Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

The War Prayer – Mark Twain

Mark TwainAs a child, Mark Twain was one of my favourite authors. Each day I would eagerly await the end of afternoon classes when our teacher would read a few passages from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 

But North America’s most famous writer was much more than an author of humorous children’s stories, beginning his writing career as a journalist in the 1860s on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada. His strong views on politics, religion and capitalism became increasingly radical with age. As an outspoken critic of the warfare economics that resulted in US imperialist atrocities in the Philippines, Twain would’ve been appalled to the see how the same warfare economics have brought death, destruction and mayhem to Iraq, Libya and Syria more than a century later.

The three-year Philippine-American War, which ended in 1902, brought out some of Twain’s most bitter criticism. Internationally recognized authority on the Arab and Islamic world Raymond William Baker recounts how Twain heaped ironic praise on the “civilising mission”, which led to the mass murder of Muslims in the Southern Philippines. In his recent book One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds: Spirituality, Identity, and Resistance Across the Islamic Lands Baker describes how in one incident a US officer, Major Edwin Glenn, boasted of forcing forty-seven prisoners to their knees in order to “repent for their sins” before ordering them to be bayoneted and clubbed to death.

In 1900 the New York Herald published Mark Twain’s A Greeting from the 19th Century to the 20th Century where he slated the colonial policies of England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States saying: “I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonored from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her the soap and a towel, but hide the looking-glass.” The parallels with US-EU interventions in the Middle East today are glaringly obvious.

It is a sad reflection on leading authors and corporate media journalists today that so few have the courage to condemn the countless war crimes being committed in another new century in the name of “Western values”. Twain’s The War Prayer sums it all up for me.

The War Prayer – illustrated by Akis Dimitrakapoulos and narrated by Peter Coyote

Illustrated beautifully by Akis Dimitrakapoulos, narrated by Peter Coyote and directed by Markos Kounalakis, the illustrated video below captures the atmosphere conveyed by Twain’s words brilliantly.

The introductory words follow the film with a link to the full piece.

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 with 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. Read more


7 comments on “The War Prayer – Mark Twain

  1. rangewriter
    February 10, 2016

    As a Twain scholar, you’ve probably already read these, but if not, my 2 favorite Twain tomes are “A Pen Warmed-Up In Hell” and “Letters from the Earth.” I agree. Most Americans know only the river boat Twain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      February 10, 2016

      Thanks for the lovely compliment Linda, but I’m not so much a Twain scholar as an avid researcher. I haven’t read the two tomes you mention but you can be assured I will following your recommendation.

      Liked by 2 people

      • charlesobrien08
        August 19, 2017

        When you say colonial policy’s of England did you mean the UK aka Great Britain? Perhaps your knowledge of countries is lacking,England is a region of a country that is called Great Britain,or the United Kingdom,so called because King James VI of Scotland agreed to take the English crown along with the Scottish crown and so united the two kingdoms into one,but NOT political that came 100 years later in 1707 when the parliaments joined together much to the disagreement from Scottish citizens not subjects as the population of England was called.Just a couple of points I feel gets overlooked by those that think England and the UK/Great Britain is the same its NOT.


      • Bryan Hemming
        August 19, 2017

        No, though I take your point, I meant what I said. Though you are right in what you say, I think there are many who would agree with me that it was England that dictated foreign policy despite the Union.

        For me it is strange that when England wins a sporting trophy it is a victory for the English, but whenever the Scots the Welsh or the Northern Irish win one it becomes a United Kingdom or British victory. I am English by the way. But if you want to pick holes: England is a country, Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, is the nation of which it forms part. My nationality is British, my country of birth is England.

        Thanks for visiting. By the way, did you see anything at all positive in the article?


      • Bryan Hemming
        August 19, 2017

        Just to add, though I didn’t make it absolutely clear, it was Twain who “… slated the colonial policies of England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States” not me. He did not use the words United Kingdom or Great Britain.


  2. Wendy Kate
    February 6, 2016

    I confess I had not read ‘The war prayer’ before; powerful stuff! Thanks for sharing this, Bryan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      February 6, 2016

      More than happy to, Wendy. It should get far more publicity, especially in the States, where many are only too swift to boast about Twain, but few actually bother to find out about the real man. I think a lot of Americans would be extremely surprised at knowing his views, even shocked, perhaps.

      Liked by 2 people

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