A few blond men

A few blond men

The other night, I watched “Lawrence of Arabia” on television and was shocked again by the first of my blond heroes.

Lawrence of Arabia, with his yellow hair and deep blue eyes, was the hero of a 1962 film with the same name, directed by David Lean and starring the brilliant Peter O’Toole. The film was based on the World War I adventures of Thomas Edward Lawrence, a British officer and man of letters.

The claim that Lawrence was a survivor of rape was first made by Richard Aldington and he was portrayed by David Lean as sadomasochistic. He was indeed captured by Ottoman Turks in Deraa in Syria in 1916 and subjected to humiliating beatings and sexual assault at the instigation of the governor.

Lawrence himself detailed what happened to him in his book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” in 1916. The suspicion Lawrence was homosexual was viewed as a shocking disclosure. The experience has had a profoundly negative affect on his concept of self and sexuality. (In his lifetime there were no counseling services available to men who had suffered sexual assault; they were expected to get on with their lives with a stiff upper lip.) T.E. Lawrence manifested all the classic symptoms: workaholism, depression, anger, an increased sense of vulnerability, destructive self image, emotionally distant. He was known to be asexual throughout the film and he seemed to have willingly chosen celibacy.

The film depicts Lawrence’s experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus. Its themes include Lawrence’s emotional struggle with the personal violence inherent in war, his personal identity and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army and his newfound comrades within the Arabian Desert tribes.

What captured my attention was the ferocity and viciousness in Lawrence’s attacks on the poor and underfed Turkish soldiers around Damascus. With his deep and piercing blue eyes Lawrence killed Turkish soldiers by the dozens with such a huge rage that even his Arab friend Sherif Ali, played by Omar Sharif, repeatedly said, “Stop.” At the end of the movie, Lawrence was leaving the scene of the war with British staff, devastated and dejected by his comrades. He was actually killed in a motorcycle accident in 1936, but he was made a key figure of the Arab liberation from the Turkish sovereignty.

That brings me to the second hero of this article: Alexei Petrovich Yermolov, 1777 - 1861. He was a Russian Imperial general of the 19th century who commanded Russian troops in the Caucasus War. Yermolov, in 1916 when at the rank of full artillery general, was responsible for robust Russian military policies in the Caucasus, where his name became a byword for brutality.

“Insecurity is the quintessential Russian national emotion,” says the brilliant American writer Robert D. Kaplan in his most recent book “The Revenge of Geography.” “The very flatness of Russia, extending from Europe to the Far East, with few natural borders anywhere and the tendency for scattered settlements as opposed to urban concentrations, has for long periods made for a landscape of anarchy”. He continues: “The Caucasus have contributed mightily to making the face of Russian imperialism hard. Such is often the destiny of land powers, who have often the need to conquer.”

“Yermolov was the most celebrated and, at the same time, the most hated of Russian commanders in the Caucasus Theater... He was responsible for implementing a series of policies that were at the time hailed as vehicles for civilizing the benighted Caucasus frontier but today might very well be called state-sponsored terrorism,” says the brilliant American scholar of the Causasus and writer of the book “The Ghost of Freedom.”

I recently bought a refrigerator magnet that shows the renowned actress Sophia Loren with a ginger cat, which bears a strange and uncanny resemblance to my ginger and white cat. When I discovered the resemblance between both Lawrence and Yermalov and that cat on Loren’s arms and my own cat, I was afraid.