Author and Army veteran, Cliff Graham talks to us about his time in the military, ancient warfare, and challenges facing military personnel.
Melissa: In addition to having been a pastor and now an author and speaker, you also served in the Army. Tell us a bit about your time in Army.
Cliff: I was a military police soldier when I first enlisted, spent time focusing on the law enforcement and urban warfare side of the Army, and then became an officer in that field. For my last few years, I served in the Chaplain Corps, which was my favorite duty of all. I spent 13 years in various components of the service.
Melissa: As a chaplain, I imagine you faced challenges to your faith and morals. What are some of the greatest difficulties facing those who serve in the military?
Cliff: Working in the Chaplain Corps was intensely rewarding and intensely challenging. You’re not on the same page as many of the folks you are working with. You come from different faith backgrounds. The soldiers you are ministering to usually have poor spiritual knowledge so a lot of time is spent explaining your beliefs.
That said, a lot of the work had little to do with theology and a lot to do with counseling through life experiences. Many of the troops are very young and have deep issues from their backgrounds that are just now surfacing as they strike out on their own.
The military is a hard life. Travel and absence are constant. Families suffer. It’s not for everyone.
Melissa: You write about ancient, brutal, bloody wars. To put it mildly, it was hard to fight on the Biblical battlefields. When comparing ancient war with modern warfare, what do you see as the pros and cons of each?
Cliff: Perhaps a better way to approach this is to say which one I would have preferred not to be a part of! War is a dismal, grotesque affair regardless of era, but ancient war had more extreme barbarism. You see it resurface nowadays with groups like ISIS or tribal conflicts in Africa and elsewhere where there are still primitive conditions, but by and large we don’t experience on a mass scale the brutality of the ancient conflicts. A third of the army would die just from dysentery. A man would be cut lightly on the shoulder in battle and celebrate that he survived, only to be dead the next day from gangrenous infections. Civilian populations were utterly wiped out. So, you still see those things today, but at nowhere near the scale.
Melissa: If you could serve in any military, during any time in history, which one would it be and why? Which ones would be your least favorite?
Without glorifying war itself, the era of military history I am most interested in besides the Biblical/ancient era is the Napoleonic era. War fighting technology was only just beginning to develop and the mass maneuvers were still in place. It was very much about which general on the field was more brilliant than his opponent.
My least favorite era of military history is the Dark Ages in Europe. All I think of when I study that is how muddy and rotten it would have been.
Melissa: What do you think makes great military entertainment? What movies or books do you think have gotten it right and which ones do you think have done a disservice to those who have served?
Cliff: Great military entertainment usually portrays the “common soldier” because it gives the audience someone to relate to and root for. I think it can also be done well if you portray the stress and tension of leadership under fire. From a literary standpoint, my favorite war novel ever is the Killer Angels, and the movies I find most compelling ones such as Saving Private Ryan and Fury.
Melissa: What are your thoughts about having served in the military? What were the best parts and your least favorite parts?
Cliff: The old saying is, “I was honored to have done it and am really glad it’s over.” I do appreciate the freedoms of civilian life, but there are days I miss the camaraderie very much.