambassador is a foreigner. Finally, I would give the same privileged position to all Jews everywhere, as an alternative policy to Zionism, if Zionism failed by the test I have named; the only true and the only tolerable test; if the Jews had not so much failed as peasants as succeeded as capitalists.”

    Chesterton, The New Jerusalem, page 250. Chesterton supported Zionism in hopes that it would solve the “Jewish problem”. I do not believe that Chesterton was anti-Semitic, but, as in the above passage, his writings did contain anti-Semitic elements.

  6. Donald R McClarey wrote, “I do not believe that Chesterton was anti-Semitic.”

    He certainly was not, as your own quotation demonstrates: “I would certainly excuse them from conscription, which I think a gross injustice in their case.”

    In the context of the time, that is quite the reverse of Anti-Semitism. To demand that a Jew that happened to be living in, say, France for example, should be dragged from his homes and marched into battle (with bayonets at his back) to kill Jews, who happened to be living in Germany – and both of them, perhaps, with relatives living in Vilna, or Warsaw, or New York, strikes me as one of the grossest examples of tyranny that could well be imagined.

    “[T]o these I would give a special position best described as privilege; some sort of self-governing enclave with special laws and exemptions.”

    Friedrich Carl von Savigny, one of the greatest jurists of the 19th century demanded to know why, “instead of allowing communities of Mosaic faith to follow their own venerable traditions,” the Prussian government was attempting to impose on them “an alien code” in matters of family law and succession – A code alien both to Jews and Germans, namely, Roman law.

    Of course, Savigny is speaking, not of Jews as a racial group, a notion he would have treated with well-deserved derision, but of “Communities of Mosaic faith, a very different matter.

    Where Chesterton was wrong was in failing to recognise that many Jews see no incompatibility at all between their religion and their nationality as, say, Frenchmen and women. Two of my closest friends, my French law agent (whom I met as a fellow-prisoner in the Santé prison during Les événements de mai (1968)
    http://tinyurl.com/ya23j8kl
    and his wife, a Normalienne and a junior minister in the Jospin government (She is the granddaughter of an Algerian family granted French citizenship under the Cremieux decree of 1870) are perfect examples of this. Paris would not be Paris for me, without those happy Sunday lunches in Le Marais.

  7. “He certainly was not, as your own quotation demonstrates: “I would certainly excuse them from conscription, which I think a gross injustice in their case.””

    Because he believed that no Jew could ever be an Englishman. Chesterton was no anti-Semite as his statements against the Nazi persecution of the Jews indicated, but his attitude toward the Jews was that they were often dangerous aliens, and such statements provide a fertile field for anti-Semitism. Chesterton got a lot of his animus against the Jews from his more than half cracked brother who died shortly after World War I from an illness he contracted while serving on the Western Front.

  8. Donald R McClarey wrote, “Chesterton got a lot of his animus against the Jews from his more than half cracked brother”

    A stronger influence, I would suggest, was Hilaire Belloc, who famously declared, “Dreyfus may be innocent – But France is not guilty!” Belloc’s passionate defence of the French army, in which he had served, sometimes betrayed him into excesses against the cosmopolitan and anti-Christian elements in France who attacked it – “Jews” as he described them, “who are nothing more than German-speaking Orientals”

  9. I do not believe that Chesterton was anti-Semitic, but, as in the above passage, his writings did contain anti-Semitic elements.

    Interesting contrast with our own time, when people who have it in for the Jews usually express it by a reflexive hostility to Israel.

  10. Art Deco wrote,”Interesting contrast with our own time, when people who have it in for the Jews usually express it by a reflexive hostility to Israel.”

    Alain Finklekraut argues that traditionally anti-Semites were Nationalists: “the French who worship a cult of their identity and who love each other in opposition to Jews.” “Contemporary anti-Semitism,” however, is the domain of the French who “do not love each other, who think in terms of a post-national future, who rid themselves of their Frenchness to better identify with the poor of the Earth, and who, through Israel, group Jews in the camp of the oppressors.”

    That is true, not only in France, but of the Left in general. Pierre-Andre Taguieff speaks of a myth, constructed on the demonized figure of ‘Jews-Israelis-Zionists’ supported by the ‘Americans’ and in opposition to that, no less mythical, of the Palestinian Arab ‘innocent victims.’“ On one side, Taguieff continues, stands the “cosmopolitan Satan,” the unholy trinity ‘United States/Israel/The West.’ On the other side stands the “dominated and the oppressed.” Thus the new judeophobia recycles old stereotypes such as the rich Jew and the dominating Jew under the “varnish of progressivism.” The Jew is once more the stand-in for capitalism, imperialism, cosmopolitanism, indeed the whole economic order.

  11. Contemporary anti-Semitism,” however, is the domain of the French who “do not love each other, who think in terms of a post-national future, who rid themselves of their Frenchness to better identify with the poor of the Earth, and who, through Israel, group Jews in the camp of the oppressors.”

    Question them carefully, you’ll discover they identify with people much like themselves in Britain, the U.S., Belgium, Greece, despise their domestic wage-earners, and turn alien elements like West Bank Arabs into cardboard martyrs. (Wage earners in places like Hungary, Poland, and Alabama will be turned into depersonalized objects of contempt).

  12. Art Deco wrote, “Wage earners in places like Hungary, Poland, and Alabama will be turned into depersonalized objects of contempt.”

    Robert Redeker suggests that, after the Cold War, the Left has replaced “sovietophilia” with “islamophilia,” and that “Palestinians and the contemporary Muslim masses replace the proletariat in the intellectuals’ imagination” as the pure, ideal alternative to Western capitalism. (Le Monde, 11/21/01). In other words, absolute anti-Zionism is post-colonial contrition, coupled with a fetishisation of the ‘innocent’ Palestinians, which in turn results from the ideological need to fill the post-Soviet vacuum.

    For the Left, the proletariat in Hungary proved particularly disappointing, requiring the fraternal assistance of the Red Army to prevent the murder of peace-loving workers and peasants by fascist forces in 1956; Revisionists and dissidents in Poland betrayed the workers’ struggle and Alabama is part of the “Great Satan” (USA), The “Little Satan” being Zionist-occupied Palestine.

    What is remarkable is how these views have spread from the usual suspects to a movement consisting of “neo-Christian humanitarianism,” “third-worldists,” and anti-globalization activists,” as Taguieff dubs them. I have found that such ideas are commonplace among Catholic students and the JOC [(Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne)]

    My Jewish friends feel betrayal, by the growing anti-Zionism (and covert anti-Semitism) of the Left, which, in their imaginations, was always the old Left of Léon Blum and the Front Populaire

  13. Possibly it’s a definition issue– from reading stuff from that time, I know that there was a much more restrictive sense to the idea of being British; heck, even folks who founded the US who had ancestors here for generations were considered British or Scottish or what have you; the English my grandmother hated had lived in Scotland for generations.
    If it’s thought of more as a culture than as a country, then Chesterton isn’t being anti-Jew, he’s being accurate. He’d be pretty dang aware of the religious angle, what with the *cough* unpleasant history on if Catholics can be English in his mind….

    He might be wrong on if Jewish Culture, whatever that looks like, is compatible with various flavors of Christian National Culture, but we can look at the EU right now and see that the question of “does religion matter in being a member of a country” is not ridiculous at all. (We can look to the middle east and see centuries of it going on, for that matter….)

  14. Besides the great acting in the film “Lawrence..”, even accepting it as an improvisation on history, the haunting, pianissimo-to-fortissimo-and-back full-orchestra film score by the great Maurice Jarre (1924-2009) was Jarre’s first world-recognized achievement in the medium (he had written music for live theatre and some not-well-known films in France for about a decade, but never a film score as panoramic as “Lawrence” to that point) . It was
    his first collaboration with director David Lean and his first Academy Award (1962), when the Academy recognition was really something to be proud of and reflected truly outstanding professional accomplishment.
    ..
    One of Jarre’s musical “signatures” was his ability to bring back variations of his primary theme, later on intermingled with unique harmonic, sometimes regional folk melodies (Dr. Zhivago, Indochine, Ryan’s Daughter) that he has re-worked, motifs that wordlessly supplement the majestic David Lean canvas. (His style changed quite a bit later on, as you see in “Ghost”.)

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