point of comparison, over the previous century, during which it had expanded its empire to five continents, the British Empire had been involved in some forty different conflicts around the globe—colonial insurrections mostly, but including the Crimean and Boer wars—and had lost some forty thousand soldiers in the process. Over the next four years, it would lose over twenty times that number. In the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, France had suffered an estimated 270,000 battlefield casualties; in the present war, it was to surpass that number in the first three weeks. In this conflict, Germany would see 13 percent of its military-age male population killed, Serbia 15 percent of its total population, while in just a two-year span, 1913 to 1915, the life expectancy of a French male would drop from fifty years to twenty-seven. So inured would the architects of the carnage become to such statistics that at the launch of his 1916 Somme offensive, British general Douglas Haig could look over the first day’s casualty rolls—with fifty-eight thousand Allied soldiers dead or wounded, it remains the bloodiest single day in the history of the English-speaking world—and judge that the numbers “cannot be considered severe.” The effect of all this on the collective European
When finally Lawrence and the others reached the culvert, they found one Turkish soldier dead and Farraj horribly wounded, shot through the side. With efforts to stanch his bleeding to no avail, Farraj’s companions attempted to lift him onto a camel, even as the young man begged to be left to die. The matter was rather decided when an alarm went up that a Turkish patrol of some fifty soldiers was approaching along the rails. Knowing the hideous end the Turks often perpetrated on enemy captives, Lawrence and his bodyguards had a tacit understanding to finish off any of their number too badly wounded to travel. With Farraj, this coup de grâce task fell to Lawrence. “I knelt down beside him, holding my pistol near the ground by his head so that he should not see my purpose, but he must have guessed it, for he opened his eyes and clutched me with his harsh, scaly hand, the tiny hand of these unripe Nejd fellows. I waited a moment, and he said, ‘Daud will be angry with you,’ the old smile coming back so strangely to this gray shrinking face. I replied, ‘salute him from me.’ He returned the formal answer, ‘God will give you peace,’ and at last wearily closed his eyes.” After shooting Farraj, Lawrence remounted his camel, and he and his entourage fled as the first Turkish bullets came for them.