T.E. LAWRENCE AND THE ARAB CAUSE AT THE PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE

  Image of title page of Lawrence's book
 
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In January 1919 world leaders gathered in Paris to begin the process of deciding settlements and reparations following the armistice that ended the First World War. Onto this world stage stepped the Big Four: the American President Woodrow Wilson, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and the French Premier Georges Clemenceau. Others also gathered, some more famous, others less so: Ignace Paderewski, the famed pianist was now the Prime Minister of Poland; Jan Smuts, a lawyer turned general who had fought against the British in the Boer War, headed the delegation from South Africa; William (Billy) Hughes, the belligerent Prime Minister of Australia, ready to do battle with both the Americans and the British.

The agendas and purposes that these leaders brought to Paris were as varied as the characters that were hawking them. At one end of the spectrum came the idealist Wilson with his dream of a world without imperialism or colonialism and his Fourteen Points. At the other end of the spectrum was Clemenceau wishing to exact "revenge" (revanche) from Germany and to ensure French security. In between could be found many agendas: independence for Ireland, women's suffrage, a Jewish homeland. As one author put it, "The world ha[d] never seen anything quite like it and never will again."  (1)

Into this play stepped a character who was, by birthright at least, British. Yet his appearance in Arab head dress gave a clue that perhaps his allegiance did not necessarily lie entirely with his own government's position. The man was Thomas Edward Lawrence, soon to be immortalized as Lawrence of Arabia. He was destined to become a hero for every British schoolboy and his exploits, during his time in the sands of Arabia, were later re-created on the silver screen by David Lean.  (2) For now though, Lawrence was in Paris accompanying Prince Feisal ibn Hussein, allegedly a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed and a member of the ancient tribe of Hashemites. Feisal came to Paris as the self-proclaimed representative of the Arab world. Having fought alongside the Arabs in the campaign to defeat the Ottoman Turks, Lawrence now arrived in Paris as official interpreter for the Arabs as they pressed their claim for an independent Arab state.

Lawrence presented something of an enigma to those who encountered him. A brilliant scholar of middle-eastern archaeology and a skilled cartographer, Lawrence had immersed himself in Arab culture in a way that perhaps only an eccentric product of that uniquely English educational system known as Oxbridge could. Now he was in Paris, much to the chagrin of the French and the occasional embarrassment of the British.

This paper will describe the role played by T.E. Lawrence at the Paris Peace Conference. It will begin with a brief description of the background to the peace conference  (3) and then examine the relationship between Lawrence and the Arab cause. (4) An explanation of the Arab claims intended to be presented at the conference and the context of those claims (5) will be followed by a the actual negotiations at the conference to reach a final settlement in the Middle East, which will form the substance of this paper.

Andrew Clubb, Northern Virginia Community College
 
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