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.

 

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

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.

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

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.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

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.

 

ANTHROPOID — Espionage Legend on the Big Screen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

ANTHROPOID brings one of history’s legendary espionage events to the big screen – the WWII assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich by two Czech paratroopers and a few Czech resistance fighters.

 

2016 Aug Anthropoid Movie Poster

 

Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague, was the architect of Hitler’s death camps and third in command after Hitler and Himmler. Jan Kubis (played by Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabcik (played by Cillian Murphy) trained for months in the UK and then parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Once in Prague, they met up with the dwindling group of Czech resistance fighters, who helped them plan and execute Operation Anthropoid. Heydrich was the highest ranking Nazi officer assassinated during WWII.

Piper Bayard:

This movie is a symphony compared to a Bourne movie rock concert.

If you’re looking for unrealistic characters who do unrealistic things to thwart unrealistic villains with unrealistic explosions and quippy dialogue, this is not the movie for you.  On the other hand, if you enjoy historically accurate war dramas about real events and real people, then you will likely find ANTHROPOID captivating and informative.

ANTHROPOID thankfully makes no effort to glamorize espionage, war, or the ordinary people made extraordinary by the demands of integrity and circumstance.

Courage falters, equipment fails, and humans make stupid mistakes, while at the same time they rise over and over again with a stubborn courage and devotion to their mission and to the Czechoslovakian people. While historical sources differ on the details, the main events surrounding the assassination are well portrayed.

 

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and
Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

 

The tension and conflict are well drawn in spite of a script that is at times a bit stiff.

The stakes are clear. There is no doubt that not only are the lives of the Czech resistance fighters on the line, but also the lives of their families and the people of Czechoslovakia. The drama is not manufactured, but rather real, and raw, and tremendous in the fact that in spite of all human fears and failings, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik carried on and succeeded in one of the greatest assassinations in history.

Jay Holmes:

In the way of disclosure, I must explain that I could not view Anthropoid with the objectivity that a reviewer should always employ.

Though I was not alive at the time of the operation, and I am not of Czech descent, I admire the operatives that conducted the operation, and I have always considered the Nazis to be contemptible. That combination makes it difficult for me to be completely objective in reviewing a movie like ANTHROPOID, but I am happy to share my impressions.

 

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik Image by UK Govt., public domain

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik
Image by UK Govt., public domain

 

Most war movies and action films that depict historic events are created with an emphasis on watchability, and the pace of events, the characters, and the dialogue sacrifice accuracy to make them more fun to watch. ANTHROPOID is not fun to watch, but it is an excellent movie all the same.

I am fairly well read on Operation Anthropoid, and I was once fortunate enough to meet a retired member of British Intelligence that had helped prepare the mission.

It is my impression that the movie ANTHROPOID succeeded in closely portraying the actions and moods of the men and women that were involved in the operation. For me, this made the movie more acceptable. It seems to me that the writer, producer, and actors were perhaps somewhat reverent in their attention to detail and accuracy. The movie may be the best memorial to Operation Anthropoid yet created. As such, I applaud it.

 

Reinhard Heydrich's car after the attack. Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

Reinhard Heydrich’s car after the attack.
Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

 

Interestingly, the process of researching and producing the movie has reawakened the Czech public’s interest in the event.

The Czech Government has now agreed to do forensic work to try to identify bodies from unmarked graves of that period and location to try to locate and rebury the Czech resistance fighters involved in Operation Anthropoid, and give them a proper military burial. I commend the Czech people for pursuing this course. The makers of Anthropoid can be proud that their movie has a tangible result beyond, and more important than, the box office.

Our Rating:

Overall the early reviews of the movie have been tepid. We will depart from the trend and give Anthropoid the Bayard and Holmes .44 magnum – our highest rating.

If the events of WWII and the moral questions surrounding those events matter to you, or if you are interested in raw espionage legend and the feats of real operatives, then you should make the short pilgrimage to see ANTHROPOID. Enjoy the symphony.

 

 

Ben MacIntyre’s DOUBLE CROSS: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

Bayard & Holmes

~  Jay Holmes

DOUBLE CROSS, by writer-at-large and associate editor of the Times of London Ben MacIntyre, addresses one of the more complex and important intelligence operations of World War Two. It explains how the UK’s MI-5 Counter Intelligence division quite effectively turned and managed German spies in an attempt to deceive Germany about the Allied plans for the invasion of Western Europe in 1944.

 

Double Cross The True Story of the D-Day Spies Ben MacIntyre Paperback Cover

 

In DOUBLE CROSS, McIntyre manages to present personalities from both sides of that terrible war in very human form.

He demonstrates how imperfect people from diverse backgrounds working for MI-5 shared that one essential quality that any effective intelligence person must have. They shared a genuine commitment to their mission. In this case, their mission was to help defeat Nazi Germany. By most traditional standards, the agents would not appear to be “cut from the right cloth.” In some instances their handlers committed blunders in dealing with them. The book clearly shows the reasons why each of them might have failed miserably, as well as why they didn’t.

The first thing about this book that jumps out is its readability.

Great Britain’s operation for running double agents involved many people and many details. The details can be tedious to consider, but without considering enough of them, these operations can’t be reasonably understood. MacIntyre has done a brilliant job of presenting enough details without making the book read like a boring bureaucratic report. I envy his ability to present such a complex and important piece of history in such a readable form.

Good history writers do good research—lots of it—and Ben MacIntyre certainly did his. But he did something else as well. He very skillfully analyzed the collected data and produced an accurate and clear interpretation of the facts. I’ve never met Ben MacIntyre, but if he was never a spook, he should have been one. For us.

I had previously read and enjoyed a couple of MacIntyre’s books, but so far, this must be his masterpiece.

I have no hesitation in giving this book a Five Star rating on the Five Star scale. It’s not a movie but I can’t help but assign our Bayard and Holmes “.44-Magnum” rating because I so rarely get to use that top assessment. Anyone with interest in World War Two or the world of intelligence operations, or who simply likes good action stories, should absolutely read this book. It’s purely a great book.

Bravo to Ben MacIntyre for staying awake and on course through so many hours of work reading thousands of pages of documents to get to the critical facts. Well done!

You can find DOUBLE CROSS, along with MacIntyre’s other books, at Ben MacIntyre: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

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, now available on kindle and in paperback at Amazon and on nook and paperback at Barnes & Noble.

THE SPY BRIDE Final Cover 3 inch

 

Follow Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing for updates on new releases and special promotions.

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.

©2016 Bayard & Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

 

 

When Does Justice Cease to Matter?

By Jay Holmes

This weekend, two seemingly disconnected pieces of news were announced. One informed us that Libya’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, was arrested Saturday at an airport in Mauritania. The other was that convicted Sobibor Nazi extermination camp guard John Demjanjuk died in prison in Germany. While the two events might seem to have little connection, I think they are both related to a central issue of civilization.

John Demjanjuk – image from jssnews.com

I first heard the name John Demjanjuk in 1985 when Israel sought his extradition as a war criminal. Survivors of the Nazi holocaust had recognized Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible, an infamous prison guard who acted with singular cruelty against Jewish prisoners at Sobibor and Treblinka.

My first reaction to the news at the time was astonishment. I wondered just how actively hateful and cruel one had to be to stand out as a villain amongst Nazi concentration camp guards. My second reaction at the time was one of disgust when I heard media pundits debating whether or not it was “worth it at this point” to pursue a WWII war criminal. I wanted to ask the pundits precisely how many days after the murder of an innocent child does the murder become irrelevant? When does the dead child, or in this case the many thousands of victims of Ivan the Terrible’s brutality, cease to matter? What is the shelf life of justice? What is the sell-by date of morality?

In the Demjanjuk case, Israel was able to present enough evidence to gain Demjanjuk’s extradition. He was tried for the brutal murders of prisoners in 1942 and 1943.

Israel found twenty-two surviving witnesses who identified Demjanjuk as a guard who had sadistically and routinely tortured and murdered prisoners, including young children, for his own personal recreation. One of the witnesses was a fellow death camp guard, who in turn came under scrutiny as a possible war criminal after the trial.

Demjanjuk was convicted, and in 1988, he received a death sentence. In most countries, that would be the end of the story save for the line about his death by hanging or stoning, but Demjanjuk wasn’t convicted in “most countries.” He was convicted in Israel—one of those minority nations that has a workable justice system that isn’t directly ruled by hysteria or a drug mafia.

Since he was in Israel, Demjanjuk was entitled to a legitimate system of appeals. Rather than giving in to the rage they must have felt and rubber stamping his case to expedite his execution, the Israeli appeals court granted time for the defense team (paid for by Israeli tax payers) to prepare for each level of appeal.

In 1993, in what struck me as a remarkable case of restraint and adherence to due process, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned Demjanjuk’s conviction for the murders. This was based on the fact that there was some small chance that all twenty-two witnesses might have accidentally confused him with another death camp guard.

At the time, I wondered if any of the SS death camp guards and their Ukrainian volunteers did not deserve execution. I wondered if the small risk of confused identity in this case mattered much.

At the same time, I had to look at the case as proof that, unlike most of the world’s court systems, the Israeli court system had done its absolute best to deliver a just verdict in spite of what must have been the court members’ almost unbearable personal grief.

Although the Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling disappointed me, I felt great admiration for their self-restraint and their ability to put their sworn duty above their deep personal feelings. It was an act of tremendous moral courage. It was an example of precisely the moral courage that the Nazis lacked, and that allowed them to perpetrate such a terrible holocaust against millions of Jews, Slavs, Rom, communists, moral objectors, homosexuals, and Catholics.

So did the Israelis then try and convict him of the war crimes committed by his “alter identity”? No. The courts ruled that for one, his extradition was for the specific charges, and that they would honor the strict conditions of the extradition and release him back to the United States.  And for two, a retrial on lesser charges would, under the circumstances of that particular case, violate the principles of double jeopardy as defined by the Israeli legal system. By then, much of the furor over Ivan the Terrible had died down.

In 1988, the US (another one of those few nations with an imperfect but believable court system) restored Demjanjuk’s citizenship. This was based on the fact that evidence that Demjanjuk was the “other” brutal guard was not shared with his defense team in the original extradition case and subsequent appeals. Because he might have been a different mass murderer instead of the one he was originally accused of being, he got off. But not completely.

In 1999, Demjanjuk faced federal charges that he was a member of the Ukrainian SS auxiliary and that he had served in death camps. (Everyone, including Demjanjuk, agreed that he was a member of that dreadful group.) “Both” Demjanjuks had at least that much in common.

In 2004, after five more years of legal process, Demjanjuk, who admitted being a former member of the Ukrainian SS auxiliary, finally had his citizenship revoked again. For the next five years, Demjanjuk could not be deported because no nation with adequate deportation agreements with the USA would accept him.

In 2008, the German justice ministry decided that they could and should try Demjanjuk for the easily provable charges that he had served in several death camps as a Ukrainian SS volunteer. Demjanjuk and his legal team resisted extradition to Germany. On what grounds, you ask? Why, on the grounds the deporting an elderly man with health problems constituted “torture.” That from the death camp goon.

On May 12, 2011, some minute measure of “justice” was given to the memory of the millions of concentration camp victims when Demjanjuk was convicted of accessory to the murder of 27,000 prisoners. He was sentenced to five years in prison with credit for the two years he had already spent.

On March 17, 2012, John Demjanjuk died in an old age home in Germany.

In their desperate need to be relevant on the world stage, Putin and his boys are claiming they have documents proving that Demjanjuk was not Ivan the Terrible. The documents would, I suppose, show that documents previously released by the USSR were forgeries of older documents covered up by them, and that I should now believe the new documents somehow prove something. It hardly matters. Demjanjuk admitted that he was a member of the Ukrainian auxiliary of the Nazi SS. The only confusion would be whether he was “Murderer A” or “Murderer B.” Neither deserved less than what Demjanjuk went through.

The justice was imperfect and inadequate, but it was never superfluous.

So who is the strange man who was arrested at an airport in Mauritania, and why does he matter? He is Abdullah Senussi, Moammar Qaddafi’s brother-in-law. At various times, he was the head of Qaddafi’s terrorist export business and the head of his internal security forces. Senussi had nothing to do with the Nazi plague, but he had a great deal to due with the plague that was visited upon Libya and upon terrorist victims around the world by Qaddafi.

Many believe, including me, that Abdullah al-Senussi was instrumental in the terror bombing of the La Belle disco in Berlin in 1986, which killed three people and injured 230, as well as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which resulted in the deaths of another 270. Also, Senussi was convicted in absentia in France in 1999 for the 1989 terror bombing of the French UTA flight 772, which resulted in 171 deaths.

Senussi’s foreign murder record pales in comparison to his energetic campaigns to annihilate Libyans who opposed his brother-in-law. He even once bragged about his masterful handling of the massacre of 1,700 political prisoners at Libya’s Abu Salim prison in 1996.

The precise number of deaths in which Senussi had a hand will never be known. Compared to the Nazis, the Qaddafi gang was small time in the murder arena. The number of deaths that they inflicted will never be known, but if it was your child or your loved one, then that one is hugely significant.

Lots of folks are interested in getting their hands on Abdullah Senussi. So far, France and Libya have requested that he be turned over to them. Scotland is probably working on an extradition request tonight as I write this article. Germany might contemplate it. The USA and the UK have reasons to speak to him, but might not bother getting in the extradition line. If he is brought to trial, we can expect, at best, an inadequate and incomplete justice. But more justice is better than no justice. I’ll take what I can get.

Without waiting for it to happen, I am willing to predict that some “pundits” will proffer the notion that trying Senussi is somehow contrary to the notion of “healing” Libya. Senussi was part of the very disease that made Libya so sick during the reign of Qaddafi and his murderers. Trying Senussi does not block Libya’s so far mostly imaginary progress toward achieving civilization. Undoubtedly, a few will argue that it’s “too late” and that it’s time to “leave the past in the past, etc.” But I would ask of them the same question that I would ask of those who wanted Demjanjuk “left alone.”

When do the deaths of the innocent children cease to matter?