One of the odd features of the recent Sound of Flanders programme on Radio 4 was a short segment which first claimed that Americans were unwilling to believe atrocity stories about the Germans (Really? the scriptwriters should take a look at some American war films, like The Heart of Humanity, in which the great von Stroheim tosses a baby out of the window before setting about a rape…). The programme went on to say that the propaganda effort needed a new wartime hero, and Lowell Thomas found Lawrence of Arabia, who fitted the bill.
I certainly wouldn’t argue with the idea that Lawrence was a construct of the media, with his actual achievements distorted by the legend. But this legend was surely not part of wartime propaganda. Lowell Thomas visited Arabia in 1918, but didn’t give his first lecture With Lawrence in Arabia until 9th March, 1919,in New York. The myth snowballed from there.
From what I can gather, Lawrence doesn’t feature in the 1918 news reporting of the Arabian campaign. I’ve skimmed through The Times reports for that year, anyway, and he doesn’t seem to get a mention.
The Lawrence cult is definitely a post-war phenomenon, and I think it’s a way of reasserting the possibility of an old-fashioned heroism after four years of modernity at its grimmest. Here is an individual making a difference in a wide-open war of movement – absolutely the opposite of the Western Front.