Dear God, Save Us From Ourselves: Thoughts on “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

Before I begin relaying my thoughts on this short story by Twain, I want to make it clear that I am writing this very late at night and am just going off the top of my head. If you’re looking for a refined piece of writing, keep looking.

I had never read this piece before, although I think I had heard of it somewhere. Ironically, I heard it mentioned in a Youtube video and decided to give it a read. I really want to start blogging regularly so I thought this would start me off.

This story was dictated by Twain in the latter years of his life and was not published until several years after his death. It was actually rejected by his publisher. He created it shortly after the Spanish-American War in the early 1900s.

The story is about the sending off of young volunteers to an unnamed war.  I do not want to describe its plot fully because I think it is something everyone should read (it is linked below). However, suffice it to say that the story is about the Sunday right before the new soldiers are set to leave and consists primarily of two prayers.

The first part of the story that struck me was Twain’s description of those who opposed the war. He writes that:

“…the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.”

This was the first real relevance I found for modern society.

We tend to pump ourselves full of nationalism and patriotism to the extent that we exclude and even threaten those that disagree with us. Many of us continue to do so even when the expeditions that our trumped up nationalism supported have fallen flat.

That’s a real problem. We have this idea that dissenters are somehow disloyal or unpatriotic. But the truth is that patriotism isn’t defined by one’s adherence to the current regime’s line of thinking. Patriotism is the dedication to the founding ideals of the nation and to fighting for the implementation of those ideals for all citizens equally. Disagreeing about how those ideals are implemented or what they mean is not unpatriotic, it’s the very nature of democracy.

A key example of this would be the idea of “Supporting the troops,” which is not at all the same thing as supporting the war in which those troops are engaged. One can pray and hope for the safety and well-being of the troops while also opposing where the state has sent them and the purpose it has given them.

Moving on, the second important takeaway comes in the climax of the story, during the second prayer given in church that Sunday.  Take this example, given by Twain through a character:

“If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.”

The point being made is that our success often comes at the expense of another person. This is obviously true of war.

The implications of this idea are radical. Not only does it call into question the effects that a victorious war has on the losing population, but it also delves into deeper theological and psychological questions about people’s ignorance of the consequences of their actions, or even of their hopes.

The war that Twain was likely inspired by was the Spanish-American War, which was the first conflict that established the United States as an imperial power. We captured Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, The Philippines and other territories during this encounter.  It was a war that many then and today believe was unnecessary.

The same is said by some of the more recent wars our country has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, but where you fall along that debate really isn’t relevant to the topic at hand.

The question we have to ask ourselves, the question Twain is begging his audience to ask of itself, is: “How will (or has) our victory affected our enemy and the innocents caught in the crossfire?”

A great many Christians prayed for victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did we realize that our potential victory would result someone else’s defeat? And that many of the people affected by war are the people who just happen to have been born in that part of the world?

Twain’s story uses vivid language to describe what the people in the story have prayed for, including soldiers reduced to “bloody shreds,” “the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain,” and wringing the hearts of “unoffending widows with unavailing grief.”

I hope you read this story for yourself. I think Twain’s point is not that war is always wrong or that nothing is worth fighting for.

I think his point is that we should be aware of what war really is. We shouldn’t treat it as something to get pumped up for like a football game (“drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping”).

We treat war like the old cliché tells us too. It is hell. And we should be aware that our victory in war always comes at the cost and devastation of other real-life human beings.

Victory does not happen in a vacuum. Nothing that we hope or pray for does, and we must think about the real-world effects of what we want.

Be careful what you pray for.

Here is the link for the story. Please read it (it’s actually very short) and let me know what you think.


Deflategate and Marshawn Lynch: Why You Shouldn’t and Should Care About These Stories

The two weeks between the AFC and NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl drag on for sports fans and non-sports fans alike and are usually filled with mindless chatter.

This year, we’ve been treated to two big stories. The biggest, Deflategate as it has been called, involves the New England Patriots allegedly tampering with game balls by deflating them, which allows for better grip and handle on the ball, especially in poor weather. The other involves Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who refuses to talk to the media on a regular basis and now could be fined for wearing the wrong kind of hat to media day.

Most of you reading this (surely someone out there will find and read this, right?) do not care even if you are a sports fan. You want to watch the Super Bowl game and/or commercials, but the rest is just fluff. And from the title of this post, you likely expect me to empathize with your apathy about these news items while also trying to convince you why you should actually care about them.

Are you right? Well, no. Yes. Maybe.

The truth is that these NFL stories really aren’t that big of a deal. And that’s exactly why they are.

The NFL is the most successful and profitable sporting league on the planet, but it’s had a very bad year. The Ray Rice scandal sparked a national conversation about domestic abuse, in and out of sports. Fellow running back Adrian Peterson missed most of the season after being charged with child abuse. Defensive end Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting and threatening to murder an ex-girlfriend.

These are serious (and only a few of many examples of) stories that force us to reexamine the culture surrounding a sport that many of us love.

Against the backdrop of these more serious NFL-related stories, Deflategate and Lynch’s media issues seem insignificant. And they are.

But here is why you should pay attention to them: the NFL’s response to them and our response to them say something about us.

It says something about the NFL that Hardy still received his $13 million salary this past season, even though he was found guilty. It says something that Rice was actually able to avoid charges, despite being caught on video. He was even able to recover a few million dollars of his salary as well.

The NFL has had a year of bad publicity. In the two weeks leading up to their biggest day of the year, two things happen: Deflategate and Marshawn Lynch.

The first one makes sense to investigate. It does appear to be cheating. However, nearly two weeks after the game this happened in, we still know nothing. According to ESPN, the NFL is conducting a “serious” and “thorough” investigation. We heard the same about the Rice case, which was botched completely by inconsistent punishments and what it appeared to be a concerted effort to cover up evidence. Obviously, we can expect no better now, especially considering how much money there is to be gained from the Super Bowl.

But the more outrageous issue is the other big story leading up to the Super Bowl. Lynch has always had this issue of not wanting to talk to the media. Some have speculated he has a legitimate anxiety problem while others have stated he is just being obstinate. Who knows?

It’s crazy that the NFL allegedly threatened to fine him $500,000 if he skipped his Super Bowl media appearances. And now, according to ESPN, they may fine him anyway for wearing the wrong hat to the press conference.

Why should you care about these stories? Because the NFL is a powerful business, and it is quite clearly corrupt.

Hardy assaults and threatens to murder ex. He gets $13 million. Rice is caught on video assaulting wife and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator. He avoids jail time and receives an undisclosed amount somewhere around $2-3 million. Peterson also avoids any jail time and will likely be back on the field next season.

Lynch will get fined for wearing the wrong hat. The Patriots will likely get a slap on the wrist eventually, but not in time to interfere in any way with the Super Bowl.

Some would say that professional sports are often a microcosm for our societal values. Considering the NFL is a corrupt organization run by billionaires and millionaires who exploit workers, they may be right.

The point is that these stories, especially the Lynch one, show us where the NFL’s priorities are. And they need to change.

TV Review: Sherlock

One thing that Netflix has gotten very, very right is its television show selection. While it may not always be easy to find solid movies on the service, finding great TV shows is incredibly easy.

This ease of discovery and a bit of word of mouth is what led me to Sherlock, one of the most recent incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. It is also one of the best television shows currently in production.

Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whose star is rising rapidly after roles in the films Atonement, War Horse and a big, villainous and secretive role in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek sequel. Cumberbatch is fantastic as the “consulting” detective in this modern retelling of the classic tale.

Martin Freeman plays Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ ever-present side kick. Freeman is a face most will recognize, whether it is as Tim from the British version of The Office or as Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit trilogy.

Other cast members include co-creator Mark Gatiss as Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft, Rupert Graves as Detective Inspector Lestrade and Andrew Scott as Holmes’ arch-nemesis Jim Moriarty.

But the truth is that none of them are really all that important. One of the great things about this version of the Holmes tales is its basis in the complex relationship shared between Holmes and Watson.

Cumberbatch plays Holmes as a brilliant child trapped in a man’s body. None of the other characters can keep up with his intellect, and the show does not break from its fast pace to let the audience catch up either. Holmes is a puzzle solver more than anything else; he does not care about the people he is helping, but only about winning the game.

Freeman plays Watson like an every man who has to deal with having an overgrown child who thinks he is always right (and always is) as his roommate and work partner. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Watson is not the same somewhat-dull character he has been before. Freeman’s Watson is not as smart as Holmes, but the show makes him much smarter and capable than the average man.

As the show progresses, we see more and more of why this relationship is necessary for both parties. Watson needs a way to move on after his tour of duty in the war, while Holmes desperately needs a moral compass. Both serve each other’s purposes.

This show is smart, and there will be many who do not like it because it refuses to explain everything to you. Holmes talks and thinks very fast, and graphics are often used to show us what he is thinking, typing or reading.

Much like the “deductions” Holmes makes, all the information one needs is there, but it will not always be simply pointed out to the viewer.

Having Holmes in the modern world lends itself to all sorts of possibilities, which the show uses to its advantage. GPS, cell phones and the internet are all commonly used by the pair, but in the end it is always Holmes’ brilliance that uncovers the answer.

The show does follow somewhat of a formula, and if you like this type of crime-solving show you will likely love Sherlock. However, it does buck convention regularly, and it is certainly not the type of crime show that is easy (or even possible, most of the time) to guess the ending of.

Unfortunately, only six episodes have been produced so far. The episodes are an hour and a half long each though, so it is unlikely anyone will feel too shortchanged.

The show finished its second series earlier this year, and it will begin production on its third season in March 2013.

Romantic Comedies Actually Worth Watching

In these days of a new, brain-dead romantic comedy coming out each and every week, it can be difficult to sift through all the trash and find those gems that are actually worth watching. The romantic comedy is a great film genre when done right. The unfortunate thing is that, recently, there have been very few worthy ones made.

That is not to say that fairly recent, good romantic comedies do not exist. There are many keys to good romantic comedies. The important thing that most Rom-Coms lack is originality. The traditional formula for these stories has become totally worn out. Good romantic comedies at least provide an original spin on that formula.

They also are gender-neutral. Good romantic comedies appeal to both sexes. Avoiding cheap tricks like using gross-out humor and extreme profanity for the males and overly-sentimental gushiness for the females is crucial. Good romantic comedies are made for adults, capable of critical thinking and seeing through shallow stereotypes and situations.

These types of movies still exist, and here are some of the best and most recent ones.

Crazy Stupid Love

It had really been awhile since a decent romantic comedy had come out. Crazy Stupid Love broke the streak in 2011. This film boasts a stellar cast that, unlike many casts, is filled with stars who are actors first over “funny people.”

Steve Carell and Julianne Moore do great as the main couple, whose divorce affects the rest of the characters in various ways. The multiple yet connected storylines are juggled pretty well. The movie is not perfect, but it has faults that are much more forgivable than most Rom-Coms.

The best part of this movie is the fact that it does take the simplistic view of having the dumb woman who is hurt by the bad guy and finally falls into the arms of the perfect guy. All of these characters are flawed, but none of them are portrayed as evil. They seem to be real people whose difficult situation makes us laugh and touches our hearts.


First of all, if the title of this movie makes you think of the recent NBC television show by the same name, please forget everything you remember about that show. Now that you have done that, let me introduce you to the better version of that show, which is Outsourced, the feature film on which it is based.

This film proves one thing very easily: money is not required to make a good romantic comedy. The story is about an American novelty products salesman who is sent to India by his employer to train his replacement after his entire department is outsourced. The obvious twist here is the whole “fish out of water” scenario that has been done a million times in movies. It may be a cliché, but clichés are used a lot for a reason. If you can do one well, no one minds, and no one who watched Outsourced will mind.

This movie is honest and heartfelt. As opposed to other films and TV shows that tend to poke fun at one culture or another, this film finds comedy in differences without putting down anything. The romance that does spring up between salesman Todd and Asha, one of his Indian trainees, is far from perfect. The cultural differences are clear and are not just swept under a rug. They look (refreshingly) like real people, and the movie gives them hope without solving all of their problems.


This movie almost did not make this list. Serendipity almost tips too far toward the feminine for it to be a gender-neutral romantic comedy, and there are probably many people out there who would leave it off. Like the rest of the movies on this list, it is far from perfect. Also like the rest on this list, it has the ingredients for a good Rom-Com.

The whole point of the film is that there is an unseen fate out there that, if followed, will result in a happier life. Starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsdale, the film is about a man and woman who meet, have a great evening together and then do not see each other for a number of years after deciding to leave that up to fate. In the wake of getting married, Jonathan (Cusack) decides he must find this mystery woman to avoid a number of “what-ifs” down the line. What follows is a romantic adventure of two people trying to find each.

Serendipity makes you care about these people. You want them to find each other because you like them both. It also does a pretty good job (for the most part) of not making anyone out to be the bad guy. Sara’s (Beckinsdale) fiancé is a pretentious musician who is used for comedic fodder, but it isn’t too mean-spirited. This film is suspenseful the way very few Rom-Com’s can be; watching this twosome go through obstacles and turns trying to find each other keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The Holiday

The Holiday is about two women who decide, in the midst of man troubles, to switch residences during the holidays. One lives in Los Angeles, the other in England, and a Rom-Com ensues when each woman meets a man in her new destination. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz play the women, while Jude Law and Jack Black fill the roles of the men.

While I do like this movie, it is a bit lopsided. There are obviously two parallel stories going on, with each woman experiencing her own “fish out of water” scenario. However, the story of Winslet’s character is much better. So much so that, if you removed the other half altogether, the movie might even be better. Diaz’s character is not bad, but she does come off as whiny and annoying like she has in other films.

To be honest, I really do not even remember much about her story. Winslet meets Black who is a film composer. He does not look like the regular leading man, and that is refreshing. This is Black in one of his best roles. Winslet’s character also meets a screenwriter from Hollywood’s golden days played by Eli Wallach, which really adds even more depth and emotion to her story. This movie is good, and it is worth watching even if one half is much better than the other.

Image courtesy of

High Fidelity

I’ve saved the best for last, as High Fidelity is my all-time favorite romantic comedy. John Cusack plays Rob, a record store owner whose girlfriend Laura (played by Iben Hjejle) has just left him. This prompts Rob, a continuous loser at love, to revisit some of his biggest breakups to attempt to discover why he always seems to get the same results.

The supporting cast surrounding these two main pieces is very good, with Jack Black (again, I know) and Todd Louiso playing Rob’s record story employees, Catherine Zeta-Jones playing one of Rob’s former girlfriends and Tim Robbins playing the New Age freak Laura has left Rob for. Rob and his employees are obsessed with Top 5 lists, especially in regard to music, which is what prompts him to treat us to his Top 5 breakups.

This story of going back through these breakups and reconnecting with these women is balanced with the breakup of Rob and Laura and its aftermath. This is Cusack’s best movie and one of his best performances, as he constantly breaks the fourth wall, explaining to the audience each romantic failure and more. What all of this comes out to is a wonderful film that avoids the Rom-Com formula about how growing up is hard, fantasy is just that and being in love is anything but easy.

So there you have it. Those are some romantic comedies that I liked and why I did so. Let me know what you think in the comments, and tell me what Rom-Coms you enjoy watching.