Discussion War Prayer

March 8, 2022
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Discussion War Prayer

Discussion War Prayer

Read Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” or watch this dramatization of it (the spoke prayer is exactly Twains text): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZmEAZCOYSE
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Then listen to FDR’s D-Day prayer, which he read over the radio to Americans as th D-Day invasion began: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2IRcc-5RgA

Is Twain right that prayers about war have an unspoken part that we should know? How does FDR’s prayer compare to Twain’s story? What was FDR trying to achieve with his broadcast?

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What is interesting about Mark Twain’s prayer is that it speaks the truth. When watching the prayer before the soldier arrived, the prayers were happy and cheerful. If you were there you would think that war was a happy place and that all soldiers will be returning to their loved ones. But when the soldier arrives, he decides to tell the truth, the way God sees it. As he starts to speak, the people seem like they are excited to pray again. But then he starts praying about the truth, about how we should be praying for our troops. Instead of being sugar-coated, the prays should be more honest so everyone knows the sacrifices that the troops are actually making. In those “normal prayers”, war is almost romanticized, making it a place for young boys and girls to want to go because they feel like they will be glorified. This may be true but they should also hear the prayers that plead to God to keep the soldiers safe from the flying bullets and bombs raining down.

FDR seems to be more like Mark Twain in that he realized that war was not just some game, it was a place where people were dying in order to save others. It talks about how the soldiers are not fighting for glory or conquest, instead they are fighting for the opposite. They fight to stop the war, stop the conquests. He also prayers for those who will not return from the war because that is a possibility that is more likely than any other, particularly during WWII. Here FDR is trying to pray for those that have suffered and sacrificed for the world. He wants everyone to know that the war was a dark place, that it should not be a place that people romanticize because it is not.

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When Mark Twain wrote “The War Prayer” in 1905, it was probably in reaction to the Philippine–American War that began in 1899. He experienced a political awakening during this war. On October 16, 1900 he wrote in the New York Herald,

“I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific … Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? … I said to myself, Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris [which ended the Spanish–American War], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.”

He probably came across certain written and spoken prayers during this time calling for God’s blessings and a justification for war with words like “Lord, bless their weapons, help them to crush the foe…” As for the stranger in “The War Prayer” that came forward to deliver his message – this seems to be that unspoken part. The ugly reality of war. It is a continuation of the pastor’s patriotic, fervent prayer.

After listening to FDR’s D-Day prayer, I saw this as an appropriate war-time prayer in his address to the nation. It is a prayer that Mark Twain probably would have approved of if he were still alive in 1944. FDR’s prayer is a solemn one as he mentions the realities of the war while not trying to sugar-coat things. He also mentions our reasons for fighting. “These are men lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.”


This calls to mind Catholic teaching on peace and war, and so I pulled out my Catechism. In sections 2327-2330, it summarizes a long article on “safeguarding peace” and “avoiding war.”

“Because of the evils and injustices that all war brings with it, we must do everything reasonably possible to avoid it. the Church prays: ‘From famine, pestilence, and war, O Lord, deliver us.’

The Church and human reason assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflicts. Practices deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes.

‘The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured’ (GS 81 # 3).

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (⇒ Mt 5:9).”

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