Mark Twain’s “War Prayer”


The War Prayer,” a short story or prose poem by Mark Twain, is a scathing indictment of war, and particularly of blind patriotic and religious fervor as motivations for war. The structure of the work is simple: An unnamed country goes to war, and patriotic citizens attend a church service for soldiers who have been called up. The people call upon their God to grant them victory and protect their troops. Suddenly, an “aged stranger” appears and announces that he is God’s messenger. He explains to them that he is there to speak aloud the second part of their prayer for victory, the part which they have implicitly wished for but have not spoken aloud themselves: the prayer for the suffering and destruction of their enemies. What follows is a grisly depiction of hardships inflicted on war-torn nations by their conquerors. The story ends with the man being ignored.

The piece was left unpublished by Mark Twain at his death in April 1910, largely due to pressure from his family, who feared that the story would be considered sacrilegious. Twain’s publisher and other friends also discouraged him from publishing it. According to one account, his illustrator Dan Beard asked him if he would publish it anyway, and Twain replied, “No, I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.” Mindful of public reaction, he considered that he had a family to support and did not want to be seen as a lunatic or fanatic.  “The War Prayer” was finally published some six years after his death, in the November 1916 issue of what was then called Harper’s Monthly, against the background of World War I.[1]

[1] Wikipedia. Retrieved 12.24.2013.

War Prayer

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 sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads 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 outpouring 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 faces alight with material dreams-visions of a 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 heros, 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 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 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 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 His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you 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 by 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 the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“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 their 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 ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(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.

The Mask of Anarchy

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Masque of Anarchy ( or ‘The Mask of Anarchy’) is a political poem written in 1819 following the Peterloo Massacre of that year. In his call for freedom, it is perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance.

The poem was not published during Shelley’s lifetime and did not appear in print until 1832 when published by Edward Moxon in London with a preface by Leigh Hunt.  Shelley had sent the manuscript in 1819 for publication in The Examiner. Hunt withheld it from publication because he “thought that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse.”[1]


As I lay asleep in Italy

There came a voice from over the Sea,

And with great power it forth led me

To walk in the visions of Poesy.

I met Murder on the way—

He had a mask like Castlereagh—

Very smooth he looked, yet grim ;

Seven blood-hounds followed him :

All were fat ; and well they might

Be in admirable plight,

For one by one, and two by two,

He tossed them human hearts to chew

Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Next came Fraud, and he had on,

Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown ;

His big tears, for he wept well,

Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who

Round his feet played to and fro,

Thinking every tear a gem,

Had their brains knocked out by them.



Clothed with the Bible, as with light,

And the shadows of the night,

Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy

On a crocodile rode by.

And many more Destructions played

In this ghastly masquerade,

All disguised, even to the eyes,

Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, and spies.

Last came Anarchy : he rode

On a white horse, splashed with blood ;

He was pale even to the lips,

Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown ;

And in his grasp a sceptre shone ;

On his brow this mark I saw—


With a pace stately and fast,

Over English land he passed,

Trampling to a mire of blood

The adoring multitude.

And with a mighty troop around

With their trampling shook the ground,

Waving each a bloody sword,

For the service of their Lord.

And with glorious triumph they

Rode through England proud and gay,

Drunk as with intoxication

Of the wine of desolation.

O’er fields and towns, from sea to sea,

Passed the Pageant swift and free,

Tearing up, and trampling down ;

Till they came to London town.




And each dweller, panic-stricken,

Felt his heart with terror sicken

Hearing the tempestuous cry

Of the triumph of Anarchy.

For from pomp to meet him came,

Clothed in arms like blood and flame,

The hired murderers, who did sing

‘Thou art God, and Law, and King.

‘We have waited weak and lone

For thy coming, Mighty One!

Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,

Give us glory, and blood, and gold.’

Lawyers and priests a motley crowd,

To the earth their pale brows bowed ;

Like a bad prayer not over loud,

Whispering—‘Thou art Law and God.’—

Then all cried with one accord,

‘Thou art King, and God, and Lord ;

Anarchy, to thee we bow,

Be thy name made holy now!’

And Anarchy, the Skeleton,

Bowed and grinned to every one,

As well as if his education

Had cost ten millions to the nation.

For he knew the Palaces

Of our Kings were rightly his ;

His the sceptre, crown, and globe,

And the gold-inwoven robe.

So he sent his slaves before

To seize upon the Bank and Tower,

And was proceeding with intent

To meet his pensioned Parliament





When one fled past, a maniac maid,

And her name was Hope, she said :

But she looked more like Despair,

And she cried out in the air :

‘My father Time is weak and gray

With waiting for a better day ;

See how idiot-like he stands,

Fumbling with his palsied hands!

‘He has had child after child,

And the dust of death is piled

Over every one but me—

Misery, oh, Misery!’

Then she lay down in the street,

Right before the horses feet,

Expecting, with a patient eye,

Murder, Fraud, and Anarchy.

When between her and her foes

A mist, a light, an image rose.

Small at first, and weak, and frail

Like the vapour of a vale :

Till as clouds grow on the blast,

Like tower-crowned giants striding fast,

And glare with lightnings as they fly,

And speak in thunder to the sky.

It grew—a Shape arrayed in mail

Brighter than the viper’s scale,

And upborne on wings whose grain

Was as the light of sunny rain.

On its helm, seen far away,

A planet, like the Morning’s, lay ;

And those plumes its light rained through

Like a shower of crimson dew.



With step as soft as wind it passed

O’er the heads of men—so fast

That they knew the presence there,

And looked,—but all was empty air.

As flowers beneath May’s footstep waken,

As stars from Night’s loose hair are shaken,

As waves arise when loud winds call,

Thoughts sprung where’er that step did fall.

And the prostrate multitude

Looked—and ankle-deep in blood,

Hope, that maiden most serene,

Was walking with a quiet mien :

And Anarchy, the ghastly birth,

Lay dead earth upon the earth ;

The Horse of Death tameless as wind

Fled, and with his hoofs did grind

To dust the murderers thronged behind.

A rushing light of clouds and splendour,

A sense awakening and yet tender

Was heard and felt—and at its close

These words of joy and fear arose

As if their own indignant Earth

Which gave the sons of England birth

Had felt their blood upon her brow,

And shuddering with a mother’s throe

Had turned every drop of blood

By which her face had been bedewed

To an accent unwithstood,—

As if her heart cried out aloud :

‘Men of England, heirs of Glory,

Heroes of unwritten story,

Nurslings of one mighty Mother,

Hopes of her, and one another ;



‘Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number.

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you—

Ye are many—they are few.

‘What is Freedom?—ye can tell

That which slavery is, too well—

For its very name has grown

To an echo of your own.

‘’Tis to work and have such pay

As just keeps life from day to day

In your limbs, as in a cell

For the tyrants’ use to dwell,

‘So that ye for them are made

Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade,

With or without your own will bent

To their defence and nourishment.

‘’Tis to see your children weak

With their mothers pine and peak,

When the winter winds are bleak,—

They are dying whilst I speak.

‘’Tis to hunger for such diet

As the rich man in his riot

Casts to the fat dogs that lie

Surfeiting beneath his eye ;

‘’Tis to let the Ghost of Gold

Take from Toil a thousandfold

More than e’er its substance could

In the tyrannies of old.

‘Paper coin—that forgery

Of the title-deeds, which ye

Hold to something from the worth

Of the inheritance of Earth.




‘Tis to be a slave in soul

And to hold no strong control

Over your own wills, but be

All that others make of ye.

‘And at length when ye complain

With a murmur weak and vain

’Tis to see the Tyrant’s crew

Ride over your wives and you—

Blood is on the grass like dew.

‘Then it is to feel revenge

Fiercely thirsting to exchange

Blood for blood—and wrong for wrong—

Do not thus when ye are strong.

‘Birds find rest, in narrow nest

When weary of their wingèd quest ;

Beasts find fare, in woody lair

When storm and snow are in the air.

‘Horses, oxen, have a home,

When from daily toil they come ;

Household dogs, when the wind roars,

Find a home within warm doors.’

‘Asses, swine, have litter spread

And with fitting food are fed ;

All things have a home but one—

Thou, Oh, Englishman, hast none !

‘This is Slavery—savage men,

Or wild beasts within a den

Would endure not as ye do—

But such ills they never knew.

‘What art thou, Freedom ? O ! could slaves

Answer from their living graves

This demand—tyrants would flee

Like a dream’s imagery :


‘Thou are not, as impostors say,

A shadow soon to pass away,

A superstition, and a name

Echoing from the cave of Fame.

‘For the labourer thou art bread,

And a comely table spread

From his daily labour come

In a neat and happy home.

‘Thou art clothes, and fire, and food

For the trampled multitude—

No—in countries that are free

Such starvation cannot be

As in England now we see.

‘To the rich thou art a check,

When his foot is on the neck

Of his victim, thou dost make

That he treads upon a snake.

‘Thou art Justice—ne’er for gold

May thy righteous laws be sold

As laws are in England—thou

Shield’st alike both high and low.

‘Thou art Wisdom—Freemen never

Dream that God will damn for ever

All who think those things untrue

Of which Priests make such ado.

‘Thou art Peace—never by thee

Would blood and treasure wasted be

As tyrants wasted them, when all

Leagued to quench thy flame in Gaul.

‘What if English toil and blood

Was poured forth, even as a flood ?

It availed, Oh, Liberty.

To dim, but not extinguish thee.



‘Thou art Love—the rich have kissed

Thy feet, and like him following Christ,

Give their substance to the free

And through the rough world follow thee,

‘Or turn their wealth to arms, and make

War for thy belovèd sake

On wealth, and war, and fraud—whence they

Drew the power which is their prey.

‘Science, Poetry, and Thought

Are thy lamps ; they make the lot

Of the dwellers in a cot

So serene, they curse it not.

‘Spirit, Patience, Gentleness,

All that can adorn and bless

Art thou—let deeds, not words, express

Thine exceeding loveliness.

‘Let a great Assembly be

Of the fearless and the free

On some spot of English ground

Where the plains stretch wide around.

‘Let the blue sky overhead,

The green earth on which ye tread,

All that must eternal be

Witness the solemnity.

‘From the corners uttermost

Of the bounds of English coast ;

From every hut, village, and town

Where those who live and suffer moan

For others’ misery or their own,

‘From the workhouse and the prison

Where pale as corpses newly risen,

Women, children, young and old

Groan for pain, and weep for cold—



‘From the haunts of daily life

Where is waged the daily strife

With common wants and common cares

Which sows the human heart with tares—

‘Lastly from the palaces

Where the murmur of distress

Echoes, like the distant sound

Of a wind alive around

‘Those prison halls of wealth and fashion.

Where some few feel such compassion

For those who groan, and toil, and wail

As must make their brethren pale—

‘Ye who suffer woes untold,

Or to feel, or to behold

Your lost country bought and sold

With a price of blood and gold—

‘Let a vast assembly be,

And with great solemnity

Declare with measured words that ye

Are, as God has made ye, free—

‘Be your strong and simple words

Keen to wound as sharpened swords,

And wide as targes let them be,

With their shade to cover ye.

‘Let the tyrants pour around

With a quick and startling sound,

Like the loosening of a sea,

Troops of armed emblazonry.

‘Let the charged artillery drive

Till the dead air seems alive

With the clash of clanging wheels,

And the tramp of horses’ heels.




‘Let the fixèd bayonet

Gleam with sharp desire to wet

Its bright point in English blood

Looking keen as one for food.

‘Let the horsemen’s scimitars

Wheel and flash, like sphereless stars

Thirsting to eclipse their burning

In a sea of death and mourning.

‘Stand ye calm and resolute,

Like a forest close and mute,

With folded arms and looks which are

Weapons of unvanquished war,

‘And let Panic, who outspeeds

The career of armèd steeds

Pass, a disregarded shade

Through your phalanx undismayed.

‘Let the laws of your own land,

Good or ill, between ye stand

Hand to hand, and foot to foot,

Arbiters of the dispute,

‘The old laws of England—they

Whose reverend heads with age are gray,

Children of a wiser day ;

And whose solemn voice must be

Thine own echo—Liberty !

‘On those who first should violate

Such sacred heralds in their state

Rest the blood that must ensue,

And it will not rest on you.

‘And if then the tyrants dare

Let them ride among you there,

Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew, —

What they like, that let them do.



‘With folded arms and steady eyes,

And little fear, and less surprise,

Look upon them as they slay

Till their rage has died away.’

‘Then they will return with shame

To the place from which they came,

And the blood thus shed will speak

In hot blushes on their cheek.

‘Every woman in the land

Will point at them as they stand—

They will hardly dare to greet

Their acquaintance in the street.

‘And the bold, true warriors

Who have hugged Danger in wars

Will turn to those who would be free,

Ashamed of such base company.

‘And that slaughter to the Nation

Shall steam up like inspiration,

Eloquent, oracular ;

A volcano heard afar.

‘And these words shall then become

Like Oppression’s thundered doom

Ringing through each heart and brain.

Heard again—again—again—

‘Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number—

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you—

Ye are many—they are few.’


The Iliad of Homer, ca 800 BCE

Book II[1]

While the others were seated and packed in close,

the endlessly talkative Thersites alone let his tongue run on,

his mind filled with a store of unruly words, baiting the leaders

wildly and recklessly, aiming to raise a laugh among the men.

He was the ugliest of all who had come to Ilium, bandy-legged

and lame of foot; rounded shoulders hunched over his chest;

and above them a narrow head with a scant few hairs.

He was loathed above all by Odysseus and Achilles,

his favorites for abuse; but now his shrill cry rose

against noble Agamemnon, despite the deep anger and indignation

of the Achaeans.


At the top of his voice he reviled the King:

‘Son of Atreus, what’s your problem now, what more do you need?

Your huts are filled with bronze, crowded with women,

the pick of the spoils we Achaeans grant you when we sack a city.

Is it gold you want now, the ransom for his son some horse-taming

Trojan shall bring you out of Ilium, the son that I or some other

Achaean have bound and led away? Or a young girl to sleep with,

one for you alone? Is it right for our leader to wrong us in this way?

Fools! Shameful weaklings! Achaean women!

Since you’re no longer men, home then with our ships, and leave

this fellow here, at Troy, to contemplate his prizes,

let him learn how much he depends on us, this man who insulted

Achilles, a better man than he, by arrogantly snatching his prize.

Surely Achilles has a heart free of anger, to accept it; or,

son of Atreus, that insolent act would be your last.’


So Thersites railed at Agamemnon, leader of men,

but noble Odysseus was soon at his side, and rage in his look,

lashed him with harsh words:

“Take care what you say, Thersites, so eloquent, so reckless,

take care when you challenge princes, alone. None baser than you

followed the Atreidae[2] to Troy, so you least of all

should sound a king’s name on your tongue, slandering our leaders,

with your eye on home. No one knows how this thing will end,

whether we Greeks will return in triumph or no. Go on then,

pour scorn on Agamemnon, our leader, the son of Atreus,

for the gifts you yourselves gave him: make free with your mockery.

But let me tell you this, and be sure: if I find you playing the fool

like this again, then let my head be parted from my shoulders,

and Telemachus be no son of mine, if I don’t lay hands on you,

strip you bare of cloak and tunic, all that hides your nakedness,

drive you from here, and send you wailing to the swift ships,

shamed by a hail of blows.”


So saying, Odysseus, struck with his staff at Thersites’ back

and shoulders, and the man cowered and shed a huge tear,

as a bloody weal was raised behind by the golden staff.

Then terrified, and in pain, he sat, helplessly wiping the tear

from his eye.


Then the Achaeans, despite their discontent, mocked him ruthlessly.

“There,” cried one to his neighbor, “Odysseus is ever a one

for fine deeds, clever in counsel, and strategy, but this is surely the best

thing he’s done for us Greeks, in shutting this scurrilous babbler’s

mouth. I think Thersites’ proud spirit will shrink from ever again

abusing kings with his foul words.”

The Long War

by Li Bai[1] (ca. 701-762)

They fought last year, by the upper valley of Son-Kan …

This year, by the high ranges of the Leek Mountains,

They are still fighting … fighting!

They wash their swords and armor in the cold waves

of the Tiao-Chih Sea;

                                    Their horses, turning loose over the Tien Mountains,

                                    Seek the meagre grasses in the white snow.

                                    Long, long have they been fighting, full ten thousand Li[2]

away from home;

                                    Their armor is worn out, the soldiers grown old …

                                    O, the warlike Tartars!

                                    To them manslaughter is their plowing,

                                    Plowing, O from ancient times, in the fields of white bones

and yellow sands!

                                    It was in vain that the Emperor of China built the Great Wall,

Hoping to shut out the fiery hordes.

Where the wall stands, down to the Han Dynasty,

The beacon fires keep on burning.

The war will never cease!

The soldiers fight and die in death-grapple on the battle-field,

While their wounded horses howl in lamentation,

Throwing up their heads at the desolate sky;

The grey ravens and hungry vultures tear

And carry away the long bowels of the dead,

Hanging them on the twigs of lifeless trees.

O soldiers that fight long—their blood vanished (in)

           the desert weeds!

                                    But what more have the generals accomplished?

                                    O swords and armor, ye murderous instruments!

                                    If the sages ever employed you, hearken, it was through

painful necessity!

                                    The Son-Kan Valley, the Leek Mountains, the Tiao-Chih Sea,

                                                and the

                                    Tien Mountains are all near or outside the north-western

frontier of China.

Anti-war films

I have very mixed feelings about films that are portrayed as “anti-war” because I find most of them are not truly anti-war or are very ambiguous about how war is portrayed.  I also have this strong ambiguity about still photographs that portray the hell that war is. For instance, the vast majority of combat photographs out of the American war in Vietnam are either neutral on the war or portray the war’s brutality without offering the viewer some options and ideas of how to halt war.

I will be developing this theme as I post more war photography that is considered iconic, asking transparently whether it is anti-war photography or war porn.

But back  to movies, here is a web site that links more titles than I would list:

Here are ten movies that I would definitely consider anti-war films.

* The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin. (Although I am not convinced satire really motivates the uninspired to stop war, this is a great and serious comedy about Hitler and National Socialism.)

* War Hunt by Denis Sanders (director). (While this is the first movie appearance of a very young Robert Redford, what is haunting about this film, set during the Korean War, is the behavior of actor John Saxon, who portrays a soldier who sneaks behind enemy lines every night to murder.  It is a dark and frightful and true side of war.)

* Oh, What a Lovely War, directed by Richard Attenborough.  (The more you know of the official and unofficial history of WWI–for instance, military leadership was atrocious and murderous–the more meaningful you will find this movie. Again, satire and humor are used, but don’t allow that technique to distance you from the horror and inhumanity of WWI.)

* A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. (A heart rendering story of a young woman (Tautou) who refuses to believe that here fiance was killed in the Battle of the Somme. She spends her life waiting and believing he will return.  A true anti-war film of what war death does to the living.)

* Paths of Glory, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas. (Set in the French Army in WWI, it is a tragic story of French soldiers executed by French generals because the military unit led by the officer played by Douglas failed to take a military objective and were decreed cowards.  The three men executed were selected at random to die. An amazing story of how “orders” are more important than human life.)

* The Conscientious Objector, a documentary film by Terry L. Benedict. (Based on a true story, this film is about a man who refused to carry a weapon in war, but served as a medic. It’s a very ambiguous story, because to a radical CO, even assisting in war is a violation of ethics.  A film worth watching.)

* Let There Be Light, a documentary film by John Huston.  (An amazing piece of film–authorized by the post-WWII U.S. Army of 75 men suffering from psychosomatic disabilities, what we now call PTSD, that required their hospitalization.)

* Flame and Citron, a film by Ole Christian Madsen. (Set in Copenhagen in 1944, the film is a story of two idealistic anti-Nazi resistance fighters.  You get to like them very much and then you get to watch them die.  That is what war is.)

* Born on the Fourth of July, an Oliver Stone film.  (Even though I am not a fan of Tom Cruise, ,this has to be one of the classic Vietnam-era anti-war films.  I still think Ron Kovic’s stunning book is better than the movie. I read it again earlier this year and it still brought tears to my eyes.)

* My Lai. a PBS documentary.  (This too is a must-see film that, just like Born on the Fourth of July, cannot be interpreted as anything but an anti-war film.  But My Lai was not an isolated incident in the American war in Vietnam. Don’t take my word for it. Read Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, based on military investigations accidentally discovered by Turse in the National Archives.)