This article places the Middle East campaigns at the heart of the effort to understand the First World War's cultural impact in Britain. By doing so, it shows that the effects typically attributed to the western front—loss of faith in technology and heroism—were mediated in important ways by lessons emerging from the Middle Eastern fronts in Palestine and Mesopotamia, where the British found their faith in technology strengthened. By incorporating that cultural legacy, we can better understand why Britons remained committed to the war and why they maintained their faith in industrial development and imperial warfare after the war had ended. The heroic image of T. E. Lawrence and of the infrastructural development undertaken by the British military in Mesopotamia bolstered faith in technology and imperialism just when the western front was revealing their darker side. The article begins with a study of the unique military tactics the British adopted in the region, shaped by particular cultural notions about a largely imaginary “Arabia”: deception, irregular warfare, and airpower were used to an unprecedented degree in these campaigns. It goes on to show how the British government strove to capitalize on the propaganda effects of these “sideshows” as they became successful. In particular, they stressed the notion that the empire could find redemption in the restoration of the ancient “cradle of civilization.” Such ideas sustained idealistic notions even as the western front unleashed a new kind of cynicism.
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