Is It Time to Bring Out Twain’s War Prayer?

Boehner and Netanyahu

Boehner and Netanyahu

I’ve been discouraged in recent weeks by how easily war fever returns, even after our disastrous experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only does polling reveal increased popular support for “boots on the ground” to fight ISIS, but the GOP. Benjamin Netanyahu, and a handful of Democrats are trying to sabotage the president’s negotiations with Iran. It may be time to pull out Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” again.

I mention “War Prayer” because it reminds us to be careful what we pray for. An aged stranger, hearing a fervent war prayer designed to inspire the troops and the populace, talks about there being two prayers, not one. Shouldering aside the minister, the old man announces,

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.”

The uttered war prayer he responds to concludes with the words, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!” Here’s an excerpt from the unuttered prayer behind the prayer:

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…

You can go here to read the entire prayer.

Say that Netanyahu and the GOP’s prayer is answered and they succeed in disrupting the current negotiations with Iran. The unuttered prayer is for a war with Iran.

Because—let’s be very clear about this—there is no other plan than war to what Obama is currently doing. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones came to this conclusion after spending the weekend watching “an endless procession of talking heads spend time talking about what we should do about Iran”:

The striking thing was not that there was lots of criticism from conservatives about President Obama’s negotiating strategy. The striking thing was the complete lack of any real alternative from these folks. I listened to interviewer after interviewer ask various people what they’d do instead, and the answers were all the weakest of weak tea. A few mentioned tighter sanctions, but without much conviction since (a) sanctions are already pretty tight and (b) even the hawks seem to understand that mere sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran’s nuclear program anyway. Beyond that there was nothing.

That is, with the refreshing (?) exception of Jason Chaffetz, who sounded a bit like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men after being badgered a bit by Wolf Blitzer. Military action? You’re damn right I want to see military action. Or words to that effect, anyway. But of course, this sentiment was behind the scenes everywhere, even if most of the hawkish talking heads didn’t quite say it so forthrightly. I noticed that even President Obama, in his interview with Reuters, specifically mentioned “military action,” rather than the usual euphemism of “all cards are on the table.”

What would war with Iran entail? Twain only talks about what would happen to the other guys. Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner lays out what it would mean for America, including American Jews:

The dismantling of the regime in Iran…would likely yield power to forces even worse than the current Iranian regime and more likely like the Islamic state in Iraq . It is unwinnable, and it will lead to the loss of many lives, the possibility of terrorism being spread to the U.S. as many people around the world see and resent the U.S. once again intervening in a country that is not intervening here in the U.S.

And this will be a huge disaster for the Jewish people. Americans will quickly see that the resulting war was brought about by those who wanted to put the supposed (though mistaken) interests of Israel above the interests of Americans. The outcome could well be a new flourishing of anti-Semitism in our society that has, since the end of the Second World War, managed to keep our home-grown anti-Semites out of positions of power. As American casualties increase, and Iranian terrorists strike inside the U.S., the anger will almost certainly explode against Jews, whereas it should be only directed at the militarists who once again lead us into war.

At the end of Twain’s story, the aged stranger asks the priest and congregation to think twice about what they say they want: “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

The outcome is predictable:

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Will the country also conclude that Obama’s current negotiations are lunatic? Or is lunacy invading the Middle East over and over and expecting a different outcome?

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