I saw Hacksaw Ridge last week. I believe it is the greatest war movie ever made, from a libertarian perspective. Before I explain why, let me address two important things first.
One, Mel Gibson directed this movie. He should be judged by his work, and his work here is phenomenal. Don’t give me any of that homophobia anti semitism stuff that I “shouldn’t be watching movies made by a Jew hater” etc. I’ve made it clear many times that I don’t mind anti semitism or homophobia. I only mind violence against innocent people. People can hate whoever they want as long as they don’t act on it violently, and to my knowledge Gibson never has.
Second, the story is a true one, only mildly embellished for cinematic purposes, of a Seventh Day Adventist Christian named Desmond Doss who refuses to carry a gun as a soldier in World War II, but saves 75 people as a medic on the field of battle. Based on my research of the story behind the movie, the man is a tzadik (righteous person) and to minimize what he did just because he may technically qualify as an “idol worshiper” is childish, shallow, and cheap. Cases like his convince me even more that it doesn’t matter what you believe about God as long as you do the right thing.
I’m reminded of a question that an acquaintance of mine from a previous Yeshiva asked Rabbi Yitz Greenberg during a debate with Rabbi Reuven Mann, both of whom I respect. Yitz was talking about a group of Christians, nuns or priests maybe, who dedicated their lives to taking care of the mentally retarded. Not just mildly retarded, but to the point of being unable to do much of anything by themselves except grunt. This acquaintance of mine challenged Yitz, asking if these Christians were indeed good people, and that perhaps they only “looked like” good people by doing things that “looked like” chessed (acts of kindness) but indeed are bad people because they believe in Jesus.
Yitz let him have it, saying that if you’re going to call something fake kindness because it does not conform to the exact philosophical stringency that you consider truth, then you’re suffering from philosophical hubris. In my acquaintance’s words (Rabbi Reuven Mann was a teacher of mine in the past):
Regarding whether Christian kindness is akin in any measure to God’s view in the Torah, Rabbi Reuven Mann later discussed that although visibly similar, Christian kindness must maintain a different and corrupt sense of kindness, since Christian kindness is framed by Christian values: their kindness might even extend to a murderer pleading for mercy. In such a case, Judaism would demand death for a bleeding terrorist, while we witness other religionists hospitalizing the Arafat’s of the world, showing mercy to child killers. Although Rabbi Greenburg’s (sic) argument for Christians who care for deformed children is highly charged with pitiful feelings, we cannot condone a system of kindness, which also medically treats killers. An evaluation of any system demands that all professed beliefs be evaluated, as a collective whole. Therefore, if any system harbors destructive kindness, then the entire system is corrupt.
These kinds of dismissive views collectivizing hundreds of millions of people under such broad strokes is lazy and wrong. Everyone believes in different things. He has no proof whatsoever that those Christians who cared for the handicapped would have cared for a mass murderer. He’s just saying that because he wants to believe it, dictating from his philosophical pedestal what goodness counts and what goodness doesn’t count.
No two people believe in the same thing, and I don’t believe that anyone’s beliefs will save them in the world to come if they were not good people. I’m a dualist. Belief and action and totally separate. He integrates them, and I think that’s wrong. The only belief that really matters is the belief in doing no violence to innocent people. The rest are add ons, in my opinion, and you pick whichever you think is right. Maybe you get extra credit if you pick the right ones. Maybe you don’t. But I doubt the extra credit is worth much compared to the actual test, which is what you do with your life.
But on to the movie review.
Why I believe that Hacksaw Ridge is the greatest libertarian war story ever is that the typical libertarian angle on war is that it’s wrong, don’t go, don’t fight, dodge the draft, refuse. That’s an OK angle, but Hacksaw Ridge is different. The angle here is, “The State is taking people to fight. I don’t believe in war, but I’m going to go to this war because if other people are being taken and may die, I have no right to stay home in safety.”
It’s straight out of Sefer BaMidbar:
הַאַחֵיכֶם, יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה, וְאַתֶּם, תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה.
Your brothers will go to war and you will sit here?!
This is the warning that Moshe gives to the tribes of Reuven and Gad when they request to stay on the other side of the Jordan rather than cross. So Reuven and Gad go and fight with the other tribes rather than stay behind.
Desmond Doss absolutely refuses to pick up a gun. He has an equal conviction against killing and against just staying at home as a conscientious objector in the comfort of his home while others die. So he vows to do whatever he can to save as many lives as possible. He ended up saving 75 lives – both Japanese and American – while getting shot and wounded 3 times during the Battle of Okinawa in the process. All the while refusing to pick up a gun.
We libertarians can always look down from our moral high ground at those who volunteer for war as just misguided suckers at best. But if there’s a draft and people are being taken, while it is still moral to refuse service, it is above and beyond righteousness to go to the front lines of such a war, regardless of whether it is justified or not, and refusing to kill, doing nothing but saving lives in the process at the risk of your own.
Aren’t the soldiers getting shot at, guilty of being part of an unjustified invasion? Some of them, probably yes. There was no reason to invade Japan at all. But some were drafted into it by force, and to save those lives is justice.
Desmond Doss was harassed terribly by the State, and almost was imprisoned for years for refusing to pick up a gun. He made a promise to God that he never would, after almost killing his alcoholic father for beating up his mother. He made a neder (vow) to God and he didn’t break it. He would not bow to the State. He was not an anarchist or probably even a minarchist, but he had his lines that he would not cross, a value that was higher than the State, meaning he was not a Statist.
Hacksaw Ridge is not a movie about refusing to go to war or the injustice of war. It’s about doing what Moshe Rabeinu did when he voluntarily left Pharaoh’s palace to join his brothers in slavery. He didn’t have to do that. This was the first thing we ever see Moshe actually do as a man. He chose to. This is what Desmond Doss did.
It’s easy to refuse orders and sit at home. It’s not easy to refuse orders and go to war, not to participate in it, but to save those who were drafted into it, both Japanese and American, trying to save as many drafted slaves as you can from dying for the State, whichever State they were forced to fight for.
The only thing that I think Doss should have done differently is that he should have refused the Medal of Honor he got from that murderer Truman. I can’t say “That’s what I would have done,” because I probably would never have volunteered to go to an unjust war I don’t believe in just to save lives. So I’m only criticizing from down below here, not from up high, and I know my place.