Ethics Hero Emeritus Desmond Doss, And “Hacksaw Ridge,”

desmond-doss

Desmond Doss, who died on March 23, 2006 at the age of 87,  was the very first hero to be enshrined in the Ethics Alarms Hall of Heroes. I wrote about him before there was an Ethics Alarms, shortly after he died.  I had never heard of Doss before, and I remember being angry that I had never heard of him. Everyone should know about him. There literally are no Americans who were any more heroic, and whose ethical conduct was any more astounding, than Desmond Doss.

If the values of this nation, and especially Hollywood, were healthy and correctly aligned, he would be a household name, and the film about his World War II heroism would have been made long ago. Finally “Hacksaw Ridge” was produced in 2016, and has been nominated for an Academy Award, although it will never win.

When I first read about Doss, I couldn’t get my mind around what he had done to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only conscientious objector ever to achieve that honor during combat. During the battle of Okinawa, we were told that he survived heavy enemy fire as he struggled to carry seventy-five wounded soldiers to the sheer cliff at Hacksaw Ridge, personally picking up each one and lowering them over the edge the cliff 400 feet to safety.   How is that possible? Now that I’ve seen the film, it still seems impossible.

Desmond Doss proved that principled opposition to violence against his fellow human beings need  not be based on fear, self-interest or self-preservation. It is often impossible to tell whether those who oppose armed combat really object to the spilling of all human blood in battle, or only their own. With Desmond Doss, there was never any doubt. He didn’t like the term “conscientious objector,” preferring the term “conscientious cooperator.” He enlisted in the army following Pearl Harbor, believing that the war against the Axis had to be fought and wanted to be part of the war effort despite believing, as a devout a Seventh Day Adventist, that it was a sin to kill, with no exceptions. Thus he refused to carry a rifle (or shoot one, even in training) but yet insisted that he be involved in combat as a battlefield medic. He achieved conscientious objector status  but would hot accept a deferment. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic, Doss was hazed, abused and  ridiculed  for his dedication to non-violence, and as the Mel Gibson-directed film shows, many of his tormentors eventually owed their lives to his astonishing heroism. All of his compatriots were amazed by his evident fearlessness under fire and remarkable dedication to duty, never hesitating to go after a wounded soldier no matter what the personal risk. As a combat medic on Guam and at Leyte in the Philippines, Doss had already been awarded the Bronze Star  before the three-day battle at Hacksaw Ridge.

Many of the soldiers in Doss’s 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division were driven off the ridge by a furious Japanese counter-attack, and  wounded G.I.s were stranded atop it. Doss remained with the wounded, and, according to his Medal of Honor citation refused to seek cover, carrying them, one by one, to the edge of the ridge in the face of enemy fire, some of them from behind enemy lines. He lowered each man on a rope-supported litter he improvised on the spot, using double bowline knots he had learned as a youngster and tying the makeshift litter to a tree stump to serve as an anchor. Every wounded man was lowered to a safe spot 35 feet below the ridge top by the 145 pound medic. Finally, Doss came down the ridge himself, incredibly, unharmed. Continue reading

How Much Religious Bigotry Will Donald Trump’s Supporters Tolerate?

7th Day

Speaking at a campaign rally in Iowa, Donald Trump decided to attack Ben Carson based on his religion:

“I love Iowa. And, look, I don’t have to say it, I’m Presbyterian. Can you believe it? Nobody believes I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. Boy, that’s down the middle of the road folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”

Trump didn’t mention Carson’s name, but he’s the only Seventh-day Adventist in the race, and Trumps closest rival in the polls, which is too depressing to bear as it is. What Trump is saying is that believers in one religious faith are inherently more trustworthy than believers of other faiths. This is no more, nor less than a direct appeal to religious bias and bigotry. Substitute “Catholic” or “Jewish” for “Seventh-day Adventist,” and the full un-American ugliness of the statement should become apparent, if, due to some kind of closed head injury, it isn’t already. Trump has already shown himself willing to portray illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals (too many of them are, but that’s another story); reveal himself as an archetypal male chauvinist pig, and now he’s rating character and trustworthiness according to faith. Earlier I suggested that one of Trump’s debate opponents could take him down with a deft Joseph Welch “Have you no decency?” (unfortunately, the attempt was made by Rand Paul, and hardly deftly), and now I have to ask his supporters, “Have you no decency?” What more evidence do you need that this blustering bully and fool degrades his party, nation, gender, species and the office he’s seeking  by his presence in the 2016 Presidential race? Or more bluntly, What the hell’s the matter with you people?

Is this an experiment in whether the meanest, most vulgar and least educated  of the nation’s conservatives can force the nomination of someone so unqualified by experience and temperament to lead? Is it a practical joke by nihilists and anarchists to bring down the Unites States after it has already be weakened by eight years of a misguided, hyper-political, incompetent presidency?

It is true that there is an element of karma in Carson being the target of exactly the kind of religious bigotry he used, with a bit more cause, against Muslims. This isn’t about Carson, however, who is just as unfit for office as Trump, meaning completely. It is about competent democracy, values, and trustworthy leadership.

I have reached the point where the race between Trump and Hillary Clinton for me is only this: Whose supporters do I have less respect for, those who actively support a completely corrupt individual, or those who support a crude demagogue.

At this point, it’s neck and neck.