Early yesterday morning, I happened to read Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” It was his response, published posthumously, to the Philippine-American war of 1899. Twain opposed the war and illustrated in a powerful way the realities involved in praying for victory. Long before Bob Dylan came along, Twain was pointing out the true import of having God on your side, or at least wishing that it were so.
Death in war. Death on the streets. Is there are difference? Maybe, but certainly they have this in common: “Young lives over before they got started.” A line sung by Bruce during the second chorus puts him in company with Twain, both men wanting to sort out the truth from mere sloganeering.
The next verse, with the protagonist’s wish to protect his son from violence, brings to mind what my mother used to say to me during the Viet Nam war. I was only a little kid but with the body counts being shown on TV every night, I worried that some day I’d be drafted and have to go. Mom used to tell me that I was her only child, and for that reason the army wouldn’t take me. Being ten years old at the time, I of course had no idea that that wasn’t true. I took her word for it and went back outside to ride my bike.
I went on to not believe in a god, or in slogans, or in killing of any sort. That latter belief has put me at odds with more than a few slogan-wielding folk. No wonder I love both Twain and Springsteen.
Up next: My Beautiful Reward