HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

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President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

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Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

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The Interview — A Bit of Truth in the Farce

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The Interview is a slapstick comedy about an assassination attempt against North Korean despot Kim Jong Un. Given the absurd nature of the Kim family dynasty, any political comedy about North Korea is destined to be of the juvenile slapstick variety. The Interview fits that bill.

 

"The Interview" Movie Poster

“The Interview” Movie Poster

 

Dave Skylark (James Franco) hosts celebrity tabloid show Skylark Tonight, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) is the show’s producer, and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is the show’s biggest fan. When Skylark and Rapaport score an interview in North Korea with Jong Un, the CIA recruits them to assassinate the despot. The pair goes about this in farcical style.

As was predictable, the film rocketed to international attention when North Korea chimed in with its routine, state-sponsored histrionics. Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked, according to the FBI, by “Guardians of Peace.” The hackers leaked embarrassing documents to the press. Terrorists threatened attacks on movie theaters showing the film, movie theaters canceled their bookings, and Sony announced that it would not release the film. The hackers purportedly said they would stop the leaks, but only if The Interview was kept away from any and all movie screens. Popular theory was that North Korea was behind the hacking.

Millions of Americans and the US president chided Sony and the theater chains for folding to the demands of the world leader equivalent of the kid in the corner of the room eating glue. Sony then acquiesced and released the film in indie theaters and online.

 

James Franco triumphant. Image from "The Interview."

James Franco triumphant.
Image from “The Interview.”

 

The notion that the Sony hack was conducted by North Korea is now disputed by leading anti-hacking experts such as Marc W. Rogers and Kurt Stammberger. The Sony hack might have been carried out with the assistance of a disgruntled Sony employee, or it could have been a marketing ploy by members of Sony management.

Regardless of who conducted the Sony hack, the miserable North Korean government hates this film, and Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0, has declared it an act of terrorism. This gives normal people two good reasons to check out The Interview.

 

Diana Bang (Sook), Seth Rogan, James Franco, and Rogan's dog, Zelda Image from "The Interview."

Diana Bang (Sook), Seth Rogen, James Franco,
and Rogen’s dog, Zelda
Image from “The Interview.”

 

From an entertainment standpoint, The Interview accomplishes its goals. There are no great messages, profound thoughts, or deep enlightenments to be found here, and that’s a good thing. Complexity and depth would be completely out of place amidst the crude, juvenile humor, which, while often predictable, is still satisfying in a distinctly vulgar way.

While The Interview is a fantastically absurd comedy, it actually captures a bit of reality.

While North Korea appears to the West to be as ridiculous as this movie, it actually takes itself quite seriously. North Korean propaganda is pervasive throughout the closed country, with gems like portraying the North Korean military as capable of taking out the US in one blow and showing North Koreans giving Americans blankets and coffee made from melted snow. (Search “North Korean propaganda videos” on YouTube for a laugh.) The Interview clearly portrays this dichotomy between the North Korean government’s desired image of strength and plenty and the North Korean reality of starvation and ignorance.

 

Actual photo of potential MI-6 spies. Image from "The Interview."

Actual photo of potential MI-6 spies.
Image from “The Interview.”

 

It is tempting to dismiss the notion of a scandal sheet television duo being recruited by an intelligence agency as part of the general silliness of the movie. However, the writers either purposely or accidentally touched on an old British tradition. Long before televisions, the upper levels of the British working class commonly sent their sons to the same boarding schools and universities, and English newspapers often hired members of that well-connected, socially reliable “old boys’ network.”

When the BBC was formed in 1922, many of its employees had ties to members of the UK Foreign Office, Home Office, Colonial Office, MI-5, and MI-6. It was common for spies, newspaper journalists, and radio program employees to attend the same parties and social functions. Journalists assigned to foreign postings would often moonlight for MI-6 as agents of opportunity.

Although today the British bureaucracies are far less incestuous and something more similar to a meritocracy, it is still in the realm of possibility for UK media types to conduct an operation for MI-6. Even here in the US, where most of the inhabitants of our media subculture consider themselves to be the archrivals of the CIA and the Pentagon, it would not be unheard of for a member of the media to work for the CIA.

 

Randall Park as Kim Jong Un Image from "The Interview."

Randall Park as Kim Jong Un
Image from “The Interview.”

 

Historical comparisons aside, The Interview is worth seeing when you are in the mood for juvenile slapstick humor. If you enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, then you will likely enjoy The Interview. The plot and the script are simple and easy to follow. The actors were all well cast to their respective roles, and they play their parts smoothly. In particular, Randall Park did a great job of playing the dangerous, evil-genius wannabe Kim Jong Un with a soft spot for Katy Perry. Park had a thousand chances to screw up his role. He and the directors deftly avoided them all.

Our Bayard & Holmes rating for this film is a solid .38 Special, meaning that it won’t change your life, but we didn’t resent the $5.99 for the online rental. If you can catch it at a matinee or in the comfort of your home, then go ahead and enjoy a few laughs at the expense of that most natural, albeit accidental, of all comedians—Kim Jong Un.

 

Spy Truth & Fiction — The Equalizer Gets Some Things Right

By Piper Bayard

The Equalizer is a thriller film by Antoine Fuqua in which an ex-CIA operative must defeat the Russian mob to save his friend. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a widower who has left his former life of intelligence fieldwork. He keeps a simple life as a supervisor at Home Mart in Boston. Each night, his insomnia drives him to a corner diner with a classic book, where he chats with Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who is pimped out by the Russian mob. When Alina is brutally beaten and hospitalized by the Russians, McCall determines he will prevent her keepers from ever hurting her again. His decision triggers a series of events that lead to Moscow and to one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs.

 

The Equalizer Movie Poster

The Equalizer Movie Poster

 

Though this movie is not intended to be a documentary, it gets several Truth & Fiction aspects right.

One: Robert McCall is a former CIA operative.

Intelligence operatives get to resign or retire if they want to. There is a grand myth in some spy fiction that intelligence organizations are like the mafia—that once you’re in, there’s only one way to leave, as in to die. Unlike James Bond, who will outlive all other intelligence operatives on the planet, CIA operatives, active or past, actually do eventually all die of the same causes that afflict the rest of the human population. However, the Company does not put out a hit on operatives who decides to strike out in other directions, regardless of how many secrets they may know.

Two: Robert McCall is a man who wears jeans and plain button up shirts.

While some former intelligence operatives might wear leather clothing and ride motorcycles, it is not required. In fact, most people who are confident that they can kill you with their pinkies prefer to appear as innocuous as possible. Life is just more comfortable for everyone that way.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

Three: Robert McCall works as a supervisor at “Home Mart.”

Except for congressmen, no one gets rich by working for the government. That includes intelligence operatives. As a result, when they leave, most of them must find other gainful employment, and that might be anything from selling used cars to teaching high school to assisting people with their lumber purchases at a home improvement store.

Four: Robert McCall does not rely entirely on firearms to kill the bad guys.

One of the best parts of this movie is the creative way McCall kills off his opponents. A large showdown takes place inside a home improvement center. While our hero unrealistically passes on the obvious opportunity to pick up a few heavy firearms from the skumbags he kills, his creativity in killing with common store items is worth the price of admission. Through the entire movie, he lays out approximately two dozen bad guys, but he only shoots one of them with a firearm.

 

Robert McCall and Alina Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall and Alina
Image from The Equalizer

 

Five:  Robert McCall is in control.

Operatives certainly have their bad days, and sometimes they end up in situations that are beyond their control. But, as Holmes says, “If you’re in a fair fight, you’re using poor tactics.” In every situation, our hero in The Equalizer has the upper hand.

It’s worth noting that this control is actually a negative when it comes to sustaining tension. At no time is the viewer genuinely worried that McCall won’t survive an encounter in order to collect his paycheck and do another movie. However, he is so creative in how he maintains control that this doesn’t sink the film.

Six:  Robert McCall dedicates himself to his chosen mission simply because he believes it is the right thing to do.

As a general rule, American intelligence operatives are an idealistic lot who devote themselves to their professions because they want to make the world a better place for innocent people to reside. No one does it for the money.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

 Seven:  The evil kingpin behaves like an evil kingpin when cornered.

The Russian mobster at the top of the international crime food chain is aptly named Vladimir Pushkin. (All similarities to any living Russian oligarch are, no doubt, purely coincidental.) We see very little of Putin Pushkin, but where we do see him, he is behaving realistically, exhibiting disbelief that anyone would actually kill him, combined with the confidence that he can buy his way out of the situation.

 

Overall, The Equalizer is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that impressed me with its creativity. Denzel Washington is excellent in his role as the man people turn to when they have nowhere else to go. Chloë Grace Moretz does a great job breaking out of her Kick Ass role to show a bit more diversity. And of course, who doesn’t want to see a Russian mobster named Vladimir Pushkin get what’s coming to him? If you enjoy thrillers and justice movies, you will likely enjoy this one.

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We are pleased to announce that our first Bayard & Holmes spy thriller novella, THE SPY BRIDE, will be released in the RISKY BRIDES bestsellers’ collection on October 21 from Magnolia Press.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Front Cover via Hightail

5 Espionage Myths — The November Man

 

By Piper Bayard

 

The November Man movie poster

The November Man movie poster

 

The November Man is an espionage movie in which an ex-CIA operative is brought back by the Company for a personal mission in Moscow, only to find himself pitted against his protégé. It is a fast action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey that rockets viewers through the Russian and Serbian shadow world with everything from brutal assassins to rogue top-level operatives. It is also a comprehensive collection of espionage myths.

 

Myth One – CIA operatives are all ready and willing to off their own at any given moment just because a bureaucrat orders it.

Truth – US intelligence operatives are not murderous automatons who blindly kill whomever they are told to, up to and including their mentors and protégés.

 

It was common in Stalin’s KGB for Soviet operatives to kill each other. In fact, the KGB had a special branch for the express purpose of targeting fellow agents. However, such pointless slaughter has never been part of the US intelligence culture. Americans don’t put up with that crap. Presidents come and go with their various agendas, and long after they are booking their lecture tours and cutting ribbons on their presidential libraries, operatives are still on the job. Our intelligence community consists of flesh and blood human beings who would not live long if they didn’t question and comprehend their missions. They are not slovenly attack dogs to be released on any target that a transient bureaucratic overlord decides is inconvenient to their political goals, particularly when that target is one of their own.

 

Myth Two – Operatives think nothing of killing innocent people.

Truth – People who randomly kill innocents are serial killers and criminal psychopaths, not highly trained intelligence operatives.

 

Killing is serious business, and the intelligence community has had standing orders for decades to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. An operative who randomly kills innocent people would be quickly weeded out. Such behavior is unacceptable in the intelligence community.

 

Myth Three – Operatives can’t have families.

Truth – Operatives, like anyone else, can have loved ones and families that they adore.

 

While it is true that many field operatives are either single or divorced, that is due to the nature of the job and not to any taboo about bonding with other humans. The fact is that few spouses are up for, “I need to go. Can’t say where. Can’t say when I’ll be home. Sorry, but I can’t leave you a number, either.” The lifestyle is very hard on relationships, and spouses must be as committed to leading the double life as the operative is. Not many are, and they are not to blame for that. However, as my writing partner proves, some do sustain marriages and family ties for decades.

 

Myth Four – People can be killers, or they can love, but they can’t do both.

Truth – Dedicated operatives often go into the field because they DO love.

 

The notion that someone who is trained to kill the likes of Bin Laden can’t love is patently absurd. Many operatives go into the field because they are unwilling to sit still and do nothing while brutal despots butcher innocent people.

 

Myth Five – Assassins look like assassins.

Truth – Assassins look like the school secretary, the grocery store manager, the bank teller, the janitor, or anyone else who can blend in with a crowd.

 

It is not required for operatives to speak in foreign accents and wear either tailored business suits or black leather.

 

Russian Assassin from The November Man

Russian Assassin from The November Man

 

 

While not a common myth, another notable fiction in The November Man is the notion that bullets from handguns travel at four times the speed of sound . . . Excuse me? A handgun? More like a hand held rocket launcher. Clearly, Hollywood is holding out on the Navy.

 

If you care nothing for accuracy about espionage or human nature in your spy thrillers, then go ahead and spend the $13 and enjoy Pierce Brosnan doing what he does best. However, if you do know anything at all about firearms, operatives, psychology, history, NATO, or intelligence work, this movie will make your head explode at a velocity of four times the speed of sound.