I had a conversation with actor Hal Holbrook a couple of years ago. We were discussing his portrayal of American humorist Mark Twain. Holbrook said when he was first doing Twain in the 1960’s he had a hard time looking old enough to be Twain. Holbrook is now in his eighties and said he has a hard time looking young enough to be Twain.
I’ve always like Twain’s The War Prayer which Holbrook does exceedingly well. Twain wrote it around 1905. It was rejected by his publisher and then found after his death among his unpublished manuscripts.
Twain apparently wrote it as an opposition to the Philippines War of 1899-1902.
The whole story is too long for this post, but its essence is not. The story is a messenger from “The Throne”, shows up in a small church that had been praying for victory and safety for their young who are going off to war. The messenger says God wants them to know the unmentioned results, the unspoken part of the prayer, that must follow victory in war.
"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.*) The messenger says, "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"
Twain ends the story with this line. “It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.