I remember the first time I read Mark Twain's famous opus, "The War Prayer." Well, it was famous to some people; actually, I had never heard of it. (If you haven't read it recently, or ever, you can find it here.) It was shown to me by one of my college friends, a fun-loving, informed, committed member of the 60s campus left, and I am indebted to him for many things. But friend or not, I can remember to this day my own reaction when I read it for the first time: What business did Mark Twain have writing that? I had known he was a cynic (someone had told me), but I thought he was an all-American. It was practically traitorous. It was true that Vietnam, the necessary war against communism, was dragging badly, but the righteousness of the cause was not in doubt . . . What was my friend suggesting, saying, insinuating, by getting me to read this?
I was one of those people Mark Twain mentioned at the end of the piece, and I think that even at the time I sensed it: "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic; because there was no sense in what he said."
Mark Twain makes a lot more sense to me now.
I remember the first time I heard about Gore Vidal. I knew he was a liberal (someone told me), and I further knew that one of my heroes, the conservative columnist Bill Buckley, famously didn't like him; and that was enough for me. Well, I got to hear Gore Vidal for myself a while back (on the Internet, of course), where he talks about "the United States of Amnesia." He is referring to a nation of people who forget everything that happened before last Monday morning. Well, he may or may not be a liberal, but he sure nailed that one. You can find lots of his interviews on YouTube, and judge for yourself. Let me just say that I find him very interesting. Uncomfortable, too, like Mark Twain.
History shows us that Americans especially like to be amnesiac about the atrocities committed by Americans in whatever war is under discussion. It is an old weakness. Back in the early 1800s, folks didn't like to hear about General Jackson cutting off the noses of 557 Creek Indians; they just wanted to know that Old Hickory had won the war. They didn't want to hear about Phil Sheridan and the Washita massacre, they just wanted to settle the West. And to this day they don't want to hear how the US Army under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt wiped out thousands upon thousands of Filipino soldiers and many tens of thousands of civilians. But there was a noble cause: it was in order to bring the "gospel" to our "little brown brothers." Do you think that the Lord of All Worlds is proud of this? (By the way, it is one of the wars where the US military perfected waterboarding. So if somebody wants to defend this particular custom as an old American military tradition, I must bow to the undisputed facts and admit that they are right.)
In my own youth, it was the war in Vietnam, conceived in CIA stupidity (collusion with both communists and old colonialists) and born in a military lie (the faked incident in the Gulf of Tonkin); the burdens to be borne by young, poor men -- many of them idealistic, but most of them simply drafted against their will; cheered on by their silly, or gullible, or helpless parents; abandoned, at the last, by the higher echelons of America's political class (the same elite "internationalist" intelligentsia that masterminded the Korean war from unnecessary start to ugly midgame to inconclusive finish); but not before The Powers That Be had shattered the Vietnamese peasantry, and toppled the dominoes into mass murders in Cambodia and Laos as well.
Atrocities are in the nature of war. Maybe not in all wars -- maybe there are "just wars" -- but we can indisputably document that a series of atrocities have been the norm in most American wars.
But I will agree that there is a difference this time: the Vietnam war was started by an administration of liberal Democrats, and perpetuated by the support of conservative Republicans. The current wars in the Near East were started by an administration of conservative Republicans and perpetuated by the support of liberal Democrats.
The more things change . . .
I think about Mark Twain's "The War Prayer," written over a hundred years ago. Thank you for beginning the wake-up process for me, Jay.
. . . the more they remain the same.
It is much easier to forget than to think about changing. But if we can't quite forget, it is comforting to know that war is always, really, for God. Isn't it?
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One of the commenters on an earlier post suggested the following links for our consideration. I highly recommend them. They can be found here and here and here.
I believe that the Gore Vidal interview was carried on the Real News Network. I also highly recommend them.
Comments, pro and con, most welcome. Let's talk; it's way better than fighting.