One of the first books I read when my son left for his first tour of Iraq was TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Long regarded as the father of guerrilla warfare I have found his exquisite prose deeply prophetic and quoted him generously. Later I found that amongst generals involved with the Middle East theater of war, it was required reading.

Robert Fisk has penned an article in the Independent affirming the wisdom of Lawrence of Arabia in the current Iraq affair.

Writing of the Arab resistance to Turkish occupation in the 1914-18 war, he asks of the insurgents (in Iraq and elsewhere): “… suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapour…”

How typical of Lawrence to use the horror of gas warfare as a metaphor for insurgency. To control the land they occupied, he continued, the Turks “would have need of a fortified post every four square miles, and a post could not be less than 20 men. The Turks would need 600,000 men to meet the combined ill wills of all the local Arab people. They had 100,000 men available.”

General Shinseki concurred with those estimates and was fired for voicing opposition to Rumsfeld in the early stages of the invasion. Today it would appear that few if any of the generals leading our combat troops have read or taken seriously those hard learned truths of less than a century ago. In Vietnam they had an acronym REMFs (rear echelon motherfuckers) to describe those ‘leaders’ in the rear flank directing the front lines. The REMFs should reread Seven Pillars of Wisdom from the shelter of their fortified bunkers, their failure to do so has failed the troops they command.