I recently had the chance to re-watch Mel Gibson’s acclaimed 2016 blockbuster film, Hacksaw Ridge with a small group of fellow young adult Catholic men. For those unfamiliar with the film, it is a big-screen adaption of the true story of WWII hero Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor in the United States Army. Doss is unwilling to carry a gun, owing to his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs and a prior experience with his drunken father, yet still wishes to serve his county even when faced with tremendous pressure to carry a gun or drop out of the Military. Doss is sent to Okinawa, where he partakes in the last two attempts to take Hacksaw Ridge, which were as violent and gruesome as any battles in the war. He braves the enemy fire during the fights and even risks his life to stay behind to help the wounded following an order to retreat, calling upon God for help. In the end, he saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers, including his own sergeant.
What stood out to me as I watched the film was that even in the bloodiest of battle scenes (or even especially in the bloodiest of battle scenes), I found within myself a sense of desire to be there. To be a part of it. Not to get killed, not to see my friends be slaughtered all around me, but to have the chance to really lay my life down in courageous sacrifice. To run into enemy fire to save my comrade’s life, and in the bigger picture, fight for my country and family and all those I love back home. There’s something there that really speaks to the masculine soul. And I know I was not alone, as evidenced by the occasional sniffle from the other guys in the room or need to “wipe dust out of my eye.”
There are attempts in our modern culture to label that desire we men all felt watching that film as merely a perverted and sick desire towards violence. Indeed, the vast majority of violence in the world today and through history was perpetrated by men. Yet, this “desire” is not at its core towards violence for the sake of violence. It can often be, tragically, perverted into a pure wicked wish for violence, but that is not its identity at its core. In fact, I believe attempts to stifle this desire in boys are attempts to stifle something that God put there.