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About Mark Twain’s

The War Prayer


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Introduction copyright © 2005 Aaron Shepard. All rights reserved.


Here is the background info for my reader’s theater script of Twain’s story.—Aaron

In the last decade of his life, Mark Twain took advantage of his immense popularity as a humorist to speak out seriously on a number of important political issues. He became, for instance, one of the most powerful critics of the new American imperialism, a doctrine that supported the U.S. takeover of the Philippines and suppression of its independence movement.

It was during this period, in 1904–5, that Twain wrote “The War Prayer.” According to Twain scholar Jim Zwick, the story was rejected by Harper’s Bazaar as “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine.” Twain then wrote a friend, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”

Whether due to suppression of truth or in part to Twain’s own reluctance to seem too radical, the story was in fact published only after his death. It appeared at last in 1923 in the collection Europe and Elsewhere, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. The story drew new attention during the Vietnam War, with that conflict’s echoes of the earlier Philippine involvement.

Most of the language in my adaptation is Twain’s own, but I have pruned it considerably and simplified the structure. I have also shifted the narrator voice from third person to first for a clearer point of view.

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