The loud little handful
May 16, 2010 by Bill
The word “brilliant” may be overused, but surely in the case of Mark Twain it applies. He seems forever contemporary. His linguistic needles are as sharp, his observations on the human race as precise, his sarcasm and humor as glittering today as they were when he originally placed pen to paper.
In “The Mysterious Stranger” he wrote about the George W. Bushes of the world who will always “shout for war.”
“The loud little handful, as usual, will shout for the war. The pulpit will, warily and cautiously, object, but only at first. The great big dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, “It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.
“Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded, but it will not last long. The others will outshout them, and presently the antiwar audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long, you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men.
“Next, the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities and will diligently study them and refuse to examine any refutations of them and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
And again, in a timeless observation:
“I pray you to pause. Against our traditions, we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war. At first, our citizens spoke out. Today they have turned. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick, a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads. ‘Our country…right or wrong.’ An empty phrase. A silly, stupid phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, thundered from the pulpit. And every man who failed to shout it or was silent, was proclaimed a traitor, and none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, ‘Our country, right or wrong’ and urge on the war. Have you not perceived that the phrase is an insult to the nation?
“The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. The nation is drifting. Its helm is in private hands. The stupid phrase needed help and it got it. The politicians said, ‘Even if the war is wrong we must fight it out.’ Why, not even a burglar could have said it better.”
There is a classic, especially for our times that you must read. It is Twain’s The War Prayer. You will need at least one box of Kleenex. It is about Christian hypocrisy.
“O Lord our God…Thou who art love and compassion…help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds…help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded…writhing in pain…O Thou who art love and compassion…help us to wring the heart of the widows with unavailing grief…O Thou who art love and compassion…be with us as we water their way with tears and stain the white snow with the blood of their children. We ask it…in the spirit of love…of Him…who is the source of love…Amen”
You may want to read the entire prayer if you can bear it.
At Oxford University on June 26, 1907, dressed in the famous scarlet and gray robe, Mark Twain’s name was called to receive his academic honors, an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. It was reported by the London newspapers that when his name was called, “a veritable cyclone of applause flooded the campus of the entire university.”
A glorious ending to the life of one of the most courageous and brilliant free thinkers and humanists in the entire history of civilization.