War Prayer for the Twenty-First Century
by Laurence M. Vance: Marines,
Why Do You Do This to Your†Families?
Since the bombs
began to fall on Baghdad in March of 2003, churches, Christian leaders,
religious organizations, and individual Christians have been telling
us to pray for U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq. We have been told
to pray for the safety of U.S. troops while they defend our freedoms,
protect us from another terrorist attack, rid the world of weapons
of mass destruction, bring to justice the perpetrators of the 9/11
attacks, fight the global war on terrorism, liberate the Iraqi people,
spread democracy, fight "over there" so we donít have
to fight "over here," protect American interests in the
Middle East, ensure the security of Israel, and make the world a
There are several
problems with these war prayers.
"enemies" are praying the same war prayers. The citizens
of other countries likewise ask God to bless and protect their troops.
How is the Lord going to take care of both sides in the same way?
American Christians just assume that God will not bless and protect
the troops on the other side. American troops alone are dear to
the heart of God.
is it that war prayers never seek to limit war? In his "Prayer
before Battle" from "Some New Prayers" (CWE, 69:137),
Erasmus gives us a model:
king of Sabaoth, that is, of armies, you determine both war and
peace for the regions of the earth by means of your angels appointed
for the task. You gave new heart and strength to the boy David,
so that although he was small, without weapons, and unskilled
in war he attacked and overthrew the giant Goliath with a sling.
If we are fighting for a just cause, if we are forced to fight,
I pray you, first, to turn the hearts of our enemies to the desire
for peace, so that no Christian blood may be spilt upon the earth;
or to spread the fear that men call panic; or to let victory be
gained with the least shedding of blood and the smallest loss
by those whose cause is more pleasing to you, so that the war
may be quickly concluded and we may sing songs of triumph with
one accord to you, who reign in all and above all. Amen.
are we only asked to pray war prayers? Why is it that we are never
enjoined to pray prayers for peace and non-intervention? It is never
suggested that we pray for impressionable young men and women to
not be ensnared by military recruiters. It is never suggested that
we pray that American troops are never sent to fight on foreign
soil. It is never suggested that we pray for the safety of innocent
civilians in the country the U.S. military is bombing. It is never
suggested that we pray for the safety of foreign soldiers defending
their homeland against attack. It is never suggested that we pray
that the U.S. military only be used for genuinely defensive purposes.
It is never suggested that we pray that the United States return
to a noninterventionist foreign policy. It is never suggested that
we pray for Congress to limit the presidentís ability to wage war.
Instead of all these things, we are told ad nauseam to "pray
for the troops."
prayers are vague and presumptuous. What exactly does it mean when
we are told to pray for the troops? Is it their safety and protection
we are supposed to pray for? Should we pray that God keep them safe
while they fly their helicopter gunships, pilot their bombers, and
drive their tanks? This sounds like a strange thing to request since
U.S. troops are the ones that did the invading of a sovereign country.
Should we pray that God protect them while they drop bombs, throw
grenades, launch missiles, fire mortars, and shoot bullets? This
too sounds a bit odd since U.S. troops are the ones fighting an
unnecessary, senseless, and immoral war. Would we ask God to keep
someone safe while he was committing a crime? Then why should we
ask God to protect U.S. soldiers who are committing a crime
against the Iraqi people?
most significantly, war prayers are dishonest. Although not usually
vocalized, implicit in every war prayer is a request for victory.
It doesnít matter what country U.S. troops are fighting in or the
reason they are fighting. A war prayer for God to protect the troops
is not just a prayer for the troops to be kept safe for some indefinite
period; it is a prayer for the troops to be kept safe while they
are vanquishing whatever group of people the U.S. government claims
is the enemy. If war prayers were honest prayers they would openly
and boldly call upon God to help U.S. forces crush the enemies of
the United States.
(1835-1910) recognized the true nature of war prayers a hundred
years ago. In his brief story called "The
War Prayer," Twain tells of a church service held on the
Sunday before "the battalions would leave for the front."
A "war chapter" was read from the Old Testament, followed
by a long prayer from the pastor that God would protect the "noble
young soldiers," encourage them "in their patriotic work,"
and "bear them in His mighty hand." At the end of the
prayer a mysterious stranger appears and addresses the congregation.
He claims to be from the throne of God. After explaining that he
was "commissioned of God" to put into words the other
part of the pastorís prayer that he and the congregation prayed
in their hearts, the stranger uttered a real war prayer:
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 their 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 ever-faithful refuge and
friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble
and contrite hearts. Amen.
dictated "The War Prayer" around 1904-1905, it was not
published until 1923 in Albert Bigelowís anthology of Paineís writings
and Elsewhere (Harper & Brothers, pp. 394-398). Twain
is supposed to have remarked to a friend that only the dead were
permitted to tell the truth.
But Mark Twain
was not the only one to shed light on the true nature of war prayers.
Back in 1845, the American Peace Society assembled a collection
of sixty-four essays by a variety of authors and from a wide range
of viewpoints on the subjects of war and peace. It is titled The
Book of Peace: A Collection of Essays on War and Peace.
Essay No. XLI is called "War-Prayers." After pointing
out that pagans have their war prayers, and explaining how "our
prayers, if made in accordance with the pacific principles
of the gospel, would oppose war, and be discarded by all war-makers
as hostile to their designs," the author puts forth a war prayer
that honest chaplains should pray on the eve of battle:
O Lord of
hosts, smile upon thy servants now marshaled before thee for the
work of death. Breathe into them, O God of war, the spirit of
their profession. Let them for the time forget thy prohibition
of old, thou shalt not kill, and also those commands of
thy gospel which bid them do good unto all men, to love
even their enemies and turn the other cheek to the smiter. Thou
knowest, Omniscient Father of all, this is no time for the application
of such principles; and we pray thee to animate them with sentiments
more appropriate to the awful duties of this hour, and thus prepare
them for a signal and glorious triumph over their enemies. Fill
them with the spirit of war, and enable them, in humble reliance
on thee, to shoot, and stab, and trample down their foes. Nerve
every arm, direct every blow; guide every sword, every bayonet,
every bullet to the seat of life, that we may soon reap a glorious
harvest of death. Thou knowest, O God most holy, that our enemies,
murderers in heart, if not in deed, all deserve the damnation
of hell; and we beseech thee to aid us in sending as many of them
as possible to the place "where the worn dieth not, and the
fire is not quenched." Fight thou for us, and give thy servants
a great victory, for which all the people shall praise thee.
And back in
1793, Anna Barbauld expressed her opposition to war in Sins
of Government, Sins of Nations. She includes in her work
this brutally honest caustic prayer:
God of Love,
father of all families of the earth, we are going to tear in pieces
our brethren of mankind, but our strength is not equal to our
fury, we beseech thee to assist us in the work of slaughter. Whatever
mischief we do, we shall do it in thy name; we hope, therefore,
thou wilt protect us in it.
9/11 "changed everything," what we need is a war prayer
for the twenty-first century. Just as honest Christian warmongers
should recite the Warmongerís
Psalm, assent to the Warmongerís
Beatitudes, manifest the Warmongerís
Fruit of the Spirit, and pray the Presidentís
Prayer, so they should pray a war prayer like this:
O Lord God
of war, we beseech thee to bless our troops in their latest military
adventure. Go with U.S. soldiers as they travel around the globe
to intervene in the affairs of other countries. Use the U.S. military
to smite the enemies of the United States just like thou used
the children of Israel in the Old Testament to smite the heathen
nations. We ask for thy special protection on the U.S. soldiers
who have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and now occupy those countries.
Guide every bomb to its target, and every bullet to the heart
of its victim. We pray that thou would send these Muslims to hell
who dare to plant roadside bombs to harm U.S. soldiers. We know
that thou will look after widows and orphans so please help our
soldiers, thy soldiers, to create as many widows and orphans as
possible. Destroy the young Iraqi and Afghan children with bullets,
malnutrition, or disease before they grow up and become suicide
bombers. We beseech thee to guide all Predator drones to their
targets in Pakistan and all the other countries where terrorists
and their families need to be killed. Fill U.S. soldiers, thy
servants, with the spirit of indifference to the death and destruction
that they are causing. Avenge the United States, thy country,
for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We also humbly request that thou
move upon Congress to not only increase funding for this war,
but the overall military budget as well so thy people can fight
another just war against the Muslim infidel. All these things
we ask in the name of the Prince of Peace.
We know, of
course, that no war prayers like this will ever be prayed in public.
No matter where or why U.S. troops are fighting, we will still simply
be told to pray for the troops. But has anyone ever stopped to consider
what the Lord thinks about these war prayers?
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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