‘The War Prayer,’ by Mark Twain

This article was published in Harper’s Weekly in November, 1916 — one hundred years ago — more than six years after the death of the writer, Mark Twain. He had written it in protest of the U.S. intervention in the Philippines and submitted it to Harper’s Bazaar in 1905, but it was rejected as too radical.

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 which 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. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

mark_twainSunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“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. 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.

Memorial Day

I am never quite sure what to do with Memorial Day.

I put out my flag this morning, and knotted a stars-and-stripes tie around my neck. I went to work, as many Americans do … and I would have stayed home or traveled if I could have, as many other Americans do.

I want to honor those who gave their lives on behalf of my country.

But I don’t want to glorify the wars that took so many of them from us.

I don’t want to perpetuate a picture that war is somehow noble, and that soldiers die with the intention and goal of preserving our nation and its better qualities, and that they universally succeed just by having died.


Some of them chose to go to war. Some were conscripted. Some died to protect their fellow soldiers. Some died in a hail of bullets, storming a beach or a fortress or an onrushing enemy. Some died tending the wounded, building a bridge, feeding the troops, digging a trench, sitting in a dark wet flithy place … terrified and out of ammunition and hopeless and weeping. Others died from malaria, influenza, a host of fatal infections. Some starved. Some were taken prisoner and tortured and executed. Some were obliterated by missiles, bombs, artillery shells, mines, grenades and the hosts of cowardly weaponry that we call modern mechanized warfare. Some perished by drowning, in accidents, by “friendly” fire intentional and unintentional, by seizures and heart attacks and strokes and sheer terror. And let’s be honest, some could not handle the heinous hellishness of it and ended their own lives.

That doesn’t even begin to cover all who survived, but in the aftermath survived without full health, or limbs, or the wholeness of emotional stability or even sanity.

I honor them all. They lived and died (and some lived half-lives again) at their country’s call.

But no country should send its strong and smart young people into war as a solution of first resort, and that has happened too often.

However these many suffered and died, and for whatever cause, if they did so even nominally to preserve freedom of choice in our land, then I think the rest of us owe it to them (as well as to each other) to choose more wisely, to choose our leaders with more care, to choose to insist that our leaders see to it that those who fight and build and serve and defend and die on behalf of the rest of us always receive the best chance they can have to succeed and survive and recover.

And that includes keeping them out of war’s harm until all the other options have been exhausted.

All of them. Every time.

I don’t know how to say the phrase “Happy Memorial Day” anymore. It’s just not a happy holiday.

We can work or barbecue or vacation or play in gratitude for what others have done, sure.

But at what cost.

Why War Is So Popular These Days

Oh, did I shock you?

I’m so sorry to have treaded on your delicate sensitivities.

JesusBearsHisMachineGunBut war is popular these days, and I’m going to tell you why I think it is.

We glorify it. We worship it. Because it’s exactly what we think we want.

Since long before 9/11, we’ve made and gobbled up the movies and television shows and books and video games where might makes right and good guys blow bad guys away and heroes are people who have at least one gun in each hand and a missile launcher in their backpack and a couple of ammo belts crossed over their chests.

What a bunch of crap.

But we buy it and we love to buy it because we believe the world is full of evil and it has nicked us once or twice and we want our revenge and we want to believe that the best way to deal with it is to blow it away.

What incredible bullpuckey.

That’s the easy way to deal with evil. You don’t like something; it’s evil: blow it away. You were right and righteous to do so. Good must always triumph over evil, and you must be the agent of good, so if you blew something away, you must be good to do so and it must be evil.

What a heap of fewmets.

When you gulp them down like they were steak, you don’t have a clue or care to guess how many dollars you are pouring into the coffers of the very, very rich people who fund that propaganda in order to make themselves very, very much richer at the cost of sanity, limbs and lives.

When you buy into that philosophy — when you spend those bucks to see that movie or buy that video game or purchase that gun or gullibly swallow everything that website has to say about your God-given American right to own and use a gun at your discretion so you can blow away the bad guys — you’ve bought shit.

The problem is not that I’m willing to call your closely-held sacred beliefs a bunch of excrement; the problem is, there’s hardly anyone left who’s willing to say so and give you the reasons why. American Christianity is almost totally sold out to might-makes-right religion and God-is-on-our-side theology.

And the secular voices that have been willing to try to stem the tide have been almost totally flooded over as well.

There are no popular movies like Bridge on the River Kwai or television series like M*A*S*H or the original Star Trek around to show episodes that show and tell or even just imply how absolutely devastating, barbaric, and unconscionable the acts of war can be. No documentaries are ever made anymore that hint at criticism of anything that our government and armed forces might be doing that’s questionable.

In fact, journalists and photographers are literally not allowed to even show us what it’s like to prosecute a war or to exterminate entire towns and villages of men, women and children or even photograph the flag-draped caskets of the young men and women we sent to wage those battles as our proxies. No, that might jeopardize the ongoing operation — even if the coverage is years old when it is shown.

Plus, I don’t know of any current high school teachers or even fully-tenured college professors who would, career-wise at the very least, long survive teaching works like Johnny Got His Gun or Mark Twain’s The War Prayer.

There’s no thrill to the seemingly endless talks of a peace table, so you won’t find any video games that feature them. Instead, they feature the virtual unreality of getting to blow away someone that you want to hate — even when you don’t have a clue or care who they might be, or might be working for or toward, or protecting. They just have a uniform of a different color. Or skin of a different color. Or a religion of a different color. So they’re the bad guys, and even though you’re in their territory close to their homes and their families, you go there and blow them away. Glorious. Rah-rah for our side. And if you miss and get blown away yourself, hey — you get a re-do!

I don’t have to tell you that the people we send to do our battles for us do not get a re-do. Just because you don’t see their caskets doesn’t mean some don’t come back in them. Or that others don’t come back severely scarred — physically, mentally, emotionally, socially — because of what they’ve seen and sometimes what they’ve had to do.

And practically no one is willing to say a word against it.

No, we’ll just let our returning patriots burn out and fail at life and go quietly mad and continue to cut funding for their care and rehabilitation.

Utter, unChristian, inhuman insanity.

Well, dammitall, I will say a word against it from time to time. War is hell. It maims people. It poisons people. It drives people insane. It kills people. It kills our people. It kills their people. It kills Gods’ people.

“Thou shalt not kill.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”

So you are free to disagree with me and my interpretations of the above scriptures (plus many, many, many more) and embrace your closely-held sacred beliefs that this is exactly the way Jesus would handle things in defense of God’s chosen people, Americans — with a machine-gun in each hand and missile launcher on his back and two ammo belts across his chest.

You can defend every one of those beliefs with whatever twist of scripture you wish to quote from your favorite pulpit or website, in absolutely clear conscience because that’s what you’ve heard and read and — by God, literally — that’s what you want to believe and Jesus died so you could believe it. In fact, you are free to take your sacredly-acquired gun and ammo and just shoot me dead for disagreeing with you because you are right and therefore have the right to exterminate me. I’m your bad guy. Shoot away. I won’t stop you. I don’t have a gun.

But I will tell you, while I still live and breathe, that the way things are in the world right now was never what God intended or wanted for us.

Folks, if you think you can make it better by supporting the culture of blow-it-away, you’re not just fooling yourself but you’re bequeathing future generations a heritage of bloodshed and death and madness and conscience-less violence.

That future is a sewer.

If you’re not standing against it for the sake of your kids and their kids, you are just going with the flow and adding to it.

What a thrill for you.

Why is war so popular these days?

Because it’s what we think we want.

And we are dead wrong.

Jesus and War

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. ~ Matthew 24:6

I am always a little amazed when someone brings up a verse or two — like the one above — to justify a Christian’s involvement in war.

That verse and its parallel in Mark 13:7 are in the middle of Jesus’ prediction of circumstances that will characterize but not necessarily herald the end of time and His return. They are prophecy; not a command to take arms — no more than this verse:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. ~ Matthew 10:34

This is a snippet from a larger conversation about how even families will be split apart by the truth about who Jesus is; and the importance of standing by the truth rather than acquiescing to family loyalties and denying the truth. Here, the truth is the sword which rends families asunder (Luke 21:15-19). (It is a metaphor Paul and the writer to the Hebrews — inspired by the Spirit of Christ — pursue in Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12).

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” ~ Luke 22:35-38

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

It is an assumption that Jesus advises the purchase of a sword here in order to fight a physical battle or for self-protection. Two swords would hardly have defended twelve men, and He pronounced them sufficient. However, one sword was sufficient to sever the ear of a servant at His arrest, and give Him the opportunity to perform one last miracle that should have testified to all present and arresting or defending Him of who He is, and by what power He spoke the truth (47-53). In those verses, His command is “No more of this!” — and He contrasts those who wield weapons to arrest Him as if He were leading a rebel posse rather than teaching disciples as He had in the temple courts.

Two swords among twelve would also have been sufficient — assuming that they would flee together — to provide food for them in the wild, where He had just advised them to go (in the previous chapter, Luke 21:21) in order to escape the tumult that was to come.

And writing of the tumult that was to come, John of Patmos describes the unnamed Jesus three times as a princely hero bearing a sword (Revelation 1:16; 2:12-16; 19:15-21). All three times that sword is pictured as proceeding from His mouth. This, again, is the sword of truth — against which those who lie (and believe lies rather than the truth) have no defense whatsoever. This is, again, a highly prophetic passage with language appropriate to prophecy. The war described is indeed a cosmic one in eternity, and the battlefield is not on any literal plain on earth, but in the human heart. (2 Corinthians 10:3; 1 Peter 2:11).

If we who believe cannot win in our own hearts that battle of love for survival of self at the cost of God and the lives of others — if we cling so tenaciously to this life and all of its possessions, attractions, political affiliations, nationalistic loyalties, ideological idolatries — how can we hope to enlist in His army to assist others with the battle in their hearts?

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ Matthew 5:44-48

Let me ask something: When Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” does He mean before or after running them through with your bayonet?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” ~ Matthew 5:38-39

When the Savior says “Turn the other cheek,” does He mean make sure of their intentions before you beat the very life out of them?

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” ~ Matthew 5:21-22

When He says “Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment,” does He mean that it’s okay to murder if you do it dispassionately, without any anger at all toward your victim?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ~ Matthew 5:12

Does He imply that it’s okay to persecute others for their unrighteousness because the kingdom of heaven is yours?

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God. ~ Matthew 5:11

Does He mean that warmongers will also be called children of God?

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy. ~ Matthew 5:7

Does He imply that the invasion of other nations, confiscation of their properties, wholesale slaughter of their uninvolved citizenry as well as their armed forces — all of that is an exceedingly great mercy when used to rescue them from a disagreeable and unprofitable government or religion or philosophy?

I’m not writing this to argue for or against a “just war” doctrine, or whether a Christian can object to or participate in a war. Those are, by definition, issues of individual conscience and you will have to make up your mind about them on your own.

I’m just asking whether the whole concept of physical war in this world with weapons and intentions that mutilate and murder and destroy are consistent with the picture of Jesus’ life and teachings as they are revealed in scripture.

When we use scripture out of context and for our own purposes of proof, aren’t we contorting it beyond the use and meaning it was originally meant to have?

If that’s true, and we can all agree on that, doesn’t it follow that Jesus came to this world to bring the sword of truth that would render asunder the hearts and souls of men, cleave precious relationships — and also surgically create new and eternal ones — based on a gospel about a God of love willing to sacrifice what was most precious to Him in order to reconcile Himself to those by whom He wanted to be regarded as most precious and beloved?

9/11: ‘Nor Did It Enter My Mind’

We look back on the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and we still want someone to have to pay for them — and I believe that reflects a sense of God’s just nature in our own — but there is no one around to blame. The direct perpetrators at that time had themselves perished in the flames, and the cowards who instigated their treachery seemed to have taken their cues at stealth from termites or cockroaches. Too often, in the ten-year aftermath, we have turned on those we felt should have prevented or protected our nation from these attacks, and have savaged them with our frustrated fury.

Yes, to some degree, there were people whose jobs were to anticipate evil and take steps to prevent and protect.

At the same time, there are acts so heinous, so … may I use the word unthinkable? … that I am not sure we can hold those people responsible for not considering them a serious risk.

After all, there were acts so heinous in the history of Israel that God said regarding them, “something I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind.” Three times He repeats the phrase in Jeremiah:

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.

~ Jeremiah 7:31

They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.

~ Jeremiah 19:5

They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.

~ Jeremiah 32:35

Does that mean it never occurred to God that Israel could do such a thing? Obviously not, since He (again) three times specifically forbade it in Leviticus:

“‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.

~Leviticus 18:21

If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death,

~ Leviticus 20:4

“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.

~ Leviticus 20:2

So did God contradict Himself? No; and I think there are two possibilities that explain it:

  1. The phrase “nor did it enter My mind” could refer specifically to the act of commanding it; it would never have entered HIS mind to command such a thing (the incident with Isaac notwithstanding; there’s no evidence He ever intended for Abraham to follow through — see the phrasing of “tested” in Hebrews 11:17).
  2. He perceived the possibility that Israel could sink this low … He just couldn’t imagine that they would do so, after instilling them not only with instinct of parental love but also after giving them a direct and specific command not to do such a reprehensible thing, especially in the name of faith and religion.

Either way, it was never God’s will for His children to put their own children to death in the same way that the surrounding peoples did in their worship of idol gods. In fact, preventing this kind of abomination seems to be the specific reason why God commanded the obliteration of those peoples as the Israelites moved into the land promised to them (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). It is possible that nothing else would have also obliterated those practices from the land.

The crimes against humanity that took place on 9/11/2001 are of this detestable nature: people willingly — perhaps eagerly — sacrificing their own lives in order to commit mass murder of thousands, including children, as an act of piety because some shaman in their religious structure instructed them to do so. There were Muslims who died in those attacks. There were children who died in those attacks. None of that served as a deterrent to the warped motivations of the warped individuals who masterminded and conducted the attacks.

Ten years later, we still have difficulty dealing with the reality of it.

Let’s not blame the good people we put in charge of our protection for being no more willing to believe in the likelihood of that kind of inhumanity on that kind of scale than the Lord Himself was.

Fathers and Sons and Wars and Rumors of Wars

I just read Patrick Mead’s recent post Another Tent Peg Pops Loose, and his fatherly angst brought to mind some that I felt a little over four years ago, and wrote about in my weekly column in the Abilene Reporter-News. I wrote it in the late autumn of 2002, when Matthew was about to turn ten years old, and pretty much everyone in the Western world believed that Iraq was brimming with weapons of mass destruction. I don’t write political commentary in this blog very often, but I do now strongly believe that the administration at that time pulled a stunt like the mythical Governor sang about in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in his showstopper, “Dance a Little Sidestep.” I believe that some sleight-of-hand about this so-called WMD “intelligence” and Iraqi government sponsorship of Al-Quaeda was presented to distract Americans’ from the unsuccessful attempt to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden, the self-admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet it is undeniable that Saddam Hussein practiced genocide within his own country and attempted to annex another. And while I rue my own credulity, and detest the catastrophe that has befallen Iraq and all armed forces there engaged in trying to establish peace, I can have nothing but the deepest admiration for the young people who are willing to serve at the President’s whim and protect their nation to the price of their own lives – even if he may be wrong about where or how that must be done – and admiration for the parents, spouses, children and friends who send them off with their ongoing prayers. If my son chooses to serve, I will not be able to be more proud of him. If he chooses to protest and oppose the war, I will not be able to be more proud of him. He will do it with all his heart, whatever he chooses. But if he chooses to remain silent and do nothing, I will be no more proud of him than I am of myself for having said nothing and done nothing all this time. So here is what I wrote then, and what I felt then, and what I mostly still feel ….

“What war now?” my son asked, appearing at the entrance to our den in his pajamas.

I fumbled for the remote and quickly shut off CNN.

“C’mon,” I redirected him, heading for the kitchen. “Let’s get water for you and your sister. It’s bedtime.”

“What war now?” he persisted.

Matthew’s question came some time back, when sabres were first being rattled in the direction of Iraq and CNN was already discussing strategy. He was already aware of the “conflict” in Afghanistan, which eventually was called “war.”

“It’s possible,” I said hesitantly, “that we will go to war with a country called Iraq, and soon.”


Why do countries ever go to war? I wanted to say, but it was a question beyond adult reason and certainly not an answer to an honest child. I filled two kid cups with ice and water.

“Their leader may have helped the people who destroyed those two buildings in New York and damaged the one in Washington.”

“And crashed that plane?”

“Yes, and crashed that plane.” I gave him his cup and we started upstairs. “He also tried to take a country next to his several years ago and said it was his. When we stopped his army, they set fire to everything they could so no one could have it.”

Matthew thought about it. “So we didn’t really stop him.”

I shook my head. “No, I guess we didn’t.” We were in his room now, and I picked up his globe to point out Iraq. “But if a war does happen, it will happen way over here, on the other side of the world. Nowhere close to us; we’re here. Their missiles can’t go that far.”

Yet, I thought. Yet.

“So we have to go to war to stop him?”

I hedged. “It will cost a lot of money. And a lot of young soldiers may die or be hurt really badly.” For one heart-stopping moment, I saw my little blond, blue-eyed boy very differently: all grown up, and yet just a teenager … wearing desert fatigues and carrying a gun. “But, yes, our president thinks it’s the only thing that will stop him.

“And the sad thing is, he may be right.”

“More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars. Yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between Governments. The once powerful malignant Nazi state is crumbling; the Japanese warlords are receiving in their homelands the retribution for which they asked when they attacked Pearl Harbor. But the mere conquest of our enemies is not enough; we must go on to do all in our power to conquer the doubts and the fears, the ignorance and the greed, which made this horror possible.” – What would have been President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s next speech, had not a stroke taken his life the day before he was to deliver it. His son read the message April 13, 1945.

War is Bad

Just so you’ll know where I stand on the issue:

  • War is bad.
  • War is never the best way to solve anything, though sometimes it may seem to turn out to be the only way.
  • War is never just. Not when innocent civilians die or are butchered yet alive: old ones, young ones, men, women, children. Not when young and strong and brave people die or come home maimed beyond repair or psychologically scarred for life.
  • War is never the choice of the strong, but of the weak wishing to appear strong.
  • War should only be the consequence of all other alternatives having been exhaustively tried and miserably failed.
  • War therefore admits defeat at its outset.
  • War is not the way to deal with a terrorist, unless you are particularly successful at killing mosquitoes with a shotgun.
  • War is never to be the pastime of kings in the springtime.
  • War is not what Jesus had in mind when he advised his followers to get a sword. If you must quote that verse, don’t skip the next few when his followers present a certain number of swords they already have and He answers, “That’s enough.” Circle that number in blood-red in your Bible and refer to it frequently when you are tempted to quote only the first part of the story.
  • War is never God’s will. It may be within God’s will, just as many other horrific consequences of sin and failure are, to remind us that sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath. Sin is sufficient to lead to death. We do not need to help it along by having wars.
  • There is more than enough warfare going on within the hearts of humankind, without spilling it out through our mouths and weapons grabbed by our hands.
  • I could not willingly go to war without hate in my heart. It might masquerade as love for my country or my family or my God, but if I could ever be willing to go to someone else’s land in order to kill some of their people, there would have to be some form of hatred within that I cannot dispassionately dismiss. You can be thankful to God that I am not called to be a soldier. I am not a hateful person, but I know what it is like to hate and be hated and I want no atom of it.
  • Hate is not the characteristic which defines God, His Son or His people. We may hate evil – but we had better be very blanking sure it is what God has called evil and not just what we’ve decided evil is. Because we have a tendency to label what we don’t like “evil,” without ever seeing it in the mirror.
  • Going to war is never the same as defending your life or your loved ones in your home or your hometown. Don’t ever use that analogy to justify war. They are two different things. If you cannot understand the difference between them, there are no simpler words I can use to explain it to you.
  • There may be wars that are justifiable by some, and actions within wars that are justifiable by some, but what counts is whether we try to avoid them in the first place and ask God to forgive us through Christ’s blood if they happen anyway. Then it’s justifiable if He says so. But, for God’s sake, don’t glorify it with regaling tales and paintings drenched in red and shoot-em-up-bang-bang blow-em-up-real-good movies that make my 12-year-old’s heart race and yearn for such “glory.” Glorify God instead.
  • Stop acting as if war is always inevitable. There are always alternatives. Only a few times in modern history have people acted smart enough and brave enough to try. Ask yourself: Is it more important for the mission to succeed and to kill thousands of the uninvolved through open warfare, or to attempt the mission undermanned and underpowered, with stealth and courage, even when the odds are long against you?

I could say more, but that’s enough.

For those of you who read my blog, know my heart and are aware how infrequently I use words like “never” and “ever” and “always,” then you know I have posted this with passion.

You are free to comment – though I’ve started requiring verification on anonymous comments because of spoggers and spammenters – but you will not convince me otherwise; you will simply be wasting pixels.