The War Prayer

I may have mentioned I have been reading an excellent volume, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men.  I come upon poem after poem that demands and commands my attention.  I so much like this book that I purchased four copies, one for each son and one for my son-in-law.

war prayerLast week I read an intense ‘poem’ by Mark Twain, The War Prayer.”  I am surprised that I have never read it before.  A bit of wiki research reveals that the piece was not published until after Mr. Twain’s death.  He had been advised not to publish it due to its controversial topic.  The first link in this paragraph will take you to the entire “The War Prayer” piece as written by Mr. Twain; the second link will explain the background.

A few days ago, I asked a good friend to read it.  She read it with raised eyebrows.  “He only presents one side of the story,” she commented.  The back of the church was no place for controversy, so I let the comment pass.  All the while, I was thinking, “There is no other side.”  Here is the prayer.  You decide.

Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into 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 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 their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in 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 pilgrimmage, 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.

Mark Twain


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  1. This prayer presumes the innocence of the enemy and the aggression of the prayer. It seeks to shock us into foolish assumptions. Be careful Mark Twain, when presuming to know God’s justice and will.

  2. After reading the context, I’d like to share a quick story that happened to me when I was flying combat missions in SE Asia. My squadron commander and I were flying a mission together(OV-10s) in Cambodia. We had a lull in the mission, and I, for some reason, made a comment that, “God loves the North Vietnamese,too.” Later, my squadron commander and I became pretty good friends. He told me my words shook him up but stayed with him. He eventually decided to become a personal believer in Christ and even became our FAC association’s chaplain. I think those words I said have some connection to what Mark Twain was saying.

    1. I am certain your connection is true. I have come to acknowledge what Franciscan Richard Rohr calls patriotic idolatry. God loves Afghans just as much as he loves Americans. God loves Muslims no less than he does Christians. Back to Mark Twain, there is no just war.

  3. For these things we pray, in reality when going to war. Three “requirements” into this prayer to the Creator of all, I believe I caught on!! to Mr Twain. His message was made most clear to me in this manner. Thanks for the ‘jarring’ poem, Gene. maw