By N.S. Palmer
Bless ’em all, Bless ’em all.
The long and the short and the tall,
Bless all those Sergeants and WO1’s,
Bless all those Corporals and their bleedin’ sons,
Cos’ were saying goodbye to ’em all.
And back to their Billets they crawl,
You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean,
So cheer up my lads bless ’em all.
Sometimes, I wonder what people are thinking. Or if they even think at all. There’s scant evidence of it.
My favorite deli in Indianapolis went out of business last November and has been replaced by a pancake restaurant. On the window next to its door is a large, crudely-painted invocation requesting God to “bless our troops.”
The painting shows the soldier kneeling, his head bowed reverently. And what is the object of his reverence? Here’s a hint: It’s neither a Christian cross, nor a Jewish star of David, nor even a Muslim star and crescent. But it is a religious symbol.
It’s an American flag to which the soldier kneels and bows his head.
Hmmm. That reminds me of something I read somewhere, in a book that all the conservatives are supposed to like. It said something like this:
You shall have no other gods before me.
Ahh, yes, it’s that whole idolatry thing. But I’m sure we can let slide a little idolatry if it’s in the service of killing a bunch of dirty foreign infidels who speak gibberish and who happen to be sitting on top of our oil.
Inside the pancake restaurant, I looked at at the menu. The first thing that caught my attention was “Freedom Toast.”
Now, you might not know what that is. I asked the waitress. “French toast,” she said.
During the reign of Bush the Younger, we were supposed to hate the French because they said it was a really, really bad idea for us to invade Iraq. They said there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, whatever those are, or that it posed any threat to the United States, or that it had any involvement whatsoever in the 9/11 false-flag attacks.
Bush supporters urged that we change the name of French fries to “freedom fries” and French toast to “freedom toast” to show our disdain for those “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” as the Bush people called the French.
And we all know how that turned out. Iraq was bristling with nuclear missiles aimed at New York and Chicago. Its ships were lurking off American coasts prepared to launch anthrax-spraying drones. And Saddam Hussein personally ordered the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Oh, wait, none of that happened.
Everything that the French said turned out to be true. Everything that the Bush-Cheney gang said turned out to be a pack of lies.
So, who wants to eat “Freedom Toast”? Apparently, it’s people who still think that it was a great idea to invade Iraq, that Bush was a good president instead of a traitor, a psychopath, and a war criminal, and that we should not thank the French for trying to stop us from embarking on a disastrous and ruinously expensive military debacle. There aren’t many of those people, even in Indiana.
The original author of the “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast” idea, Republican Congressman Walter B. Jones, has since disavowed it and gone back to eating French fries and French toast. Maybe he even drinks a little French wine, I don’t know. He was ignorant and bellicose, but he’s neither insane nor is he an idiot. He knows the truth when it stares him in the face.
But truth is the first casualty of war, and of presidents who want to make war. Partly that’s just because of our flawed human nature. As the American novelist Mark Twain remarked, the human being at his best is a kind of low-grade nickel-plated angel; at his worst, he is unspeakable. People support wars partly because, God help us, human nature inclines us to believe that killing other people is a lot of fun.
Mark Twain is best-known for his novels Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. In addition to being good stories, they dramatize the evils of racism and slavery. They’re not read much these days because they also use “the N-word” to denote black people. But given that Twain argued against racism and prejudice, you should remember that until the 1950s, the N-word was in common use. Most people used it with no malign intent, however offensive it might be today. If someone uses it today, he’s doing it on purpose and means to say something offensive. In Twain’s time, it was not so.
But I digress. Twain also wrote a wonderful short poem called The War Prayer. Very few people have heard of it; even fewer have read it, though everyone should read it. And lucky us, it’s not under copyright, so I can reproduce it here for you.
You will recognize yourself and your town in it. I do. And like me, you might feel a little ashamed:
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and 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.
Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation
God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!
Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.
“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. 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.
“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words.
“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 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 the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.
(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.
Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.