Monday, July 12, 2004

The War Prayer
By Mark Twain

In 1905, Twain wrote a piece called “The War Prayer” an attack on enthusiasm for war so scathing that it would not be published until after his death.

In it, young troops about to march off to battle gather in a church, where the minister prays for their victory. But then a stranger enters, wearing a white robe, and tells the congregation he has been sent from God to say he has heard their prayer and is willing to grant it…but only after the messenger explains what it really means.

God has actually received two prayers from the group, the stranger says: the one that the preacher spoke, but also a second, silent one that was in their hearts when they asked for victory. Then the messenger puts the unspoken prayer into words:

“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 their guns with the wounded, writing 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 their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sport 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 of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O, Lord and Thine shall be the praise and honor and glory now and ever, Amen.” (After a pause, “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

-From Mark Twain, An Illustrated Biography, G. Ward, D. Duncan & K. Burns

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