Ramsey Clark Interview

Neighborhood Bully

an interview by

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 (39 West 14th St., #206, New
York, NY 10011, 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 thing.

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 it."

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 Philippines.

So what have Liberia and the Philippines gotten out of being de facto
colonies of the United States? Poverty, division, confusion, and
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 time?

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 annually.

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

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

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 associates

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

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

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

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

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 145,000.

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 do?

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 mill."

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

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 counts.

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 people. 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.

end of interview

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