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"The War Prayer" (a Christian PARABLE) by Mark Twain

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graphixtech Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 08:22 PM
Original message
"The War Prayer" (a Christian PARABLE) by Mark Twain
Edited on Mon Aug-29-05 08:24 PM by graphixtech
A Christian Republican friend recently shared this parable gem,
written by Mark Twain in 1905. It gave him pause.

It seems important to share Twain's wisdom today.


http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Mark-Twain

Mark Twain

The War Prayer




It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned 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 outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

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 sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors 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!"

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 all 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 aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, 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 preacher's side and stood there, waiting.
With shut lids the preacher, unconscious 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!"

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 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.

"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 unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their 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 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.

Note: Twain wrote The War Prayer during the Spanish-American War. It was submitted for publication, but on March 22, 1905, Harper's Bazaar rejected it as "not quite suited to a woman's magazine." Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard, to whom he had read the story, "I don't think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth." Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Mark Twain could not publish "The War Prayer" elsewhere and it remained unpublished until 1923.
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flyingfysh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 08:25 PM
Response to Original message
1. get the Harper Colphon edition of this story
It has the same text, but also several drawings to go with the text.

You can get it from Amazon.com, and probably lots of other places.
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Indykatie Donating Member (416 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 08:36 PM
Response to Original message
2. Jewel of a Story
Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed it!111
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BQueen Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 08:39 PM
Response to Original message
3. One of my favorites
actually did a thesis on "posthumous Twain" including this, "The Mysterious Stranger" and other works.

and yes, the illustrations make it even more heart-rending...
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johnaries Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 08:49 PM
Response to Original message
4. Thank you for posting this. I remember reading this in college.
In fact, I remember sitting in the dorm lounge reading it, the windows to my right with the sun streaming in. I can picture it still in my mind - that's the kind of impact it had on me. I think I had a date and read it while I was waiting for her. I don't remember the girl, but I remember the story.

It's amazing that true wisdom is as truly wise today as it was decades, hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
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FtWayneBlue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 09:13 PM
Response to Original message
5. I have just been reading Twain's collected tales,
Edited on Mon Aug-29-05 09:14 PM by FtWayneBlue
sketches, speeches and essays, 1891-1910, and came across it there, as well as the following gem:

"Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date)

Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.

I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps--
His night is marching on!

I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal; Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!"

We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;*
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgment seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!

In a sordid slime harmonious, Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom -- and for others' goods an itch --
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich --
Our god is marching on."


*In Manila the government has placed a certain industry under the protection of our flag.



c. 1901
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Tom Joad Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 09:37 PM
Response to Original message
6. More from Twain -- sounds like a critique of the Iraq war
From Mark Twain:
I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with the Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do.

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

Later Mark Twain signed a statement that read in part:

" steps be taken at once to stop the killing of prisoners, the
shooting without trial of suspected persons, the use of torture, the
wanton destruction of private property, and everywhere the barbarous
methods of waging war, which this nation from its infancy has ever
condemned.
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SheWhoMustBeObeyed Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 10:16 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. The more things change, eh?
Twain is among the greatest of our national treasures.
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graphixtech Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 11:58 PM
Response to Reply #6
9. Excellent
thanks for that addition.



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FtWayneBlue Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-29-05 10:17 PM
Response to Original message
8. Mark Twain was a patriot.
Edited on Mon Aug-29-05 10:19 PM by FtWayneBlue
pat-ri-ot n. One who loves his (or her) country and zealously guards its welfare.

So is Cindy Sheehan.

And all the other people against the illegal, immoral, and just plain stupid - war on Iraq.
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