Our Journey to Smile

Remembering Mark Twain with The War Prayer in Afghanistan

“The War Prayer,” a short story or prose poem by Mark Twain, was a scathing indictment of war, and particularly of blind patriotic and religious fervor as motivations for war. It was dictated by Mark [Samuel Clemens] in 1904 in advance of his death in 1910.

Outraged by American military intervention in the Philippines, Mark Twain wrote “The War Prayer”.

Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino revolutionary rebel leader, was fighting for the independence of the Philipines from Spain. In 1898, with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Aguinaldo unofficially allied with the United States, returned to the Philippines and resumed hostilities against the Spaniards.

By June, the rebels had conquered nearly all Spanish-held ground within the Philippines with the exception of Manila. Aguinaldo thus declared independence from Spain and the First Philippine Republic was established. However, neither Spain nor the United States recognized Philippine independence. Spanish rule in the islands only officially ended with the 1898 Treaty of Paris, wherein Spain ceded the Philippines and other territories to the United States.

United States would extend its sovereignty over the Islands, and thus in place of the old Spanish master a new one would step in.

The United States refused to allow the Filipinos to participate in taking Manila from Spain. The United States Navy waited for American reinforcements and, in August 13, 1898, captured the city in what may have been a staged battle. On 4 February, 1899, an American sentry patrolling near the border between the Filipino and American lines shot a Filipino soldier, after which Filipino forces returned fire, thus igniting a second battle for the city. Aguinaldo sent a ranking member of his staff to Ellwell Otis, the U.S. military commander, with the message that the firing had been against his orders. According to Aguinaldo, Otis replied, “The fighting, having begun, must go on to the grim end.”

The Philippines declared war against the United States on June 2, 1899, with Pedro Paterno, President of Congress, issuing a Proclamation of War. The Philippine–American War ensued between 1899, and 1902. The war officially ended in 1902, with the Philippine leaders accepting, for the most part, that the Americans had won.

‘The War Prayer’ was left unpublished by Mark Twain at his death, largely due to pressure from his family, who feared that the story would be considered sacrilegious.

In a letter to his confidant Joseph Twichell, Mark wrote that he had “suppressed” the story for seven years, even though his conscience told him to publish it, because he was not “equal” to the task.

“I have told the truth in that… and only dead men can tell the truth in this world.” Mark Twain

Today in Afghanistan, every day, the conventional wisdom of militarism in 2009 finds a focus in a global Great Game, in which Truth is a rare find, even through the best strategists and interpreters.

A Global Great Game in which Love has long since died.

“The War Prayer in Afghanistan” is imagined as a ‘prayer’ that any Muslim / Christian / non-religious ‘warrior’ in Afghanistan may pray. It may also be a cry of their loved ones at home, wherever home may be.

This prayer is purely fictional, emulating the same spirit of Mark Twain when he wrote the original War Prayer (printed at the end of this post), one of the many differences being that the voice that prays here isn’t that of a ‘lunatic sent by God’ but of an ordinary, sane 21st century person.

The OR-s  in bold reflect minor differences in the terminologies that may be used by the different faiths; it is obvious that the vast majority of the prayer lines are mostly similar between the faiths.

the war prayer

Please watch 2 cherry-picking Afghan boys ‘pray’ for Afghanistan


The War Prayer in Afghanistan

It was a time of great and exalting excitement.  The country was up in arms, the war was on….

Have mercy on us, oh merciful and compassionate God, we are fearful and terrified!

We have to win!

We have to protect the women, children and civilians of Afghanistan. We have to protect the authority and government which You appoint, however corrupt they may be.

Most necessary of all, we have to destroy every mud corner that is the safe haven of the disguised insurgent ( oh, they all look alike  but You are omniscient and can help us to identify the true insurgent ) OR most merit-chalking of all, we have to destroy every armored vehicle that is the safe haven of the foreign trooper.

We have to remove every one of Your enemies.

Thank You, Almighty One, that You are our One and Only God, and that You are on our side. They, the enemies whom we and whom You and the whole world hate, are already defeated.

Yes, we are grateful and encouraged that civilization, guided by our higher moral obligations, has matured enough to view this as a holy war, a just war or at least, a good war.

We cannot thank you enough for the minds and abilities You have endowed us with to annihilate any enemy, that we have weapons that can do so remotely on a mass scale without un-necessarily endangering Your humble servants.

Yes, we exalt You for entrusting us with such wisdom, strategies and technologies in order to defend Your people!

We praise You that You are the real Master and President OR Warlord of our glorious one–and-only-cracy, and for this, we are prepared to sacrifice our lives! We are not afraid because we know that we will triumph, and we will not be moved till we win, so that these tortured people living under oppressive governments would finally be free.

We thank you that we not only have Your support, but also the votes OR allegiance of the enlightened world, fellow believers and countrymen  and many other true warriors of our time.

So, we plead forYour kindness in helping us to destroy our enemies. We know that You understand our sincere concerns and their evil secrets. Protect your nation and your people! Ensure our security!

We wish to uphold and defend Your gracious justice, so please help us to bomb these terrible people out of their dirty pants.

We wish to enforce Your upright love, so please help us to bullet these terrible people with ‘one clean kill’.

You are constantly aware of the agony and cries of all our mothers for their beloved sons and daughters, so spare us the permanent pain of death. Let our enemies be the ones who feel this grief for dead sons and daughters; they deserve it!

We are Your people and You have set our family, community and society apart from the heathens OR infidels, so we ask that, through us, You will establish Your Kingdom community OR the brotherhood with great power and force, for the betterment of the whole world.

Wonderful Creator, grant us our human right to life!

We have faith that, though You do not wish for any to perish, it is only the spiritual death of hell You are ultimately concerned about, so You wouldn’t mind if we kept the physical killing to the minimum. After all, Your Name is supreme and to be glorified at great sacrifice and cost. In fact, help us to be willing to protect Your people and kill our enemies, Your enemies, at all cost.

In these times of financial crisis, we believe that You are too big to fail, so supply us, O Lord, with the money and resources to remove or buy our enemies, so we would be secure, safe in Your refuge and sanctuary, to which You’ve given us the keys, from which all blessings and riches flow. In God we trust OR God is great!

These are times of terror and conflict ; thank you for guiding us in the right way of  countering terror OR fighting the occupier with Your righteous anger.

We know that though You’ve imbued us with the beautiful and ideal concept of love, in reality no system or institution can control human nature, so you have equipped us with sophisticated military tools that can deliver us from the wiles of human nature and that can truly defend and change communities.

Spare no enemy’s life in Your sacred call for justice and thank You for allowing us the freedom of ‘collateral damage’ OR ‘suicide sacrifices’ as we become Your instruments of peace, a peace that the world cannot understand. However many the casualties and martyrs, the world will know through Your revelation that we are Your ambassadors of reconciliation.

We lift our hearts up to Your Holiness that demands truth even if it compels us to’ coerce’ others beyond our comfort zones. Sanctify our lips as we proclaim suitable justifications for Your vengeance, for it is Your vengeance we carry.

Release these misled souls from their blindness! We know that Your ways are not our ways and You do not make laws as the world makes, so empower us, that we will forever run without growing weary of doing good and walk without fainting upon any measure of blood.

Send more warriors into the field Lord; WE will pray incessantly, as we daily wait upon your wondrous works, that You will raise THEM up and send THEM, and give them the honor and privilege of bravely laying down their lives for us.

Spread Your gentle firmness and Your meek dignity, Lord, in these glorious battles! Shock Your enemies with Your Awesome love! We claim Your victory! Protect us,Your willing slaves by choice!

Forgive us generously as we generously forgive those who trespass against us!

Have mercy on us, oh merciful and compassionate God, we are fearful and terrified!

It was believed afterward that the prayer was uttered by a sage, because there was much sense and morality in what was said.

The War 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 flag!”

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 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.

(After a pause)  “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak!  The messenger of the Most High waits!”

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