Hacksaw Ridge– The Tale of a Conscientious Supporter

This is a deeply moving 139 minute film, though it has some gory scenes about two-thirds through the film and is not suitable for the young. To be honest, this is a better Gibson movie, in terms of being faithful to the true story, than Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ, which often depends on the later mystical writings of Anna Katherine Emmerich, rather than sticking to the Gospel text.

This movie means a great deal to me, since I also am a pacifist, and this film shows in detail that that position has nothing to do with a lack of bravery, rather it has to do with sticking to the principles and example of Christ, and doing what good one can, even in a situation where all hell is breaking loose. It has to do with obeying both the commandments not to murder (and war is nothing but sanctioned murder) and the commandment to love one’s enemy (see Wendell Berry’s powerful little book on the Sermon on the Mount). The juxtaposition of the worst act of human beings, murdering one another, with the best of human behavior, saving and rescuing people and being prepared to lay down one’s life for others without taking life is powerful. Desmond Doss, whom this film portrays was a true American hero from Lynchburg Va. who rescued 75 men off of Hacksaw ridge, including several of the wounded enemies, as he was dedicated to saving life, any life, all lives– the one’s Jesus died for. Andrew Garfield, the former Spiderman, does a marvelous job of portraying Doss.

The second clip above tells more of the actual story about the battle for Okinawa and specifically Hacksaw Ridge. It is frankly more astounding than the film portrays it. I found myself weeping at various points in the film, especially when he lost his Bible and cried out for it. You see, I would not be a Bible professor were it not for Dr. Bernard Boyd, also a medic and chaplain in the Pacific and also a chaplain and medic on Okinawa. I remember vividly his stories of serving there, as a pacifist medic. He was my hero, and on his advice, I went on to seminary and doctoral work like he did. Here is a bit of his story from http://ncpedia.org/biography/boyd-bernard-henry:

“Upon graduation from Princeton, Boyd returned to his alma mater, Presbyterian College, where he was professor of Bible until 1947. His teaching was interrupted by the coming of the war. Though essentially a man of peace, he had been commissioned a reserve officer in the U.S. Army upon graduation from college. By 1943, with his students being called into service, he no longer felt inclined to use his ministerial exemption and volunteered for naval duty as a chaplain, with the request that he be assigned to the Marine Corps. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry, which had not previously been necessary as he had never before been charged with the pastorate of a congregation; within a few weeks after his military training was completed, he was shipped to the Pacific area. There he saw heavy fighting and was severely wounded in the battle for Okinawa. The war made a deep impression upon him, and in later years he rarely mentioned his experiences under fire.

As a young faculty member at Presbyterian College, Boyd quickly established himself as a superior teacher and lecturer. Upon separation from military service he spent two terms at Union Theological Seminary and then returned to teach at Presbyterian College for one year. In 1947 he became professor of Bible at Davidson College, where he taught until 1950, when he received the offer of an endowed chair from The University of North Carolina. It was with reservation and considerable reluctance that Boyd accepted the James A. Gray Professorship of Biblical Literature; he was happy at Davidson and felt that in a smaller, church-related institution he could do his best work. But the decision to move to Chapel Hill was made, and he filled this new position with distinction for the remaining twenty-five years of his life.”

In about 1967, I went with my father to the post office in downtown High Point N.C., and with the encouragement of my Quaker friends to get the conscientious objector forms. We had the draft then, and various of my friends and neighbors had been drafted into service in the Vietnam War against their will. My father many times tried to talk me out of doing it, as he was a WWII vet who served well and honorably in that War. But, in the end he came with me to get the forms, loving me enough to respect my decision. As things turned out, my draft number 192, was high enough that they never called my number, and I never had to turn in the papers. I still have them.

In our increasingly violent America, I would encourage every Christian to go see this film. Guns and killing are frankly not the answers to our many problems. What we need is a major revival in this country and more loyal patriotic and brave Americans like Desmond Doss who will stick to their Christian principles regardless of persecution, prosecution, or even death, while serving their country. As it turns out, there are better ways to serve than killing. Desmond Doss is the only pacifist to ever get the Medal of Honor. May there be many more.