Mark Twain’s “War Prayer,” 1905. Wikipedia states that Twain wrote the poem in 1905 but that it was not published until 1923. The context of the poem is about how warmongers exalt war and shame young men into defending their fellow American (or countrymen). Specifically, however, the poem’s context hooks onto the American invasion of the Philippines in 1899-1902, three months after the 1898 Treaty of Paris. It marked the age of the United States as the world power.
The 1981 PBS filmed version of Twain’s “A Private History of a Campaign That Failed” contains “The War Prayer” as an epilogue, which takes place during the Philippine-American War. Edward Herrmann played the Stranger, as well as the innocent man who had been killed accidentally by the boys years before in the American Civil War, thus lending a supernatural air to the Stranger’s origins.
Miyyah Colter provided an excellent point in her Prezi presentation. Under her “Analysis” page, she writes
The piece describes how a country has to pull together to become an army of one, and how no matter what your thoughts are on the war, you still must stand by your fellow man.
So this is an excellent point. That part of the war worship is directed at everybody to not abandon your fellow man. It is the stuff that literature is made of. How does Marc Anthony begin his speech?
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
The master orator gathers the fellows of his audience. It makes it harder for one group to separate himself from the others. It’s quite effective.
In November 1969, President Nixon addressed his American television audience in his address about the Vietnam War. He states “Good evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all Americans and to many
people in all parts of the world—the war in Vietnam.” Nixon’s speech combines Shakespeare with a fireside chat.
Toward the end of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Speech, he says
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
It’s such an effective device to make everyone in his conjured audience makes it harder to divest themselves from it . . . that is unless you think. LBJ does the same thing.
This rendition by Edward Herrmann powerfully indicts the hearts of warmongers. Wow.
Epilog to the Public Television 1981 production: “A Private History of A Campaign That Failed,” (1885). Edward Herrmann as the stranger. Wesley Addy plays the Connecticut minister, and that is the best performance I’ve ever seen him deliver. I have not seen him in much. He played Agent Steiner in a 1974 episode of the Rockford Files. According to this site, Addy appeared in Season 3, Episode 2, “Dirty Money, Black Light,” April 1, 1977. I cannot find him in a 1974 episode. And even though he didn’t have many lines, his presence sure was memorable and ominous. I can’t know what his politics were but based on the roles that he played, I’d say that he leaned toward libertarian views.
Written as a fictionalized account of Mark Twain’s own short-lived war experience, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” is a satiric sketch of the American South at the onset of the American Civil War. The narrative follows a small group of young men—dubbed “the Marion Rangers”—as they stumble around the backwoods of Marion County, Missouri, on patrol for Yankee troops. After avoiding improbable attacks, failing to tame unruly horses, and imposing on farmers for their food and supplies, the ensemble is finally met with the sobering reality of war when a man is shot and killed. In true Twain style, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” utilizes a comic and wryly humorous tone to strip the subject of war, of heroism, and romance.
“White Man’s Burden,” 1899, Kipling’s defense on Imperialism.