Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The War Prayer

Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain, once wrote a little fictional piece titled The War Prayer. It is set at the time of the beginning of a war. Its the Sunday before the regiments leave the next day. All the volunteers are sitting in the church in their uniforms, and the reverend issues forth a passionate prayer for victory for the faithful.

Mark Twain envisions this response, as the Lord Almighty sends a humble messenger to the church to say the following.

"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. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. 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.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"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.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.
Twain apparently dictated it around 1904-05; it was rejected by his publisher, and was found after his death among his unpublished manuscripts.

bits and pieces

During the second World War, the German people were told of the victorious German armies advance on the city of Stalingrad. Then they were told of victories in the fighting in Stalingrad. They were told of nothing but victories until one day they had to be told of the surrender of the encircled German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

I'm not saying that Afghanistan is Stalingrad. But its a useful reminder that what you hear from the authorities about a war isn't always the whole truth.

One thing though, its probably never a good thing when the rebels of an insurgent war take over the bases of the empire. Generally, guerrillas don't like to mass in the open except when they are attacking. For guerrillas, occupying a fixed known place like a formerly enemy base usually isn't a good idea. One gets the impression in this article that the rebels aren't exactly cowering in a cave afraid of American airpower.

Taliban moves onto abandoned U.S. base

The footage showed armed men walking through the former U.S. base, which was strewn with litter and empty bottles, and sitting atop sandbagged gun positions overlooking the steep hillsides and craggy landscape. Fighters said they recovered fuel and ammunition. But a U.S. spokesman said ammunition had been evacuated and the fuel handed over to local residents.

“We don’t want Americans, we don’t want Germans or any other foreigner. We don’t want foreigners, we want peace. We want Taliban and Islam — we don’t want anything else,” one local resident said on the tape.

Another man identified by Al-Jazeera as a local Taliban commander said the militants intended to use the base for attacks on U.S. forces.

Of course, since this is from the AP, the piece is littered with official quotes and statements that all is well. That this is just a part of a planned change in strategy.

The pullout last week of the remaining 120 U.S. soldiers from the Korengal was part of a strategy announced last year by the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to abandon small, difficult-to-defend bases in remote, sparsely populated areas and concentrate forces around major population centers.

The Soviets in Afghanistan always had a problem extending their influence beyond the 'major population centers'. For most of this war, the US has pretty much stayed to the cities as well. Its only since Obama's surge that they've been trying to adopt a strategy of pushing out and actually trying to control the country.

I guess this is the end of that strategy.

One interesting question about that quote above is this? Why are those bases difficult to defend? That doesn't sound like a victorious army now does it.

When you are watching scenes of victorious Marines conquering fictional cities, sometimes it helps to pick up on some of the bits and pieces. And its always interesting to see how the propaganda artists announce a sudden defeat after telling everyone constantly of victories.