Special Sub-Topic: The War Prayer
|As the story begins, the country is raptly enthusiastic about the great war it is fighting and the glory of battles to be won. What does the author say about those who are against the war?|
They were silent out of concern for their own safety. Specifically, according to Twain, "...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."
|Twain sets the stage with a Sunday church service for the new volunteers going off to war. What text does the minister quote to begin his great prayer?
"God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!" --from a hymn by Henry F. Chorley. This text is used to introduce a passionate supplication for success in battle, climaxing with "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"
To be fair to Mr. Chorley, his hymn goes on to a less belligerent tone:
"God, the All-merciful, earth hath forsaken
Thy ways all holy and slighted Thy Word;
Let not Thy wrath in its terror awaken;
Give to us pardon and peace, O Lord.
So shall Thy people, with thankful devotion,
Praise Him who saved them from peril and sword,
Singing in chorus, from ocean to ocean,
Peace to the nations and praise to the Lord."
|The minister's "long prayer" is interrupted by a stranger who walks silently up the middle aisle. How does Twain describe this stranger?|
An old man with white hair and pale skin. Mark Twain wrote "The War Prayer" in 1904. At the time, the United States was five years into military operations in the Philippines against insurgents seeking self-rule. This conflict would continue until 1913, leaving over a million Filipinos dead.
|The stranger claims to have come "bearing a message from Almighty God."|
T. Twain originally submitted his story to "Harper's Bazaar". It was summarily rejected, with the explanation that it was "not quite suited to a woman's magazine." Twain had an exclusive contract with that publication's parent company, and as such the story went uncirculated until six years after his death.
|The stranger explains that God has heard the prayer of "His servant your shepherd," and is willing to grant it. What must the congregation do receive the boons they have asked for?|
Understand the full import of their prayer and still want it to be granted. To quote directly: "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."
Twain's work, expressly opposing United States domination of the Philippines, was countered by a number of esteemed imperialist authors. Perhaps the foremost of these, British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, penned these words of encouragement for American efforts in the faraway archipelago:
"Take up the White Man's burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild-
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child"
Again, judgments are left to the reader, though it may be hypothesized that Kipling may differ from his nowaday pro-war counterparts in candor - but perhaps not intent.
|The stranger points out a central problem in the minister's prayer: that it is really two prayers. What divides one prayer from another?|
One is uttered; one is not. "The War Prayer" was finally printed in November, 1916 by "Harper's Monthly". The publication was aimed at supporting Presidential incumbent Woodrow Wilson, who was ostensibly running on a peace platform. Ironically, the US would enter the war five months later.
|The stranger continues with an addendum to the minister's "great prayer". Which phrase goes in the blank?
"O Lord our God, help us to ____________"|
Tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells. According to Twain's illustrator, Dan Beard, Twain gave up trying to publish "The War Prayer". In Twain's own words: "Only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead." Twain also confided to his associate Joseph Twitchell that he was not "equal" to the task of publishing such a divisive work.
|Which of these does the stranger not ask of God in his addendum to the prayer?|
Help us to know if our cause is just. The stranger concludes: "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."
|What are the stranger's last words in the story?|
"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!". Though Twain gave up on publishing creative work against the Philippine-American War, he did not restrain himself in the editorial arena. In a 1900 piece in the "New York World", he wrote:
"There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it - perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands - but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector - not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now - why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation."
|As the story concludes, how does the audience react to the stranger's message?|
He is believed to be insane, since what he said obviously made no sense. Indeed, opposition to the war Twain was referring to was relatively sparse, and public awareness of the issues was not high: many Americans believed that the majority of Filipinos wanted to join the United States, which General Arthur MacArthur was chagrined to find not at all true. Even today, memorials to the Philippine-American War usually combine it with the Spanish-American War, even though hostilities with Spain only lasted about four months - compared to over a decade of conflict in the Philippines.
"The War Prayer" can be read in its entirety here: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_War_Prayer
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