The young lieutenant who had recently arrived in the Intelligence Department in Cairo did not impress. “He was an extremely youthful and, to our unseeing eyes, insignificant figure,“ recalled a more senior officer later, “with well-ruffled light hair, solitary pip on sleeve, minus belt, with peaked cap askew.”
It’s exactly a hundred years ago that T. E. Lawrence joined that small group of spooks. Today the world is still debating the consequences of the ideas, adventures and influence of that rather scruffy officer. There was a breathtaking arrogance to the world view of his British commanders who had taken charge of Egypt, pronouncing it to be under their “protection” in their recently-declared war against the Ottoman Empire and their German allies.
Lawrence wasn’t familiar to most of his colleagues; the few who knew him thought he was ill-suited to be in any army. By habit he was a loner, but he was a brilliant specialist in a field that had suddenly become of vital military importance, the tribes of Arabia. That kind of knowledge made him the perfect tool for the mission in hand: overriding indigenous cultures and movements for political independence in order to “make the world safer” for western interests.