Eighty-five years ago on May 19, 1935, Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence died as a result of a motorcycle accident in Dorset. So did Lawrence of Arabia, John Hume Ross, and T.E. Shaw, different names he adopted at various points in his short career.
Lawrence was a complex figure. He understood the Middle East. He visited the Palestinian area in 1909 and saw that the place, once a decent country, was a disaster: “the sooner the Jews farm it all the better. Their colonies are bright spots in a desert.”
His last years were an enigma. He was appointed a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford, resigned after a short time yet his headstone contains a simple statement, “Fellow of All Souls.” He joined the Royal Air Force, resigned and joined the Tank Corps of the army as a private.
He then rejoined the RAF under the name T.E. Shaw, presumably a tribute to GBS who was a friend, and gave him a motorcycle.
On May 19, the anniversary of his death at age 46, it is worth remembering, not the inaccurate portrait of Lawrence in the epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” but his legacy of sympathy for Zionism and his genuine pleas for Arab-Jewish conciliation and cooperation, a lesson for contemporary leaders in the Middle East.