Subj: Fw: Neighborhood Bully - A Former U.S. Attorney General on American Militarism
Date: 12/15/01 8:56:19 PM Pacific Standard Time

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Subject: Neighborhood Bully - A Former U.S. Attorney General on American

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Views and Thoughts of a former U.S. Attorney General of the United States a
year ago

                        NEIGHBORHOOD BULLY
                    Ramsey Clark on American Militarism

                        by DERRICK JENSEN in SUN Magazine*

When I picture a high-ranking government official, I think of someone who is
corrupt. I think of a corporate shill. I think of someone who is not a
friend to the people of this country. I think of Lord Acton's famous line
about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. I think of
the disdain with which so many Americans have viewed so many of their
leaders for so many years.
Former attorney general Ramsey Clark is different. Despite having once been
the chief law-enforcement officer of this country, he consistently takes the
side of the oppressed.

Born to power - Clark's father was attorney general in the 1940s and later a
Supreme Court justice - the University of Chicago Law School graduate was
appointed assistant attorney general by John F. Kennedy in 1961 and went on
to head that department as attorney general under Lyndon Johnson from 1967
to 1969. During his years in the Justice Department, Clark was a staunch
supporter of the civil-rights movement. While in charge of government
efforts to protect the protesters in Alabama, he witnessed firsthand "the
enormous violence that was latent in our society toward unpopular people."
He had a similar experience when he was sent to Los Angeles after the
rioting in Watts and discovered abuses by the police and the National Guard.

Although back then, Clark didn't take the strong antiwar stance he advocates
today, his Justice Department record boasts some major accomplishments: He
supervised the drafting and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the
Civil Rights Act of 1968. He denounced police shootings and authorized
prosecution of police on charges of brutality and wrongful death. He opposed
electronic surveillance and refused to authorize an fbi wiretap on Martin
Luther King Jr. He fought hard against the death penalty and won, putting a
stay on federal executions that lasted until this year, when Timothy
McVeigh's death sentence was carried out.

After a failed bid for the Senate in 1976, Clark abandoned government
service and set out to provide legal defense to victims of oppression. As an
attorney in private practice, he has represented many controversial clients
over the years, among them antiwar activist Father Philip Berrigan; Native
American political prisoner Leonard Peltier; the Branch Davidians, whose
compound in Waco, Texas, was destroyed by government agents; Sheik Omar Abd
El-Rahman, who was accused of masterminding the World Trade Center bombing;
and Lori Berenson, an American held in a Peruvian prison for allegedly
supporting the revolutionary Tupac Amaru movement there. Clark's dedication
to defending unpopular, and even hated, figures has also led him to
represent such clients as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and far-right
extremist Lyndon LaRouche.

Clark is founder and chairperson of the International Action Center, the
largest antiwar movement in the United States. A vocal critic of U.S.
military actions around the globe, he calls government officials
"international outlaws," accusing them of "killing innocent people because
we don't like their leader." He has traveled to Iraq, North Vietnam, Serbia,
and other embattled regions of the world to investigate the effects of
American bombing and economic sanctions there. The sanctions, he says, are
particularly inhumane: "They're like the neutron bomb, which is the most
'inspired' of all weapons, because it kills the people and preserves the
property, the wealth. So you get the wealth and you don't have the baggage
of the hungry, clamoring poor."

After the Gulf War, in 1991, Clark initiated a war-crimes tribunal, which
tried and found guilty President George Bush and Generals Colin Powell and
Norman Schwarzkopf, among others. Clark went on to write a book, The Fire
This Time (Thunder's Mouth Press), describing the crimes he says were
committed by U.S. and nato forces during the Gulf War. When asked why he
focuses on the crimes of his own country, instead of those committed by
Iraq, Clark says that we, as citizens, need to announce our principles and
"force our government to adhere to them. When you see your government
violating those principles, you have the highest obligation to correct what
your government does, not point the finger at someone else."

The interview took place on a dreary day last November, when the
presidential election was still undecided. We have a new president now, but
Clark's criticisms of U.S. foreign policy are, if anything, more relevant
with George W. Bush in the Oval Office. I met with Clark in the offices of
the International Action Center...   Books lined every wall, except for a
fairly large area devoted to photographs of Clark's two children, his
numerous grandchildren, and his wife of more than fifty years.

Jensen: According to the federal government's Defense Planning Guide of
1992, the first objective of U.S. foreign policy is to convince potential
rivals that they "need not aspire" to "a more aggressive posture to defend
their legitimate interests." The implication seems to be that the U.S.
intends not to let other countries actively defend their own interests. To
what extent does U.S. foreign policy in action reflect that goal?
Clark: Our foreign policy has been a disaster since long before that
planning guide - for a lot longer than we'd like to believe. We can look all
the way back to the arrogance of the Monroe Doctrine, when the United States
said, "This hemisphere is ours," ignoring all the other people who lived
here, too. For a part of this past century, there were some constraints on
our capacity for arbitrary military action - what you might call the
inhibitions of the Cold War - but with the collapse of the Soviet Union,
we've acquired a headier sense of what we can get away with.
Our overriding purpose, from the beginning right through to the present day,
has been world domination - that is, to build and maintain the capacity to
coerce everybody else on the planet: nonviolently, if possible; and
violently, if necessary. But the purpose of our foreign policy of domination
is not just to make the rest of the world jump through hoops; the purpose is
to facilitate our exploitation of resources. And insofar as any people or
states get in the way of our domination, they must be eliminated - or, at
the very least, shown the error of their ways.
I'm not talking about just military domination. U.S. trade policies are
driven by the exploitation of poor people the world over. Vietnam is a good
example of both the military and the economic inhumanity. We have punished
its government and people mercilessly, just because they want freedom. The
Vietnamese people had to fight for thirty years to achieve freedom - first
against the French, and then against the United States. I used to be
criticized for saying that the Vietnamese suffered 2 million casualties, but
I've noticed that people now say 3 million without much criticism. Yet that
war was nothing compared to the effects of twenty years of sanctions, from
1975 to 1995, which brought the Vietnamese people - a people who had proven
to be invincible when threatened by physical force on their own land - down
to such dire poverty that they were taking to open boats in stormy seas, and
drowning, to get to a refugee camp in Hong Kong, a place no one in his or
her right mind would want to be. They went simply because they saw no future
in their own country.
I went to North Vietnam in the summer of 1971, when the U.S. was trying to
destroy civilian dikes through bombing. Our government figured that if it
could destroy Vietnam's capacity for irrigation, it could starve the people
into submission.

Jensen: Which, in itself, is a war crime.
Clark: Sure, but since when does international law stop the U.S.
government - except when it comes to laws made by the World Trade
Organization, where it's to the advantage of the owners of capital for the
government to obey them?
The U.S. figured that if the Vietnamese couldn't control their water supply,
then they couldn't grow rice, and they wouldn't be able to feed themselves.
At that time, they were producing about five tons of rice to the hectare,
which is extremely productive. The economy was based on the women. The men
were living in tunnels to the south with a bag of rice, a bag of ammunition,
and a rifle; some had been there for years. And we were still bombing them
mercilessly, inflicting heavy casualties. Yet they survived.
The sanctions, on the other hand, brought their economy down below that of
Mozambique - then the poorest country in the world, with a per capita income
of about eighty dollars per year.
All of this reflects a U.S. foreign policy that is completely materialistic
and enforced by violence, or the threat of violence, and economic coercion.

Jensen: Do you think most Americans would agree that U.S. foreign policy has
been "a disaster"?
Clark: Sadly, I think most Americans don't have an opinion about our foreign
policy. Worse than that, when they do think about it, it's in terms of the
demonization of enemies and the exaltation of our capacity for violence.
When the Gulf War started in 1991, you could almost feel a reverence come
over the country. We had a forty-two-day running commercial for militarism.
Nearly everybody was glued to CNN, and whenever they saw a Tomahawk cruise
missile taking off from a navy vessel somewhere in the Persian Gulf, they
practically stood up and shouted, "Hooray for America!" But that missile was
going to hit a market in Basra or someplace, destroy three hundred food
stalls, and kill forty-two very poor people. And we considered that a good
It's very difficult to debate military spending in this country today -
which is unbelievable, because our military spending is absolutely,
certifiably insane. Just to provide one example: We still have twenty-two
commissioned Trident nuclear submarines, which are first-strike weapons. Any
one of those submarines can launch twenty-four missiles simultaneously. Each
of those missiles can contain as many as seventeen independently targeted,
maneuverable nuclear warheads. And each of those warheads can travel seven
thousand nautical miles and supposedly hit within three hundred feet of its
predetermined target. If we fire them in opposite directions, we can span
fourteen thousand nautical miles: halfway around the world at the equator.
This means we can take out 408 centers of human population, hitting each
with a nuclear warhead ten times as powerful as the bomb that incinerated

Jensen: This is all from one submarine?
Clark: One submarine. And we have twenty-two of them. It's an unthinkable
machine. Why would you have it? What kind of mind would conceive of such a
machine? What justification could there be for its existence? What would be
the meaning of daring to use it?
Yet the debate about military spending in this country never raises these
questions. Think back to 1980, when President Carter and Governor Reagan
were arguing about the military budget. At that time, you could see the end
of the Cold War approaching; the risk of superpower conflict was waning
rapidly. Carter came in with a 7 percent increase in the budget, when it
should have been reduced. And Reagan, of course, topped him with a proposal
for an 11 percent increase. Carter's response was that he could spend 7
percent more effectively than Reagan could spend 11 percent, so we'd be

stronger on Carter's program. Nowhere in this debate did we - or do we now -
hear anything about the morality or the sanity (even the fiscal sanity) of
such huge military budgets.
Our foreign policy is based on the use of our military might as an enforcer,
exactly as Teddy Roosevelt implied when he said that we should "speak softly
and carry a big stick." What does that mean? It means: "Do what I say, or
I'll smash your head in. I won't make a lot of noise about it; I'll just do

Jensen: How many times has the United States invaded Latin America in the
last two hundred years?
Clark: It depends on who's doing the counting, but in the twentieth century
alone, it was undoubtedly almost once per year. Off the top of my head, I
could count probably seventy instances.
Jensen: And, of course, it was the same in the nineteenth century.
Clark: We sent the word out pretty early. We had to worry about the British
and the Spanish for a long time, but we were determined to make this "our"
hemisphere - while, at the same time, certainly not confining ourselves to
just this side of the world.
We hear a lot of rhetoric about how the United States exports democracy all
over the world, but if you really want to understand U.S. influence on other
peoples, probably the best places to start are Liberia and the Philippines,
which are our two preeminent colonies - I think it's fair to call them
that - in Africa and Asia.
We started in Liberia well before 1843, planning to send freed slaves there
as one of the "solutions," so to speak, to our slavery problem. Liberia
became a U.S. colony in every sense of the word: "Liberia" is the name
we gave the country; the capital, Monrovia, and the great port city,
Buchanan, are both named after U.S. presidents; the government was organized
and put in place directly by the United States; the national currency is the
U.S. dollar. Given these close connections, you'd expect Liberia to be
relatively well-off. But it would be difficult, even in Africa, to find a
people more tormented and endangered and impoverished than Liberia's.
It's the same story in the Philippines, which we conquered during the
Philippine-American War - commonly (and inaccurately) called the
Spanish-American War. More than a million Filipinos died during that war
from violence and dengue fever, a byproduct of the fighting. We had
government testimony of widespread use of torture by U.S. troops and of a
general giving orders to kill all of the males on Negros Island. Once, that
island could feed more than the population of the entire Philippine
archipelago. And what's the condition of that island now, after a hundred
years of American benevolence? It's owned by twelve families and produces 60
percent of the sugar exported from the Philippines. The children of those
who chop the cane starve because their families don't even have enough land
to grow their own vegetables. Per capita income in the Philippines ten years
ago was less than six hundred dollars. Per capita income in Japan, by
contrast, was more than twenty-four thousand dollars. Even the poorest
countries in the region have per capita incomes double or triple that of the
So what have Liberia and the Philippines gotten out of being de facto
colonies of the United States? Poverty, division, confusion, and tyrannical
governments: Ferdinand Marcos was our man in Manila. We installed one
dictator after another in Liberia.
These two countries represent a small part of our foreign policy, but it's a
part where you would expect us to be the most attentive to the well-being of
the people. Yet few have suffered more in other parts of the world.

Jensen: So how do we maintain our national self-image as God's gift to the
world, the great bastion of democracy?
Clark: But we're not a democracy. It's a terrible misunderstanding and a
slander to the idea of democracy to call us that. In reality, we're a
plutocracy: a government by the wealthy. Wealth has its way. The
concentration of wealth and the division between rich and poor in the U.S.
are unequaled anywhere. And think of whom we admire most: the Rockefellers
and Morgans, the Bill Gateses and Donald Trumps. Would any moral person
accumulate a billion dollars when there are 10 million infants dying of
starvation every year? Is that the best thing you can find to do with your

Jensen: I remember seeing a statistic a few years ago that summed up our
priorities for me: for the price of a single b-1 bomber - about $285
million - we could provide basic immunization treatments to the roughly 575
million children in the world who lack them, thus saving 2.5 million lives
Clark: Such comparisons have a powerful illustrative impact, but they imply
that if the money weren't spent on bombers, it might be put to good use. The
fact is, however, that if the
b-1 were canceled, we still wouldn't spend the money on vaccinations,
because it wouldn't serve the trade interests of the United States. It's not
a part of our vision.

Jensen: What, then, is our vision?
Clark: Central to our foreign policy has been the active attempt to deprive
governments and peoples of the independence that comes from self-sufficiency
in the production of food. I've believed for many years that a country that
can't produce food for its own people can never really be free. Iran is a
good example of this. We overthrew the democratically elected government in
Iran and installed the Shah. For twenty-five years, Iran was our surrogate
in the Middle East, a hugely important region. After the Shah was overthrown
by his own people, CIA chief William Colby called installing the Shah the
CIA's proudest achievement and said, "You may think he failed, but for
twenty-five years, he served us well."

Jensen: Serving us well, in this case, included killing tens of thousands of
Iranians just in the year before he left office.
Clark: He certainly killed as many as he dared, especially in that last
year, 1978. I've always said it was about thirty-seven thousand that year,
but we'll never know exactly how many. I think there were two thousand
gunned down on Black Friday alone, that August. There were a million people
out on the streets that day, and they came through Jaleh Square, many
wearing shrouds so that it would be convenient to bury them if they were
killed. Huey helicopters fired on them from a hundred feet in the air with
fifty-caliber machine guns.

Jensen: U.S.-supplied Hueys?
Clark: The Hueys were fabricated in Esfahan, Iran, from U.S.-supplied parts.
In fact, the fabrication of those Hueys provides an interesting insight into
the effects of U.S. influence. In 1500, Esfahan was one of the ten biggest
cities in the world, with about half a million people. Culturally, it
remained almost pristine until 1955, the year after the Shah took power. As
part of the Shah's efforts to fulfill his dream of making Iran the fifth
great industrial power in the world, he made Esfahan a center of
industrialization. By 1970, the population had increased to 1.5 million,
including about eight hundred thousand peasants who had come to live in the
slums around this once fabulous city.
Once again, the result of U.S. foreign policy was poverty, anger, hurt, and
suffering for the majority. While the canal systems that had supported
enough agriculture to feed the population for a couple of millennia were
going into decay, causing Iran to import most of its food, the country was
buying arms. We sold them more than $22 billion in arms between 1972 and
1977 - everything they wanted, except nuclear weapons.
Iran isn't the only Middle Eastern nation dependent upon food imports. Today
twenty-two Arab states import more than half of their food. This makes them
extremely vulnerable to U.S. economic pressure.
Egypt is a great example of this. It's the second-largest U.S.-aid recipient
in the world, after Israel. Can you imagine what sanctions would do to
Cairo? You've got 12 million people living there, 10 million of them in real
poverty. The city would be bedlam in ninety days. There would be rebellion
in the streets.
The same is true of the other Arab countries. They might think they've got
wealth because of their oil, but Iraq has oil, and it hasn't helped that
country survive the sanctions. There, sanctions have forced impoverishment
on a people who had a quality of life that was by far the best in the
region. They had free, universal healthcare and a good educational system.
Now they're dying at a rate of about eighteen thousand per month as a direct
result of sanctions imposed by the United States in the name of the UN
Security Council - the most extreme sanctions imposed in modern times.
The U.S. helped maneuver Iraq into a position where it was one of those
twenty-two Arab nations importing more than half its food, and I have always
believed that we maneuvered it, as well, into attacking Iran, in that
god-awful war that cost a million young men their lives for no purpose.
After the collapse of the Shah's regime in 1979, Iraq thought that Iran
couldn't defend itself, but didn't take into account the passion that
twenty-five years of suffering had created in the population - a passion so
strong that you had fifteen-year-old kids running barefoot through swamps
into a hail of bullets, and if they got near you, you were dead. They had a
pair of pants and a rifle, and that was about it. Meanwhile, Iraq, which was
supported by both the Soviet Union and the United States, had artillery it
could mount shoulder to shoulder and armored vehicles with cannons and
machine guns. But the war was still a stalemate.
In any case, by the late 1980s, Iraq was emerging as too powerful a nation
in the Middle East. And, fatally for Iraq, it wasn't reliable enough to be
our new surrogate. No one would be as good a surrogate for us as the Shah's
Iran had been.
So we had to take out Iraq, under the pretense of defending Kuwait. First we
bombed Iraq brutally: 110,000 aerial sorties in forty-two days, an average
of one every thirty seconds, which dropped 88,500 tons of bombs. (These are
Pentagon figures.) We destroyed the infrastructure - to use a cruel
euphemism for life-support systems. Take water, for example: We hit
reservoirs, dams, pumping stations, pipelines, and purification plants. Some
and I drove into Iraq at the end of the second week of the war, and there
was no running water anywhere. People were drinking water out of the Tigris
and Euphrates Rivers.
The Gulf War showed, for the first time, that you could destroy a country
without setting foot on its soil. We probably killed a hundred thousand, and
our total casualties, according to the Pentagon, were 157 - most of them
from friendly fire and accidents. The Iraqis caused only minimal casualties.
One of those notoriously inaccurate Scud missiles, fired toward Saudi
Arabia, came wobbling down and somehow hit a mess-hall tent, killing
thirty-seven American soldiers. That's a big chunk of the total casualties
right there. We didn't lose a single tank, whereas we destroyed seventeen
hundred Iraqi armored vehicles, plinking them with depleted-uranium
ammunition and laser-guided missiles.
But, as with Vietnam, the sanctions that followed the war have been
infinitely more damaging, causing fifteen times the number of casualties.
The sanctions against Iraq are genocidal conduct under the law, according to
the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide - which, by the way, the United States refused to endorse
until 1988 and explicitly refuses to comply with to this day. The sanctions
against Iraq have killed more than 1.5 million people, more than half of
them children under the age of five, an especially vulnerable segment of the
population. Particularly in their first year, children are more susceptible
to disease and malnutrition, and to the malnutrition of their mother. Many
Iraqi mothers are now so malnourished that they cannot produce milk. They
try to give their children sugar water as a substitute, but because the
United States destroyed the infrastructure, the water is contaminated:
within forty-eight hours, the child is dead. And that child could have been
saved by a rehydration tablet that costs less than a penny, but is not
available because of the sanctions. This is in a country that once produced
15 percent of its own pharmaceuticals: now it can't even get the raw
materials. We have, in an act of will, impoverished a whole population.

Jensen: Where do you see such policies taking us?
Clark: The great issue of the twenty-first century will be that of the
relationship between the rich and poor nations, and of the elimination of
some percentage of those whom we consider not only expendable, but even
undesirable. In many parts of the world, we've got 30 percent of the labor
force unemployed and unemployable, and new technology renders them
unnecessary. Why, then, from the perspective of capital - and, therefore,
from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy - should we support them? Why
worry about aids in Africa? Why worry about hunger and malnutrition in
Bangladesh or Somalia?

Jensen: Let me see if I've got this right: From the perspective of those in
power, it's desirable to keep the poor alive only insofar as they're useful,
and the poor are useful only as labor, or as an excess pool of labor to
drive wages down. Beyond that, who needs them?
Clark: Yes. It's hard for me to see how we will find meaningful and
desirable employment for the poorest segment of the world's population in
the face of both ecological degradation and technology's capacity to produce
more than we need. How did Dostoevski put it? "The cruelest punishment that
can be inflicted on a person is to force him to work hard at a meaningless
task." That may or may not be true, but we do know that such make-work is a
form of psychological torture. If your labor isn't needed, if you don't have
skills, then what are you worth to a society that won't even bother to
vaccinate your children or provide food for your starving infants?
In 1900, half of the labor force in the United States was involved in
agriculture. Now it's probably less than 5 percent. In 1900, 80 percent of
the labor force in China was involved in food production. When that figure
comes down to 10 percent, what are those other 70 percent going to do?

Jensen: While we've been talking, I've been thinking about a conversation
that took place years ago between Senator George McGovern and Robert
Anderson, the president of the military contractor Rockwell International.
McGovern asked Anderson if he wouldn't rather build mass-transit systems
than b-1 bombers. Anderson said he would, but they both knew that there was
no chance Congress would appropriate money for public transportation.
Clark: They were absolutely right. Capital in the United States would never
accept that sort of shift in priorities, for many reasons. The first is that
the military is a means of international domination, and any change that
might threaten that domination will not be allowed to take place. The second
reason is that capital requires continuing, ever expanding demand, and mass
transit shrinks demand for automobiles and gas.
When my family moved to Los Angeles when I was a kid, before World War ii,
it was a paradise. The word smog hadn't been invented. There were no such
things as freeways. There were mountains, beaches, deserts, and wildlife,
and 49 percent of the land in the area was owned by the people of the United
States. But the machinery that would destroy that paradise had already been
put in motion.
In the 1920s, there had been struggles over whether there would continue to
be mass transit in Los Angeles, which at the start of the century had an
elaborate streetcar system. But powerful industries - the oil refiners and
the automobile manufacturers - fiercely opposed what the people obviously
needed. The citizens of Los Angeles were a fast-growing population with long
distances to travel, and they needed to get there fast and cheaply. If
they'd developed more mass transit, it would have led to an entirely
different way of life. Instead, LA is now a big, sprawling metropolis with a
tangle of freeways and millions of cars, unbelievable in its endless
banality and congestion and noise and pollution. But think of what LA's
maintaining its excellent mass-transit system would have done to the
petrochemical industry and the automobile industry, with all of their
accessories - tires, parts, and so on.
Capital promotes activities from which its owners can reap enormous profits.
It does not matter if those activities are detrimental to living beings or
communities. For example, those in power seem to have an unlimited
imagination for conjuring up new excuses to throw money at the military. I
was saddened by the almost pathetic naivete, of the people of this country
some ten years ago, when we were talking about reaping a "peace dividend."

Jensen: Which, of course, we never hear about anymore.
Clark: But people believed there would be a peace dividend! Instead, we've
devised incredible schemes like SDI - the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense
Initiative, which is back again.
Jensen: The argument now is that we need SDI to protect us from North Korea.
Clark: That's crazy. In the current election, even more than in 1980, when
Carter and Reagan were debating the military budget, we saw two candidates
vying to prove that they each would provide a stronger defense. But defense
from what? In order to keep increasing the demand for military products,
we're teaching moral and fiscal insanity. I was in South Africa a couple of
weeks ago. After all the people there have suffered, you have to be so
hopeful for them, yet they just spent over a billion dollars on a bunch of
naval vessels.
And we've been consistently sold a bill of goods that has made people
believe they've been heroic when they've done terrible things in the name of
their country through military actions. I mean, how many of those pilots who
bombed Vietnam - even the ones who became prisoners - ever said to
themselves, "I wonder what it was like being a Vietnamese villager when I
was coming over and dropping those bombs"?

Jensen: I kept thinking about that when Senator John McCain used his
former-prisoner-of-war status to gain political capital, and I never heard
anyone publicly confront him about killing civilians.
I remember once, when I lived in Spokane, Washington, there was a gala event
called "A Celebration of Heroes." The headliner was the Gulf War commander
Norman Schwarzkopf. Neither the mainstream nor the alternative papers
published articles, or even letters to the editor, about Schwarzkopf's war
crimes. I think that holding up mass murderers as heroes is as much a
problem as holding up the rich.
Clark: Violence may not be as harmful as greed in the long run, because it's
harder to kill people directly than it is to kill them with sanctions. If
you killed that many with bullets, your finger would get tired.
Colin Powell seems to be a compelling figure, but when he was asked during
the Gulf War how many Iraqis he thought the United States had killed, his
response was - and this is a direct quote - "Frankly, that's a number that
doesn't interest me very much." Now, aside from international law, which
requires that all participants in war count their enemy dead, that is an
extraordinarily inhumane statement. And then you see a fellow like General
Barry McCaffrey, whom Clinton later named as his drug czar, coming in and
attacking defenseless Iraqi troops as they withdrew, killing several
thousand people just like that. [Snaps his finger.] That's a war crime of
the first magnitude. And yet these men are rewarded; they're seen as heroes.

Jensen: On another subject, you've also spoken out against our nation's
prison system.
Clark: One of the most devastating things that have happened in this
society - and one of the most ignored - is the stunning growth of the prison
system and the use of capital punishment. In the 1960s, a time of maximum
domestic turbulence, we were able to bring the government out against the
death penalty, leading to a halt in federal executions in 1963. In fact, the
first year in U.S. history that there were no executions anywhere was 1968.
We also had a moratorium on federal prison construction. The federal-prison
population was then around twenty thousand. Now, of course, we're building
prisons like mad, and the federal-prison population is currently about
In 1971, prisoners at Attica in New York State rebelled against horrible
prison conditions. (Conditions overall are worse today.) The suppression of
that rebellion is still the bloodiest day of battle between Americans on
American soil since the Civil War: thirty-seven people were killed. At that
time, there were fewer than thirteen thousand prisoners in the whole New
York prison system; today there are about seventy-five thousand. And the
population of the state hasn't risen 5 percent.
Across the country, more than 2 million people are in prison. And in
California - which we tend to think of as a trendsetter for the rest of the
country - 40 percent of African American males between the ages of seventeen
and twenty-seven, the most vital years of their lives, are either in prison
or under some form of community supervision or probation. What's the reason
behind this? It's a means of controlling a major segment of the population.
But what does it do to the people?
And what does it mean that we've got politicians like New York City mayor
Rudy Giuliani, who insists on sending people to jail for what he calls
"quality of life" crimes? What does it mean when 70 percent of young-adult
African American males have arrest records? What does it mean when so many
of these African Americans have had frightening and damaging experiences
with the police? We say we're "the land of the free and the home of the
brave," yet we have a prison system unrivaled in the so-called democratic
societies, and probably in any society on the planet today. And we're Lord
High Executioner.
In the 1960s, South Africa was the world's leading executioner for
postjudicial convictions, executing about three hundred people every year -
nearly one each day. Most years, all of those executed were black, with the
occasional exception of a white who had been convicted of being part of the
African National Congress's resistance to apartheid. Back then, the
principal argument we made in this country against the death penalty was "We
don't want to be like South Africa." Part of the reason that argument worked
is that the civil-rights movement was ascendant. Another is that people
recognized that our executions were racist: For instance, 89 percent of the
executions for rape, from the time statistics began to be collected until
the Supreme Court abolished executions for rape, were of African American
men. And although we don't know the race of all the victims, because those
statistics weren't kept, those whose race we have been able to determine
were all white. The imposition of the death penalty was - and remains -
blatantly racist.
Now South Africa has abolished the death penalty; its constitution prohibits
it. Prior to that, its supreme court found the death penalty to be a
violation of international and domestic laws. Yet we come on like
gangbusters for capital punishment. George W. Bush executed more people than
any other governor in the history of the United States.

Jensen: You seem to be a good person, yet you filled a major government
post. That seems to me an immense contradiction.
Clark: If your premises are correct, then that's a terrible indictment of
the system. There is something desperately wrong if we don't have the best
among us in government service. But it's true; we drive them out.
I joined the Marines during World War ii, but a bunch of my buddies were
conscientious objectors. Even then, I realized that they were better men
than I, that what they did took more courage. I mean, to join the Marines is
a piece of cake: all you've got to do is go down to the recruitment center
and sign up. But I've watched my conscientious-objector friends over the
years, and I have to say that they've been very lonely; in some ways, their
lives were pretty much wasted. We're social creatures, and these men - boys,
really, when they first made that decision - were ostracized for what they
did, for following their conscience. And I think that lack of social esteem
affected how they perceived themselves.
It seems the best among us often get purged. I have seen many new
congresspeople come into Washington, and some of them are just such good
people that you can hardly stand it - bright, articulate, and caring about
issues. But it seems that, if they get reelected a few times, they start to
sit around and scowl and drink too much, and their families break up. If you
see this happen enough times, you begin to realize the enormous corrupting
power of our political system. To be successful in it, you might have to
make compromises that will cause you not to like yourself very much. And
then you'll have to compensate for that in some way. You can become
excessively ambitious, or greedy, or corrupt, or something else, but
something's got to happen, because if you don't like yourself, what do you
Young people often ask me if they should go to law school, and I always say,
"If you're not tough, you'll get your values beaten out of you, and you'll
move into a kind of fee-grabbing existence where your self-esteem will
depend on how much you bill per hour and what kind of clients you bring in
to the law firm. You might find yourself turning into nothing but a money
If we are to significantly change our culture, we need to recognize that we
are held in thrall by two desperately harmful value patterns. One is the
glorification of violence. We absolutely, irrationally, insanely glorify
violence. We often think that we enjoy watching the good guys kill the bad
guys, but the truth is that we enjoy watching the kill itself.
The other value is materialism. We are the most materialistic people who
have ever lived. We value things over children. Indeed, the way we show how
much we value children is by giving them things, to the point where a
mother's self-esteem depends on whether she's the first in her neighborhood
to get her child some new toy.
I think the hardest part for us is to break through the illusory world that
the media create. Television is a big part of our reality. Children spend
more time watching TV than they do in school or participating in any other
activity. And television is a preacher of materialism above all else. It
tells us constantly to want things. More money is spent on commercials than
on the entertainment itself. And that entertainment is essentially hypnotic.
I think often of the Roman poet Juvenal's line about "bread and circuses."
All these distractions that now fill our lives are an unprecedented
mechanism of social control, because they occupy so much of our time that we
don't reason, we don't imagine, and we don't use our senses. We walk though
our day mesmerized, never questioning, never thinking, never appreciating.
From this process we emerge a synthetic vessel without moral purpose, with
no notion in our head or our heart of what is good for people, of what
builds a healthier, happier, more loving society.
You began this interview by asking me about U.S. foreign policy, and I said
that it's been a failure. Here is the standard by which I would judge any
foreign or domestic policy: has it built a healthier, happier, more loving
society, both at home and abroad? The answer, in our case, is no on both

Jensen: So what do we do?
Clark: I think the solution relies on the power of the idea, and the power
of the word, and on a belief that, in the end, the ultimate power resides in
the people.
In discussing the effects of U.S. foreign policy, we've been talking about
only one part of the story. Another part is resistance - the power of the pe
ople. We saw that in the Philippines, when Marcos was deposed in a
nonviolent revolution, and we saw that in Iran, when the Shah's staggering
power was overcome, as well, by a nonviolent revolution.
Of course, just getting rid of Marcos or the Shah is not the end of the
story. People sometimes think that, after the glorious revolution, everybody
is going to live happily ever after. But it doesn't work that way. What
they've gone through in the struggle has divided them, confused them, driven
them to extremes of desperation.
I think what all of this means is that we each have to do our own part, and
become responsible, civic-minded citizens: we have to realize that we won't
be happy unless we try to do our part. And if a small portion of us simply
do our part, that will be enough. If even 1 percent of the people of this
country could break out of the invisible chains, they could bring down this
military-industrial complex - this tyranny of corporations, this
plutocracy - overnight. That's all it would take: 1 percent of the people.
We also have to realize that we're going to be here only one time, and we've
got to enjoy life, however hard it is. To miss the opportunity for joy is to
miss life. Any fool can be unhappy; in fact, we make whole industries out of
being unhappy, because happy people generally make lousy consumers. It's
interesting to see how the poor understand all of this better than the rich.
This morning, I was in court over in Brooklyn, representing a group of
Romany - they're often called Gypsies, but they don't like to be called
that - who were claiming recognition for losses in the Holocaust. The Romany
lost 1.5 million people, yet nobody pays any attention to their claims. In
fact, last year, the city of Munich, Germany, enacted legislation that is
almost a verbatim reproduction of 1934 legislation prohibiting Romany from
coming into the city: they'll be arrested if they do. The Romany might be
the most endangered people on the planet - even more so than the 200 million
indigenous people around the globe. They are fugitives everywhere they go,
persecuted everywhere. Yet, like the traditional indigenous peoples, they
are people of exceptional joy. They sing and dance and have fun. They can't
see life as so much drudgery.
I saw that same joy among the civil-rights protesters in the 1960s. Watching
them sing as they marched, I couldn't help but realize that you feel better
when you're doing something you feel is right - no matter how hard it is.