As a child, Mark Twain was one of my favourite authors. Each day I would eagerly await the end of afternoon classes when our teacher would read a few passages from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
But North America’s most famous writer was much more than an author of humorous children’s stories, beginning his writing career as a journalist in the 1860s on the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada. His strong views on politics, religion and capitalism became increasingly radical with age. As an outspoken critic of the warfare economics that resulted in US imperialist atrocities in the Philippines, Twain would’ve been appalled to the see how the same warfare economics have brought death, destruction and mayhem to Iraq, Libya and Syria more than a century later.
The three-year Philippine-American War, which ended in 1902, brought out some of Twain’s most bitter criticism. Internationally recognized authority on the Arab and Islamic world Raymond William Baker recounts how Twain heaped ironic praise on the “civilising mission”, which led to the mass murder of Muslims in the Southern Philippines. In his recent book One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds: Spirituality, Identity, and Resistance Across the Islamic Lands Baker describes how in one incident a US officer, Major Edwin Glenn, boasted of forcing forty-seven prisoners to their knees in order to “repent for their sins” before ordering them to be bayoneted and clubbed to death.
In 1900 the New York Herald published Mark Twain’s A Greeting from the 19th Century to the 20th Century where he slated the colonial policies of England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States saying:
“I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonored from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her the soap and a towel, but hide the looking-glass.”
The parallels with US-EU interventions in the Middle East today are glaringly obvious.
It is a sad reflection on leading authors and corporate media journalists today that so few have the courage to condemn the countless war crimes being committed today in the name of “Western values”. Twain’s The War Prayer sums it all up for me.
The War Prayer
Illustrated beautifully by Akis Dimitrakapoulos, narrated by Peter Coyote and directed by Markos Kounalakis, the illustrated video below captures the atmosphere conveyed by Twain’s words brilliantly.
The introductory words follow the film with a link to the full piece.
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 with 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.