Episode 7: T E Lawrence: Understanding Irregular Warfare’s Cultural and Human Terrain

Lawrence of Arabia has a legendary status as Britain’s most romantic strategic theorist-cum-practitioner; as ‘al-Lorans’, he won the hearts of many Arabs in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Dr Rob Johnson, the author of T E Lawrence’s most recent biography, joins Beatrice and Paul for this week’s episode.

T.E. Lawrence’s great classic article on ‘guerrilla warfare’ published after the First World War is that of a practitioner who could, from his own experience, note that much about this form of war is counter-intuitive. It is better that guerilla fighters own their flawed strategy and application, rather than execute ‘perfect’ strategy seen as a foreign achievement. This crucial tenet developed by Lawrence still holds true and must be kept in mind, whichever side one is on.

He ‘went native’ – and wrote about insurgency strategy from the point of view of the insurgent, not, as Major-General Sir Charles Edward Callwell did, from the point of view of the counter-insurgent.

Dr Rob Johnson has written T.E. Lawrence’s most recent biography: Lawrence of Arabia on War: The Campaign in the Desert 1916–18 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020). A scholar at the University of Oxford, Dr Johnson has for many years now run the prestigious “Changing Character of War” programme originally created by Professor Sir Hew Strachan. But he is now applying his great energy to directing the British Ministry of Defence’s office of Net Assessment. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own as an Oxford scholar, and must not be seen to represent the British defence establishment.

The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.

Further reading

Lawrence, T.E.: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (London: Cape, 1935 and earlier versions, also available as e-book)

Lawrence, T.E.: “Guerrilla Warfare”, Encyclopedia Britannica (14th edn, 1929), vol. 10.

Johnson, Robert: Lawrence of Arabia on War: The Campaign in the Desert 1916–18 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020)

Hill, Tom: “Reassessing T.E. Lawrence: Architect of a guerrilla campaign?”, RUSI Journal, Vol. 151, Issue 6 (12/2006)

George W. Gawrych: “T. E. Lawrence and the Art of War in the Twenty-First Century”, in Charles Strang (ed.): The Waking Dream of T.E. Lawrence (New York: Springer, 2022), pp.161-178.


Beatrice Heuser

Senior Associate Fellow

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Paul O’Neill

Senior Research Fellow

Military Sciences

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