Sunday, January 23, 2005

Mark Twain's War Prayer

Samuel Clemens was quite the character and his Mark Twain persona he used for writing was even more of a character. This great American writer did not happen to be a great fan of war. Quite a bit different then the traditional requirement of an American patriot i.e. you gots to love fighting although maybe not you in particular but other Americans fighting you should be stoked on that. Mark Twain was a deserter from a Confederate militia unit known as Marion's Rangers and became an outspoken critic of America's imperial ambitions in the turn of the century Philippines. He wrote the War Prayer as a result of the Philippines but it wasn't published until after his death. Basically he is saying everyone is too riled up with patriotism. When they pray to God to their sons in battle they are wishing evil things upon their neighbor.
Here is the actual prayer part:

You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of 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 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 unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their 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, imploring 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 the 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 afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

This short story is certianly still valid today in a world where being a patriot is synomous with being a cheerleader. Fox News, CNN, and virtually every Republican blog I have found bring this to a whole new mass media/information age level. Iraqi civilian casualties are dismissed even when five times the numbers of civillians have been killed by the American invasion of Iraq then were killed on 9/11. And thats at the absolute minimum and not taking into account the Lancet projection of 100,000 Iraqi deaths. The mass media creates telegenic heros such as Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman while often ignoring the cotinuing toll of the wounded.
More and more people have forgotten the words of Thomas Jefferson: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." Here I will finish off with Mark Twain's words- "Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it."


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