Mark Twain on War

Twain wrote a story, The War Prayer, in which an aged stranger enters  a church where (quoting Lewis Lapham here, in an essay The Road To Babylon  in Harpers October 2002) the congregation has been listening to a “heroic sermon about the glory to be won in battle by young patriots armed with the love of God.”  He improvises a prayer of his own:

“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of ourbeloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us 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 in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in 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 pilgrimmage, 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.

The story didn’t get printed until 1923, thirteen years after Twain died. The editors thought it “unsuitable” to print at a moment of high and patriotic feeling, Lapham reports.

For the whole Twain story, see http://warprayer.org/.

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