28 May 2007

The War Prayer

Kevin Drum teaches me something I didn't know.

In 1904, disgusted by the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War, Mark Twain wrote a short anti-war prose poem called "The War Prayer." His family begged him not to publish it, his friends advised him to bury it, and his publisher rejected it, thinking it too inflammatory for the times. Twain agreed, but instructed that it be published after his death, saying famously, "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth."

"The War Prayer" was eventually published after World War I, when its message was more in tune with the times.

The prayer:

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 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 the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
The editor of the Washington Monthly has made a video of The War Poem. Pretty Amazing.


  1. What's amazing is that you would post this on Memorial Day. At least you didn't actually desecrate flags, like some of your neighbors did.

    Reports of soldiers building schools and helping orphans don't make the papers in the PNW, I guess.

  2. Um, yes, because opposing war is pretty much equivalent to treason. I see where you are coming from now.

    The timing was no accident. Memorial day is, in my opinion, not a holiday for rah-rah jingoism, but a somber day to reflect on the human cost of war. This piece fit my mood perfectly.

    And as for the schools, you are right. Why doesn't the liberal media ever write about all those schools that *don't* blow up?

  3. Opposing war is one thing. Characterizing our soldiers as uncaring destroyers of homes and families on a day meant to memorialize their sacrifices is quite another. Not treasonous, but certainly in poor taste.

  4. I am very happy that these blogs have allowed me a chance to see so many interesting insights into medicine and the unique viewpoints of some of those in medicine on a variety of subjects. I have already found many opinions and beliefs of various bloggers that I know I don't agree with, but I also find many congruences. (not a comment on this point in any way). It is about a community of unique individuals and not clones and that is what is great. It is what is best about our country and the people in it. Thank you all!

  5. Thank you for posting that.
    I read it once in high school English, and was moved to tears. I subsequently lost track of both the name and author. I kept going back to the memory of it's message in the last several years.

    Thank you.


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