Hacksaw Ridge: A compelling account of the life-saving power of deep conviction

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) J. Ammon Larsen
  • 82nd Training Wing Chaplains

Mel Gibson’s latest film depicts the true story of Desmond Doss who voluntarily enlisted as an Army medic during WWII and eventually received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic acts. 

Hacksaw Ridge might best be described as a tale of the value of winning the battlefield of the heart.  We often see movies portraying acts of great valor in the face of the enemy at great personal risk; this story not only has these elements but also centers on the sacrifices and challenges in living one’s deepest, life-shaping convictions even in the face of fierce opposition.  The first fight must take place within oneself. Once that is won – the rest of the battle is much easier.    

The storyline touches repeatedly on his formative years; memories of his home life with an alcoholic abusive father. It was there, he learned to abhor the destructive nature of violence.  The focus of the film shifts rapidly to following Private Doss through his boot camp experience.  At a critical point in his training he upsets his entire company by quietly, but resolutely, declaring that his convictions forbid him from fighting.  When he gets labeled as a conscientious objector, he firmly counters that he refers to himself as “a conscientious cooperator.”  

Driven by a sure knowledge that God was the author of his convictions, nothing could sway Private Doss from his abstinence from fighting, and his strong desire for saving lives.  “I have the energy and the passion to serve as a medic…When the world is so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem such a bad thing to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

Throughout the bulk of the movie Private Doss is branded by his military leadership and his peers as a coward, a liability to the rest of the group. He was labeled as weak, unmanly, and a disobedient problem for his unit.  As a result, he gets publically humiliated, harshly accused and blamed for issues of undisciplined behavior, assigned extra unpleasant tasks, physically beaten by his peers, threatened by his leadership, and then finally court martialed for his beliefs.  Repeatedly, he is told by those around him, even his fiancé, to quit or compromise.  To this he faces his court martial stating: “I don’t know how I can live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe…the man I want to be.”  With the charges eventually dismissed, Private Doss is sent with his unit to combat in Japan.

The biggest influence for good in his unit was shown not only in how he continued to hold to his convictions in his own life, but how this touched the lives of others.  For example, he showed his whole-hearted devotion to his fellow soldiers by letting go of offense when he would have been warranted in seeking justice for the wrongs put upon him. The film beautifully portrays the healing power of forgiveness in his unit and how their resulting cohesion and camaraderie led to the eventual victory on Hacksaw Ridge, Okinawa.  All were amazed and inspired by his acts of valor. 

Those who are looking for an action movie will not be disappointed even though the first two thirds of the film take place off of the battlefield.  The final scenes of the movie more than make up for this.  The film inspires the need for unflinching integrity in the discharge of our duty as members of the armed forces.  I recommend every military member watch this film attentively and let its message sink deep into your soul.  I am certain that anyone who views the film will be likewise motivated to be a better person.