Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thoughts on Mark Twain’s ‘The War Prayer’

Thoughts on Mark Twain’s ‘The War Prayer’

By David Lindorff, Sr.

When we say prayers to “support the troops,” we need to think about what that means for the civilian men, women and children who are being killed, maimed, driven from their homes, and terrorized in order that our prayers be answered, says TCBH! contributor and WWII veteran David Lindorff Sr.


By David Lindorff Sr.

David Lindorff Sr. was a Marine staff sergeant in World War II by ThisCantBeHappening

At the beginning of the twentieth century the United States was engaged in a long and brutal war of aggression against the Philippines, which led to between 200,000 and 1.5 million civilian deaths. It was a colonial war against independence fought by the US with patriotic zeal and of course, the claim that God was on our side. To be against the war in that jingoistic era was considered tantamount to treason. Hence it was a brazen act of effrontery for author Mark Twain to have made a statement denouncing the acts of brutality that accompanied this war. In his short story, The War Prayer , he portrayed a priest who, with fervor, called upon God to bring victory to a supposedly just cause, irrespective of the horror inflicted on the “enemy,” a poor and downtrodden people trying only to assert their freedom after centuries of colonial oppression.

Following an invocation from the Old-Testament and an enormous blast from the orgen “that shook the house,” the priest closed with,

“Bless our arms,

grant us the victory,

O Lord our God,

Father and Protector

of our land and flag.

It was then that attention shifted to an old man walking slowly down the aisle. With his eyes fixed on the gaunt face and long white hair of the approaching stranger, who was wearing a white robe that reached to his feet, the startled minister yielded his place at the altar. The strange interloper stood there for a time, seemingly unaware of the people sitting spellbound before him in the pews.

With eyes that showed an “uncanny light, he then said in a deep voice:

I come from the Throne —

bearing a message from Almighty God.”

These words were of course shocking. He continued:

He has heard the prayer

of the servant your shepherd

and will grant it

if such shall be your desire

after I, his messenger,

have explained to you its 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 that he pause and think. (Emphasis added)

For in truth there are two prayers embedded within any prayer for success in war, the spoken and the unspoken. The spoken word is a prayer for victory, but the unspoken prayer is asking for many unforeseen but terrible consequences. In granting the first, the second must follow in the form of “unmentioned results.” It is to these that Twain’s God had instructed the stranger to draw attention. It was to the second hidden prayer that the people needed “to listen.”


Help us

To tear their soldiers

to bloody shreds

with our shells.


Help us

to lay waste

their humble homes

with a hurricane of fire.



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.


My experience is limited to life in the 20th and 21st centuries, in which the atom bomb has been the first awakening. In World War II, when 30 million died, I wasn’t listening. In Vietnam, when two million were killed, I listened but too late.

As for the recent and present wars, which have killed more than a million people, I am trying now to listen.

President Kennedy famously said, “There will always be wars.”

Since this is probably true for the foreseeable future, we must strive to diminish the first prayer, and listen to what we are really asking for in the second when we pray for victory.

DAVID LINDORFF, Sr., an occasional contributor to ThisCantBeHappening! and the father of TCBH! founder Dave Lindorff, is a retired electrical engineer, a practicing Jungian analyst, and is author of Pauli and Jung: A Meeting of Two Great Minds (Quest Books, 2004). He lives with his wife Dottie in Mansfield, CT, and can be contacted by email–by-David-Lindorff-Sr-111213-449.html

Submitter: Dave Lindorff

Submitters Bio:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books (“This Can’t Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American Democracy” and “Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal”). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara Olshanshky, is “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin’s Press, May 2006).



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