Monday, January 30, 2023

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

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The War Prayer by Mark Twain – Introduction by Dario Poli.

There is considerable visual evidence shown by the international media of wars large and small taking place around the world, and threats of new wars being openly discussed by professional pundits, politician, legal experts and business elites, most of whom have never been in a real conflict or faced personal danger and injury.


We the ordinary public going about our everyday business, are bombarded daily in the media outlets by the word ‘war’; the war on want, war on drugs, war on poverty, war on carbon, war on disease, war on crime, war on illiteracy, war against injustice, war of aggression, war of words, war against racism, war against intolerance and the war on terror.

Painful consequences

It appears that mankind is in a state of external war against its own social problems, the class war and now cyberwars, but with no solutions in sight.

We are told that war is the ‘price of freedom’. However from an historical perspective, in reality it usually results in the ‘loss of freedom’ when we engage in war. The subtile infiltration of the word ‘war’ into our subconcious is constant and needs to be understood as the ramifications can be very serious.

Any war enterprise however well prepared, is a hazardous, unpredictable undertaking, resulting in horrific experiences for those who fight them, as well as for the civilians, the animal life, the waste and contamination of our natural environment, not to mention the physiological and unending psychological trauma and problems of the victims. All suffer the painful consequences, including the enormous destruction of property, infrastructure and the irreplaceable loss of priceless art, culture and civilization.

Double speak

All this barbarity because of the deliberate intentions and actions, of those so few in number, using laws for war, created by the few for this purpose, who lead us the majority, into these risky adventures and horrendous conflicts, that in final analysis, come to an abrupt end usually due to immense material and human destruction, the high financial losses and the sheer exhaustion of the populations involved. Conflicts always have to be resolved by some form of dialogue and peaceful agreements, despite who is the winner and loser.

All wars by their very nature are vile, nasty and destructive, as the finest of our youth at the orders of the oldest, perish or are permanently disfigured in conflict. War heavily sustained by a suffocating blanket of misinformation and double speak, is death, murder, rape, torture, incarceration and ruin. War always destroys wealth and liberty and it can eradicate civilizations. According to George Orwell, ‘all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.’mark twain - 2, Apoclaypse-painting-dario-Poli

Apocalypse, painting Dario Poli.

The beating of the war drums

Amazingly despite all the above knowledge of war and its consequences, this peace normally holds until the next war breaks out and then the whole grizzly business begins again with renewed vigour, each side forcefully proclaiming their just cause, ingeniously holstered unto the trusting simplicity of the enthousiastically stimulated tribal patriotism of the majority of the populations of those involved, who still obediently follow the instructions and orders of the few, as if nothing had been learned from the previous tragedy, as they march meekly into the open doors of the house of carnage, to be savagely minced in the unmerciful war machine. Their cries of pity and fear vanishing unheeded into the universal ether, together with millions of tears washed away into a river of their precious blood.

Arthur Koestler observed ‘The most persistent sound which reverberates through men’s history is the beating of war drums.’

‘I confess without shame that I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is Hell.’ – Civil War Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Never a good war

Humans daily face thousands of ways of dying from accidents and a myriad of diseases waiting to take our lives, but this appears not to be sufficient danger for us to face. Instead we deliberately increase our own peril and survival by skillfully, often ingeniously and effectively increasing the levels of killings by wars. What an incredible waste of energy, time and resources. Wars need to end as there are no victories, and as Benjamin Franklin noted ‘there was never a good war or a bad peace’.

Mark Twain’s powerful The War Prayer is a reminder of the absurdity and stupidity of war, especially for those who have to fight them and is a timely warning to us all.  Dario Poli.mark twain - 6, Dead-Italians-Russian-front-1943

The War Prayer, by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burnt the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks  the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpooring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

The church filled

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front, the church was filled, the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams – visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabres, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden sees of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbours and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation – ‘God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!’

An aged stranger

Then came the ‘long’ prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main isle, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preachers’s side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconcious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, ‘Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!’

Is it one prayer?

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

‘I come from the Throne – bearing a message from the Almighty God!’The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. ‘He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.

‘God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! Lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

The unspoken part

‘You have heard your servant’s prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

‘O Lord our Father, our Young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, inploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen

After a pause

‘Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.

It was believed afterwards that the man was lunatic; because there was no sense in what he said.

Twain wrote The War Prayer during the U.S. war on the Philippines. Submitted it for publication, but on March 22, 1905, it was rejected as unsuitable by Harpers’s Bazaar. Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard, ‘I don’t think the prayer will be publisehd in my time. None of the dead are permitted to tell the truth.’ ‘The War Prayer’ remained unpublisehd until 1923.


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