'Hacksaw Ridge' Reveals the True Purpose of Religious Freedom

Having literally bled in order to secure his freedom to save lives on the battlefield, Doss goes on to prove his mettle in the notorious Battle of Okinawa. The fighting takes place on a ridge, known as "Hacksaw Ridge" because Americans would take it and then be pushed off by the Japanese shortly afterward. As Doss's company arrives, they see the last company leaving, with truckloads of dead and dying soldiers. On the ridge itself, troops must clamber over decaying corpses as they dodge gunfire and grenades from the Japanese.

The action is gruesome and stomach curling, but it serves an important purpose. The New Yorker's Richard Brody argues that the "pornographic violence" actually "expresses a pleasure in staging and observing such grotesque and horrific violence—a pleasure that's immediate, extra-moral, and personal." Judging by the revulsion of my fellow audience members, I must disagree. Hacksaw Ridge is true to the history, and its violence merely highlights the heroism of its main character.

While soldiers are dying around him, Doss stays at the front of the line, tending to each wounded American. Yes, human flesh goes flying, limbs are busted, and men die slowly and in pain. But Doss risks all of these injuries and more, staying right up next to the action, so he can save each soldier just after he gets wounded.

But the heroism doesn't stop there. When the troops abandon the ridge, this plucky medic stays up there. The American Navy shells the ridge to prevent the Japanese from following American troops down, but the exploding shells do not deter Private Doss. As most of the troops have left the ridge for safety, Doss remains to tend the wounded.

Long into the night and throughout the following day, the medic returns to the battlefield, dragging one wounded soldier after another to safety. After dropping each one with a rope down from the ridge, he runs back into danger, praying, "Please Lord, help me get one more." Doss runs back and forth, dragging soldier after soldier to safety and care, risking discovery by the Japanese, who are known to target medics especially for death. Hour after hour, he slowly lowers wounded soldiers with a rope, eventually leaving his hands ripped and bloody.

Doss's actions also stand out when compared to the cruelty of the Japanese. Not only do they target medics for death, they also do not value their own lives. The movie shows a general committing seppuku, the noble suicide of his people, a perfect contrast to the lowly Private Doss who risks his own life to save others. Both are committing a kind of suicide — one to save the lives of others, one to save a man's own honor. The juxtaposition is compelling.

Doss does not just fight for his religious freedom, he uses it to serve God and save others. The bravest man in his company does not even touch a rifle, and he goes to war to save life, not to take it.

Next Page: The vital lesson American Christians should take from the story of Desmond Doss.