Mark Twain on war, patriotism and religion

We may not understand fully our prayers of war.

marktwainReading Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, I found a quote, noted by a soldier named Logan, who returned from Iraq, with a date for another deployment set.

“After six years in the military, he felt the collision of the cross and the sword and felt like he was trying to ‘serve two masters’…. Logan decided to file for conscientious status.” Because the military thought he was crazy, he got out of the service.

In a subsequent letter to the book authors, writing about his “redemptive work of reconciliation,” Logan included a quote from Mark Twain called The War Prayer, described as “a short story or prose poem… a scathing indictment of war, and particularly of blind patriotic and religious fervor as motivations for war… The piece was left unpublished by Mark Twain at his death in April 1910, largely due to pressure from his family, who feared that the story would be considered sacrilegious.” It was finally published in 1923, nearly twenty years after it was written.

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;… a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun… in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause…

Then The Stranger speaks:

“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 will 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.

We may not understand fully our prayers for war.

You can read the whole thing HERE.

See an animated rendition HERE or HERE.

A film reenactment an epilogue to the Public Television 1981 production: A Private History of A Campaign That Failed, with Edward Herrmann as the stranger, you can view HERE. Yet another iteration can be found HERE.

One more quote from Twain, in a speech from October 1907: “We build a fire in a powder magazine, then double the fire department to put it out. We inflame wild beasts with the smell of blood, and then innocently wonder at the wave of brutal appetite that sweeps the land as a consequence.”

Armed Forces Day is Saturday, May 16.