The one hundred year anniversary of Mark Twain’s death was April 21, 2010. I am sorry I missed it, but I still want to honor this great man, this great American, and this great writer.
“Before 1899 Twain was an ardent imperialist. In the late 1860s and early 1870s he spoke out strongly in favor of American interests in the Hawaiian Islands. In the mid 1890s he explained later, he was “a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming over the Pacific.” He said the war with Spain in 1898 was “the worthiest” war ever fought. In 1899 he reversed course, and from 1901, soon after his return from Europe, until his death in 1910, Twain was vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed the annexation of the Philippines by the United States and had “tens of thousands of members”. He wrote many political pamphlets for the organization. The Incident in the Philippines, posthumously published in 1924, was in response to the Moro Crater Massacre, in which six hundred Moros were killed. Many of his neglected and previously uncollected writings on anti-imperialism appeared for the first time in book form in 1992.
Twain was critical of imperialism in other countries as well. In Following the Equator, Twain expresses “hatred and condemnation of imperialism of all stripes”. He was highly critical of European imperialism, notably of Cecil Rhodes, who greatly expanded the British Empire, and of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. King Leopold’s Soliloquy is a stinging political satire about his private colony, the Congo Free State. Reports of outrageous exploitation and grotesque abuses led to widespread international protest in the early 1900s, arguably the first large-scale human rights movement. In the soliloquy, the King argues that bringing Christianity to the country outweighs a little starvation. Leopold’s rubber gatherers were tortured, maimed and slaughtered until the turn of the century, when the conscience of the Western world forced Brussels to call a halt.
During the Philippine-American War, Twain wrote a short pacifist story entitled The War Prayer, which makes the point that humanism and Christianity’s preaching of love are incompatible with the conduct of war. It was submitted to Harper’s Bazaar for publication, but on March 22, 1905 the magazine rejected the story as “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine”. Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Daniel Carter Beard, to whom he had read the story, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth”. Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Twain could not publish The War Prayer elsewhere; it remained unpublished until 1923. It was republished as campaigning material by Vietnam War protesters.”
The story , The War Prayer, is in response to the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. I have only posted the very end, but you can read it in full here. It is a short piece.
“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.
Twain apparently dictated it around 1904-05; it was rejected by his publisher, and was found after his death among his unpublished manuscripts. It was first published in 1923 in Albert Bigelow Paine’s anthology, Europe and Elsewhere.
Another War Prayer: