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The War Prayer

By Mark Twain  Posted by Ed Tubbs (about the submitter)     Permalink
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From time to time, oh, say perhaps once a year, I think it is useful to revisit The War Prayer, by Mark Twain. It has now been more than a year since I offered it for anyone’s reconsideration, and I think it’s once again time.

__From mid-June 1964 through mid-June 1967, I was an infantry soldier in the United States Army. Without going into details I’d just as soon not recount, suffice it to say that however I didn’t see much, I saw enough to know that no one should see any more, or that anyone should urge others to the terrible task that is war. I find that the most despicable cowards among us all too frequently are those cheering loudest on behalf of a flag and a cause he or she has no intention to defend.

__And I will say once again what has been lodged deep in my soul these past four decades: “No! you are NOT entitled to the first element of honor and pride that is purchased with the blood of those your own all too timid heart prefers to send forth. If the ‘job’ really is that important that it needs finishing, then pledge your own life and fortune to it, or, if you are too old and feeble, pledge the lives of your own children, and their fortunes; if the finishing of it is that important.” And this, though I hate to bring some up short, manning a position aboard an aircraft carrier, or on an Air Force tarmac many leagues from all peril just is not the same as looking that peril in the eye. Lastly know also that, no more than am I any longer today, ‘you’ are no part of the ‘we’ who are at war. Please, do not feign to try to speak for any of those who are. That consequent purchase you’ve no right to make.

 __ It is time.

_— Ed Tubbs

_     Palm Springs, CA 

The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

_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 spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread 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 outpourings 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 young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the 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 heroes, 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 the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear 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 with 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!"

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