(I could be writing about the shameful antics of Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson but am really deep into a slice of history from over 100 years ago. Besides Johnson will undoubtedly do something equally embarrassing tomorrow.)
The topic of the Middle East, Ottoman Empire, and WWI has caught my attention these past weeks. With the book Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson comes the additional research I undertake, as with any topic that piques my interest.
There are four main characters that frame the book, with the most troubling being the ‘whisper-throated’ German diplomat Curt Prüfer. The intriguing American William Yale is one many can relate to other than how he treated his dad as the older man faced financial hardships. But his desire to see the world and explore it for Standard Oil allows for a carefree adventurous side that we all can identify with.
With books of this type, I have google search working as the pages turn. There are often so many spokes of the wheel to explore. That’s how I found this.
At this point in his privileged life his dad lost all his money in the Panic of 1907. With little prospects, young Bill Yale took whatever job he could get to pay for his tuition. In 1913, while working as an oil drilling roustabout in Oklahoma, he was accepted into Standard Oil’s Foreign Service School. After three months of training he was sent to the Middle East. There he was to pretend he was a wealthy playboy on a vacation through the deserts of Syria. In truth, he was secretly looking for unknown oil deposits. Soon he knew all the major players in the Middle East in his role as a bridge-playing womanizer in Jerusalem. In time, he succeeded in acquiring for Standard Oil the rights to drill for oil on a half-million acres of potentially rich sites.
Among the first people he met in Syria was T. E. Lawrence, the man who would later be remembered as Lawrence of Arabia. In time, they developed a close friendship based on the common bond of being the same age and living through the horrors of war. Soon, they both began to wear flowing Arab robes and sandals as their everyday garb. In 1914, Yale also met, and fell in love with socialite Edith Hanna, the niece of the American presidential kingmaker Sen. Mark Hanna, who was on a tour of the holy land. She had grown up in Cleveland, Ohio, but had moved to England in 1913. The start of the First World War in 1914 separated them for the next four years. She returned to London where she was a volunteer nurse caring for blinded soldiers. Their love letters had to be sneaked back and forth through neutral Switzerland.
During the war, Bill volunteered with the American Army but was instead was ordered by the State Department to report to General Sir Edmund Allenby’s headquarters, the British officer in charge of forces in Egypt. He would be America’s only special agent in the Middle East and his spying reports were eagerly read by the State Department and President Wilson. He, like Lawrence, had become very pro-Arab and anti-imperialistic.
After the war President Wilson appointed Yale to the Paris Peace Conference and King-Crane Commission set up to decide the division of the former Turkish Empire in the Middle East. Yale knew the Arab leaders trusted America and would eagerly accept temporary control by the U.S. until they could form their own stable governments.
Unfortunately, everything Yale and Lawrence proposed was ignored by the gray-headed diplomats from Britain and France. These imperialists reneged on the promises they had made during the war and took over Lebanon, Syria, the Palestine, and Egypt creating much hatred toward the West. If Yale and Lawrence had prevailed the world today might be significantly more peaceful.