OK, I confess: I was an English teacher for 40 years
before I retired eight years ago. In my dotage I like to talk about
those writers whose books I coerced my students to read. I'll
probably get over it eventually. But I still brag about having read
Mark Twain since I was in fifth grade. If I remember right, thatís
when I readall the way through"Tom Sawyer" (published in 1876)
and "Huckleberry Finn" (published in 1884).
"Tom Sawyer" was just funny, but "Huck Finn" was both
funny and serious at the same time. I think I must have read it on
my own three or four times while I was still in grade school and
junior high. The serious part had to do with Huck helping Jim, a
runaway slave running away from his owner.
Huck and Jim ran away on a raft floating down the
Mississippiwhich wasnít going the right direction because the
further south they got, the deeper the established slavery and Huck's
worry about being found guilty of helping a runaway slave run away.
He got so spooked that he wrote a letter to Jim's owner saying where
Jim could be found, but when it came time to mail the letter, Huck
started to remember all the things Jim had done for him. Then he
said to himself "All right, then I'll go to Hell"and tore up his
Knocked me out.
I was reminded of all that a year or so ago when our
current President Bush, speaking to an American Legion audience,
wound up with this: "Thanks for having me. May God bless our
veterans. May God bless our troops. And may God continue to bless
the United States of America."
The President's idea is that God clearly is on our side,
likes our war in the Middle East, and blesses our efforts in pursuing
it. And then I read what Alan Greenspanyou remember, the guy who
put in 18 years as our Federal Reserve Chairmanwrote in his new
book called "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World" that
"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to argue what
everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
But I digress. I'm getting away from Mark Twain. We all
ought to read his piece called "The War Prayer." It's only three or
four pages long and it's in response to some U.S. fighting in the
Philippines. It's about "an aged stranger" who takes over the pulpit
in the middle of the minister's prayer about supporting the war and
tells the congregation about the implications of the prayer. Here's
part of what he says:
The Truth, Mainly
"I come from the Thronebearing a message from Almighty
He then goes on tell the congregation the unspoken part of
the minister's prayer. It goes like this:
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our
hearts, go forth to battlebe Thou near them! 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 their little children to wander unfriended the wastes
of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst."
It goes on and on, then silence. Then the speaker says
"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of
the Most High waits."
Then Twain, the satirist, ends on this note: "It was
believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no
sense in what he said."
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail