Reed Cleland

The Conscientious Cooperator

“Please Lord, help me get one more!”

Desmond Doss, choking on fire and smoke, uttered these words as he single-handedly saved seventy-five wounded American soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa.

Raised as a Seventh-day Adventist with a belief in nonviolence, Doss was a misfit in a war-torn world. When the United States entered World War II, he was a registered conscientious objector and able to claim a deferment. He refused to even touch a firearm, but he chose to enlist anyway. Victimized by his commanders and fellow soldiers for cowardice, Doss was made a combat medic. He insisted on remaining unarmed.

After serving in Guam and the Philippines, Doss was transferred to Okinawa. Waves of Japanese attacks on the Maeda Escarpment had driven American forces into retreat. Doss, exhausted, exposed, and weaponless, refused to abandon the wounded. With his life at risk, he miraculously lowered seventy-five half-dead American soldiers safely to the ground. When the war ended, he became the first conscientious objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

Desmond Doss and I share several qualities. We were both raised in Christian households. Like him, I live in a broken world. It is almost impossible to watch television without seeing more terrorism, genocide, and domestic gun violence. Also, like Doss, I have a sheltered life. I am able to choose whether I want to risk my life on a faraway battlefield. I do not have to walk down the street worrying about being shot because of my skin color.

Doss’s determination to change the world galvanized me. He was just an ordinary man living in a shattered world. He was not directly threatened by the violence and genocide. He had the option of deferment; he could have lived a safe existence. Yet he threw all of it away because he believed that he could make a difference. He wanted to play a role in establishing global peace, even if it meant forfeiting his own life. The call of duty, to his nation and to mankind, superseded the idea of a safe existence. In the end, Doss’s ethical choice to serve as a medic changed seventy-five lives.

Elie Wiesel called on individual people, like myself, to make ethical choices. Doss’s story is enduring testimony as to how the decisions of ordinary people can change the world. Individuals can make the compassionate choices that entire nations have failed at making. We are called to place the well-being of our neighbors above the safety of our own lives. Maybe this is why I feel compelled to pursue a career in public service. I want to help achieve peace for my world. I want to end genocide and gun violence because I believe it is the right thing to do. Desmond Doss showed me that conscientiously objecting from the world does not generate change. Rather, I need to be a conscientious cooperator. The twenty-first century is crying out for more of them.

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