"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Asymmetrical Warfare, cont.

To move the Arab Revolt north into the political hot zones would require a port to supply the Revolt. The place

Aqaba today. Note mountains behind town.

was obvious--the Ottoman port of Aqaba, at the tip of the Red Sea Gulf of Aqaba, at the extreme south of what is now Jordan. The problem was two-fold--Aqaba was in Turkish hands, and it was, in a sense, impregnable. The Arabs could request the Royal Navy to land an assault force at Aqaba, and they could probably have taken it. But again, the problem was two-fold. The British had no geopolitical vision of the Arab Revolt extending to the north of the Arabian Peninsula. And more practically, the lone track that led over the mountains and into the inland from Aqaba was heavily fortified, much more of a tactical challenge than the town of Aqaba itself, and liable to exact prohibitively high casualties from anyone who tried to force the way. After the apocalypse of Gallipoli, the English people has no more taste for attacking Turks in fortified positions, especially in the name of some exotic sideshow like the Arab Revolt.

But Lawrence and Feisal had just been given something better than the British Navy, if they played their cards right. For into Feisal's camp at Wejh had just ridden Auda abu Tayi, sheik of the Howeitat bedouin. Auda, in Lawrence's estimate, was "the greatest fighting man in Northern Arabia." The Howeitat were known wide and far for their belligerence, deriving much of their tribal wealth from raiding their neighbors. Auda was placing himself and his tribe at the service of the Revolt.

Now Lawrence happened to have seen some recently shot aerial photography taken by British reconnaisance planes, that included views of Wadi Itm, the mountain pass that led inland from Aqaba. From it, Lawrence could see that the Turkish fortifications in the pass were much more vulnerable to a force going down the pass from the inland, rather than one ascending it from the sea. Especially if said force could materialize by more or less complete surprise at the top, inland mouth of the pass.

And where could one typically find the black tents and the home pastures of the Howeitat? Why, in southern "Transjordania" as the British called it--a few day's ride, as it happened, from the mouth of Wadi Itm. But where were the Howeitat now?

The Howeitat were somewhere in Wadi Sirhan, the great dry watercourse that connects the northern Arabian Desert with the arable lands of the coast, the pasage from the nomadic to the settled. Reaching the Howeitat in Wadi Sirhan involved crossing some of the least hospitable country in northern Arabia, cutting through an outlier of the Great Nefud desert, and making it across something the Arabs called el Houl, the Terror. All told, it was a desert journey of abot 600 miles -- a huge loop from their current base on the Hejaz coast deep into the Arabian desert, and then back around again down to the sea at Aqaba.
They set off in May, 1917, with Auda, Lawrence, Sherif Nasir, the official Hashemite leader appointed by Feisal, and about forty bodyguards. The crossing was terrible, especially for an Englishman unused to Bedouin life. But they arrived intact at the tents of the Howeitat in their summer pasture in Wadi Sirhan. Auda succeeded in raising the Howeitat for the great raid, and they ultimately left the camp for Aqaba with about 500 of the most avid desert raiders in Arabia. After a string of diversionary raids and manouevers, they entered Wadi Itm, and found the Turkish fortifications falling like plums into their hands. No Turkish planner had anticipated a force of this size or organization to arise out of the disorganized, undisciplined Bedouin in their rear, who only made war on each other. One fort, at Abba el Lissan, held out until Auda, in a fit of pique, ordered an all-out, old-style camel charge. Lawrence, excitedly joining in, accidentally shot his camel through the head, and was sent hurtling head over heels into the sand. When he came to, the Turks had surrendered. The force then headed unopposed down the pass, through a driving sandstorm and entered Aqaba on July 6, 1917.

Hashemite/Howeitat forces entering Aqaba

From then on, the Arabs became a factor in the calculus of the great powers as they planned for the post-War East. And Lawrence's theories about the potential of the Arab Revolt became more than the fevered musings of one lone English eccentric in a black tent.

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