The portrayal of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector in the Second World War, in the movie Hacksaw Ridge is a tale of courage, maintaining one’s convictions and not shirking away from duty. The movie, based on the real life heroics of Corporal Doss, who saved 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, seeks to paint a picture of courage and duty.
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield as Doss, is an excellent war movie which focuses more on the importance of saving a life than taking one. Doss refusing to carry a weapon or take lives, suffered countless punishments at the hands of his fellow soldiers and had to defend his beliefs in front of a court-martial panel. He said exemplified his conviction in his beliefs and God when he said the following:
“I had a job in a defense plant. I could have taken a deferment but that ain’t right. It isn’t right that other men should fight and die that I would just be sitting safe at home. I need to serve. I have the energy and the passion to serve as a medic, right in the middle with the other guys, no less danger just while everybody else is taking life, I am gonna be saving it. With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”
The question that arises out of the movie, is not related to Corporal Doss – his bravery, his courage and commitment to duty cannot be denied or ignored. The question is about being a Conscientious Objector in the time of war. War is hell – bullets flying everywhere, explosions all around you and your comrades dying brutally – when an enemy is coming to kill, how do you defend yourself if you have no weapon? If you assume you would be defended by your comrades as you protect their lives and treat emergency wounds and save lives, is that right?
Now, how many conscientious objectors can a Nation effectively tolerate? What if every man says I won’t take lives or kill – but for that to effectively work, wars will need to end, men must be required to live in harmony and peace with each other all the time. It’s a great thing to desire but naive to believe. War has been part of human society from the time of the first civilizations – when we carved weapons out of wood and stone. With every scientific breakthrough, we have found new ways of killing each other. So if war is here to stay and we can safely say that at any given time, there is a war going on in some part of the world, how do we justify conscientious objectors?
True, a medic is there to treat. But not everyone has the required skills to become one – so how do they serve, if they can’t serve as a medic – then would these men be required to carry out tasks away from the front-line so they wouldn’t be in danger? In that manner, everyone would try to avoid danger as who would want to die in conflict, most of the time, to not even see the man who kills you but be killed by an unknown bullet.
A conscientious objector, in my opinion, is a valuable human being but in war, no nation can afford to have many. War needs complete commitment – it requires a kill or be killed response; otherwise there can be no victory. To hate war, to hate killing and the desire to be kind to all, is a beautiful thing but in reality, unless everyone thinks the same, wars will happen and then, a person cannot hide behind the cover of not wanting to kill, especially if he is fighting in the war.
The battlefield, for a soldier, like the office for a corporate stooge, is his place of duty. That is what he was built for despite all the swill, people who assume a holier-than-thou approach when discussing war, utter. In the holy books too, war as a duty for the soldier is mentioned. In the Hindu epic, The Srimad Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God), when the warrior Arjuna, loses his nerve when confronted by his family members and friends on the battlefield, and drops his weapon, he is admonished by Sri Krishna in the following way:
“Death is certain for the one who is born, and birth is certain for the one who dies. Therefore, you should not lament over the inevitable. Considering your duty as a warrior you should not waver. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war. If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin. People will talk about your disgrace forever.
To the honoured, dishonor is worse than death. The great warriors will think that you have retreated from the battle out of fear. Those who have greatly esteemed you will lose respect for you.
Your enemies will speak many unmentionable words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful than this? You will go to heaven if killed, or you will enjoy the earth if victorious. Therefore, get up with a determination to fight, O Arjuna. Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin.“
Now, to those who do not believe in reincarnation or people who follow another religion or do not believe in the existence of God, the words may not hold much truth. But the words about duty. Death is certain for every man, woman or animal – everyone that is born must die. While we live, we must act in such a manner that we can stand up as proud men. Men who behave as conscientious objectors to hide their cowardice or escape the draft to avoid fighting, die a thousand deaths daily until their ultimate end. Men and women who serve and do their duty, for others, can live their lives, despite any hardship, as real men and women, with a strong sense of duty and honor.
“Thou shalt not kill” cannot be implemented individually – unless adopted collectively, it has no real place in our society and very little during times of war.