War Prayer by Mark Twain Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

How can God satisfy both participants in the conflict?

Twain's moral is that the religious rhetoric used to justify war and the merging of patriotism and faith is always suspect. Each side believes that his or her cause and nation is just. During wartime, prayers 'cancel one another out' and show the hypocrisy of the inflated, one-sided view of warfare expressed in propaganda. It is easy to see Twain's message reflected in real life, particularly in the cases of ethnic conflicts where participants are pitted in age-old hatreds and use religion as a justification for their crimes. Such was the case of the Bosnians vs. The Serbs and the Protestants vs. The Catholics of Northern Ireland. To pray for victory in war, points out Twain's old man, is to pray for the death of other people: "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." America, of course, has been the victim of such a mentality, one that uses God as a rationale for violence, in the case of the attacks of September 11th. However, America has also been guilty of using the invocation of the Almighty as a justification for victory, and a way of inflaming the spirits of troops: hence, the phrase 'God bless America' in the patriotic anthem, the words 'one nation under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the claim that America was fighting 'Godless communism' during the Vietnam War.

Twain is not simply criticizing the ugly nature of jingoism and fanatical patriotism: he is critiquing the nature of war itself, which is always a zero-sum game. There are no winners in war, because to 'win' means to achieve the death of innocent young men, to make women widows and bereaved mothers, and to tear down entire communities and civilizations. People do not wish to look critically at their nation during a time of war, hence the last line of the story that the old man from the Almighty's wise advice is ignored: "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." When in the grips of wartime fever, people are credulous -- they are quick to believe that the enemy is evil, or that there are weapons of mass destruction simply because the government says such weapons exist, and all dissent is a threat to national security.

However, although the feelings and thoughts of The War Prayer may be valid, as a story, the writing is not as witty as Twain's other works. The characters are undifferentiated so the story seems unmemorable, even if Twain is using stereotypical characters to prove a point. There are no striking phrases that stand out in the reader's mind, and the point of the story seems obvious. It is easy to say that war is bad when this concept is posed as an abstract truth, but this is much harder to understand when one's nation is in the grips of wartime hysteria.

Cite This Thesis:

"War Prayer By Mark Twain" (2009, November 30) Retrieved June 4, 2020, from

"War Prayer By Mark Twain" 30 November 2009. Web.4 June. 2020. <

"War Prayer By Mark Twain", 30 November 2009, Accessed.4 June. 2020,