The Meaning of Victory in Mark Twain's the War Prayer

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Created in 1905, Mark Twain’s satirical piece The War Prayer was written in reference to the Spanish-American war to condemn the naive prayer of war success. Through euphemistic language showing irony and a tonal shift, Twain makes an appeal to logos to highlight how ignorant the citizens and the people of the church were being when they prayed for mercy, but also ill-will towards their enemies.

Euphemistic diction and language is used especially in the beginning of Twain’s story. The diction “great and exalting excitement” is used in contrast to “war” to reveal a sense of irony in the country’s actions. It is ironic because instead of mourning for the soldiers who are about to go into this war, the diction creates a sense of pride which suggests that the people seem to have a sense of pride for their own sons being chosen to fight in this war.. Logically, during a time of war, there would not be scenes of jubilation. For this unnamed country though, the citizens seem to praise the act of war rather than discourage it. The “holy fire of patriotism” and the “envy” the neighbors felt also brings to light the citizens blind patriotism towards their country. As stated before, if the people of this country were sensible this “envy” and blatant praise would not be morally accepted because this is usually a time for grieving. Their “envy” towards their neighbors shows how blind they are because they are not looking at the war in a reasonable manner. This war could result in the death of many of the citizen’s own sons, but they continue to support the war. The citizens even shut down those who “ventured to disapprove of the war and cast doubt upon it,” those who are the voice of reason, in their frenzy to celebrate the sending off of their own sons into the horrors of war.

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Throughout the piece there is a clear shift in tone from passionate patriotism to sharp disapproval. Twain uses a second character to execute this change. This character introduces a second prayer that contradicts the first one, in that it describes the reality of the violence of the war. Instead of “honor” and “glory,” Twain shocks his audience with images of “bloody shreds” and “desolated land(s) in rags and hunger” to show how hypocritical the citizens were. Logically, no one would want the horrors of war set on anyone, but the country’s blind patriotism and narrow-mindedness kept them from seeing what they were truly asking for in their prayers.

Twain calls on the world to take in consideration what the victory of a war really means, that when you are celebrating for your own win, you are also celebrating the destruction of human lives. Furthermore, his anti-war protest draws attention to the hypocrisy of the church and the people. It is easy to wish for a certain outcome when one isn’t on the receiving end. Through the use of many rhetorical tools, Twain effectively builds a solid argument against the cruelty of war on both parties. 

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