Twain in March, 1905, was outraged by the American military invasion of the Philipines.
So he wrote "The War Prayer" and sent it to Harper's Bazaar. Being a women's magazine,
it was rejected. It wasn't published until after his death. World
War I had begun and publishers felt it more timely. It appeared in Harper's
Monthly, November, 1916.
The story unfolds on a Sunday morning when the
battalions were to leave for the front. The minister led a beautiful prayer for
the troops with great eloquence. How they "would bring the foe to flight" and
they "be submerged in golden seas of glory!"
A merciful and loving Father
God 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."
It was a lovely
and timely prayer. A prayer offered over and over before Mark Twain's time and
since. Then came the part no one wanted to utter or even think about.
After the minister's prayer "an aged stranger entered and moved with slow and
noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister."
come from the Throne--bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the
house with a shock; ..."
He continued, "He has heard the prayer of His
servant your shepherd, and will grant it..."
The stranger continues, "You
heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!'" The stranger goes
on to say he is there to express the unspoken part of the prayer, the part that
was in all their hearts, but they were unable to speak or dwell upon. He then
commanded the congregation to pray with them. "Listen!" He said as he held the
attention of the entire congregation.
Then the stranger prayed for their
"young patriots to smite the foe ... tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with
our shells ... help us to lay waste their humble homes ... help us to wring the
hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief ... " and on and on he
prayed about the horrors that would come to the other side if their prayers were
answered. The innocents. The homeless. The cripple and wounded.
concludes his prayer: "If you would 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."
Mark Twain ends his story with: "It was believed
afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said."
Along the Way with Britt,
September 5, 2009 Column