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Monday, November 7, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge film is less miraculous than the real story and totally worth seeing


Desmond Doss was a mere wisp of a man when he signed up for the Army.  Andrew Garfield's youthful frame was at least 10 lbs meatier.  Partial mountain goat genetics must have been involved because Doss was unbelievably athletic, and gifted with an intrepid heart.  His fortitude to follow his church's teaching fell beyond the lines of what most people can grasp, so did his heroism.  He wasn't going to back down about anything.  And he wasn't going to Lord it over on anyone either.

Andrew Garfield is a wonderful actor and that I really think we are going to see a lot more from him.  His portrayal of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge captured a deeply faithful man's journey.  When I first saw a trailer on Swagbucks, I immediatly hotlisted it to see opening weekend.  And yes, part of it was because of Andrew Garfield.  He was a fun Spider-Man, but the only vestige of Spider-Man here was pure athleticism.  And I've seen him in a few other things which have convinced me of Garfiled's talent.

Initially, the Army thanked Doss for signing up to be a medic by trying to kick him out.  But he fought the discharge attempt saying, "I'd be a very poor Christian if I accepted a discharge implying that I was mentally 'off' because of my religion."

Obviously, in the film, they have to make it look dramatic, and things might be out of order.  They frequently employ a time compression technique in films.  The Battle of Okinawa took place over many days.  And on the first day, which was a Saturday, no one in Doss's company was wounded except for one guy's hand.  How did they do it?  "Doss prayed."

Never mind the toning down, Doss still looked every inch like a decorated hero- a difficult feat to pull of when the title character is a Christian.  Not only did he carry 75 soldiers to safety the day of a counter-attack, he even rendered aid to the Japanese he encountered.  And where the movie ended, he committed one more heroic act, and that was to give up his stretcher to someone who he thought was worse off, causing him to be wounded yet again before he crawled to the aid station.  And in between the battle of Okinawa pictured in the film, and his intense experiences during training at Fort Jackson, SC, he put himself under fire to administer aid and save more wounded at the battles of Guam and Leyta.

One review pointed to the hypocrisy of Doss himself not carrying a weapon, but relying on others to do so to protect him.  From my understanding, Seventh Day Adventists are not against war, and willingly serve their country and salute the flag.  But they will not themselves bear arms.  Doss felt that being a medic and serving as a medic even on the Sabbath was acceptable because "Even Jesus healed on the Sabbath." 

The severity of ostracism was even greater than depicted.  Some soldiers threw things at him while he prayed in the barracks.  All this just for keeping the Saturday sabbath, not eating meat, and for praying while carrying his Bible around with him and reading it to himself.  By the end of the film, and by the end of Doss's military service, no one apparently minded any of this because he had proved himself.

Doss's humility records him as saying it was closer to 50 that he saved at Okinawa.  The Army isn't much for exaggeration, so I'm likely to believe this account of 75.  It's fascinating that the film stopped short, but people already struggle to believe the film as it is.

The only thing I can't quite pin down is that that most accounts say he willingly volunteered for service.  The New York Times reported in an obituary that he was working in a shipyard when he got his draft notice.  I'm going to have to look into it, including buying the new book about Doss, "Redemption At Hacksaw Ridge" which is an update of the original 1967 biography, "The Unlikely Hero."

Doss's life after heroic service in the Army encapsulates everything that is wrong with how we compensate our veterans.  He spent 5 years in the hospital recovering from his injuries and was never able to sustain full employment.  He contracted tuberculosis and they removed a lung to help things along.  At that point in time, people still spent years in sanitoriums in hopes of recovering from tuberculosis.  I am not sure his pension was adequate to assist him.

In sum, this is a wonderful film which accurately depicts the horrors of war.  If you are squeamish, close your eyes.  Don't take the young kids.  While this won't be shown in Sunday school (or Saturday school) anytime soon, Doss gives Christians a lot to talk about with their families, such as how to handle bullying, how to properly stand up for your faith, and what makes a hero.  If you ever had questions about Seventh Day Adventists sincerity as Christian believers, perhaps this film will help you set that aside.

The following articles were consulted:
  1. Army Cpl. Desmond T. Doss Seventh-Day Adventist Saved Fellow Soldiers on Sabbath 
  2. Desmond T. Doss The Soldier and his SWORD (meaning the Bible)
  3. Desmond T. Doss, 87, Heroic War Objector, Dies
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