TheWar 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

                     The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and
                     took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in
                     which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

                     "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.

                     "God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer?
                     No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all
                     supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. 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.

                     "You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into
                     words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently
                     prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words:
                     'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole   of the uttered prayer is compact
                     into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you
                     have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must   follow it, cannot help but
                     follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth
                     me to put it into words. Listen!

                     "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 fire sides 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.

                     [After a pause.  ] "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- The messenger of the Most High

                     It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.



                                                                               The Mysterious Stranger
                                                    (Excerpt from Chapter 9)
                                                          by Mark Twain

                     "Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that large defect in your race -- the
                     individual's distrust of his neighbor, and his desire, for safety's or comfort's sake, to stand well in his
                     neighbor's eye. These institutions will always remain, and always flourish, and always oppress you,
                     affront you, and degrade you, because you will always be and remain slaves of minorities. There was
                     never a country where the majority of the people were in their secret hearts loyal to any of these

                     I did not like to hear our race called sheep, and said I did not think they were.

                     "Still, it is true, lamb," said Satan. "Look at you in war -- what mutton you are, and how ridiculous!"

                     "In war? How?"

                     "There has never been a just one, never an honorable one -- on the part of the instigator of the war. I
                     can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The
                     loud little handful -- as usual -- will shout for the war. The pulpit will -- warily and cautiously -- object
                     -- at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there
                     should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no
                     necessity for it." Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and
                     reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it
                     will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out
                     and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform,
                     and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those
                     stoned speakers -- as earlier -- but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation -- pulpit and all
                     -- will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his
                     mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting
                     the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing
                     falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will
                     by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after
                     this process of grotesque self-deception."

back to