Skip to main content

Retired General Wesley K. Clark

He commanded the NATO troops during the Kosovo conflict, the first and only NATO war. His new memoir is Waging Modern War


Other segments from the episode on May 23, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 23, 2001: Interview with Wesley Clark; Commentary on language.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: General Wesley Clark discusses his new memoir, "Waging
Modern War"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

General Wesley Clark says he had to learn a new kind of war as he was fighting
it. As the Supreme Allied commander of NATO, Clark was the head of the
military chain of command within Europe during the operations against
Yugoslavia. In the spring of 1999, NATO's mission was to end the ethnic
cleansing in Kosovo. Clark says this was modern war, the first war fought in
Europe in half a century and the first ever fought by NATO. His new memoir is
called "Waging Modern War." Clark served as Supreme Allied commander of NATO
from 1997 to 2000. During the Gulf War, he commanded the National Training
Center at Ft. Irwin, California.

I spoke to him about commanding NATO forces in the military action against
Yugoslavia. I asked him about the problems inherent in a coalition war fought
by a 19-nation alliance with a multinational chain of command.

General WESLEY CLARK (Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO): I think that
fundamentals or coalitions, the idea that different nations have different
national interests, and that was certainly the case here. It's a problem that
we've talked about theoretically in NATO for years. We always talked about
the problem of strengthening the transatlantic link, and we talked about the
burden-sharing problem. And people say, `Well, the interests of the Europeans
are different than the interests of the Americans.' Well, of course. Every
country has different interests.

And in the case of this operation, countries like Italy and Greece, Hungary
were directly affected economically. Hungary had a large minority of
Hungarians--370,000--living inside Serbia, so they were concerned for that
reason. Germany had borne the brunt of the refugees coming out of the former
Yugoslavia. They spent $20 billion on refugees. So the prospect of another
million and a half Albanians flooding into Germany and occupying schools and
disrupting life there was certainly a hot political topic.

France was interested in economic developments in the region and had an
historic relationship with Serbia. And the United States was interested in
NATO and trying to preserve the arrangements that we'd negotiated in Bosnia.
So everybody had a slightly different interest. Some of the interests were
all uncommon, but they were also slightly different, and that's the most
fundamental problem about a coalition operation: How do you keep nations
engaged, committing their forces, committing their prestige, the survivability
of their government, in fact, to an operation when their interests vary so

GROSS: What was a typical disagreement between the countries? Did the
countries disagree on what the best targets were?

Gen. CLARK: Well, there were disagreements on the targets, the pace of the
escalation, the use of the Apaches and how the Apaches would be used. There
were disagreements about whether there'd be a movement toward a ground
operation, what kind of ground operation it would be. In fact, there were
differences of opinion on almost everything. Some were real disagreements,
some were questioning. But every nation wanted its voice hear, and the art of
coalition leadership was to give an audience in proportion to the commitment
of the countries, so the countries that contribute the most to the operation
had the largest say in the operation, the greatest influence on its outcome.

GROSS: So what are the typical problems it cost for you as Supreme Allied
commander of NATO to know that the countries of NATO were disagreeing about
what the goals should be and what the tactic should be?

Gen. CLARK: Well, of course it's a burden, but that's the leadership
challenge that one expects in an alliance operation. NATO was patterned on
the US-British alliance from World War II, and that alliance was governed by a
military committee consisting of the combined chiefs of staff. And General
Eisenhower was a Supreme Allied commander during that period, and he set up
NATO in that image. But, of course, as we went from two countries to 19
countries, many more voices came in. And as the issue became not the defeat
of Nazi Germany but rather the imposition of a diplomatic settlement on Serbia
and halting its ethnic cleansing, the issues became more complicated, more
political and more legal.

But the greatest problem and the greatest challenge of this really is to
preserve to our adversary the idea that NATO is cohesive and monolithic and
relentless in pursuit of its objective, because any sign that the alliance on
the inside was asking these questions back and forth, and people were
disagreeing and so forth might have given hope to Slobodan Milosevic and
probably did give hope to Slobodan Milosevic, that if he would just hang on
and endure a few more days of the bombing that everything would be all right
and he'd be able to break NATO's will.

GROSS: NATO was trying to give a real united front, even though there are
divisions within NATO.

Gen. CLARK: Exactly.

GROSS: The rules of NATO are that you're supposed to follow your country if
your country disagrees with a NATO decision. Did that happen?

Gen. CLARK: Well, as a matter of fact, it did happen. And it's always been
the case in NATO that forces that are put within NATO are essentially under
NATO for specific purposes, but they remain fundamentally national forces. So
in the case of the operation at the very end, when we were trying to occupy
Kosovo with the NATO force and the Russians rushed in front of us, we asked
the British commander to order the American helicopters to occupy the air
field so the Russians couldn't land their aircraft during the hours of
darkness. And the British commander refused.

And I went to him the next morning and we--it was Sunday morning, the 13th of
June, and we talked about these issues, and he said--finally, I said to him,
`Look, you're going to have to either accept this order or you're going to
have to resign your position from the chain of command, because you're a NATO
commander.' He said, `OK, I understand. I'll accept the order.' He said,
`But let me put British armored vehicles on the airfield instead of American
helicopters, because the British armored vehicles will be much more effective
at blocking the runways.' I said, `Fine, go ahead.' He then had one of his
subordinates call London, and when he gave the order, London then blocked the
order. It's called red carding. It wasn't technically disobedient or
insubordinate. It's the way NATO operations work. London didn't want to take
the risk of blocking the airfield, even though the United States did, and this
man, working with his national government, frustrated the will of Washington
and the overall orders of NATO.

GROSS: So it's hard, I guess, for you, at the top of the chain of command, to
run into that, but looking at it as objectively as you can, do you think that
that ability to red card is a good thing within the NATO alliance?

Gen. CLARK: Well, I think that the United States insists on it. It's just
that it hasn't happened so often to United States officers because we're
normally in charge of operations when we commit our forces to them. And so
for the United States' team, the allied commander and the American commander
are one in the same person, so there's no conflict.

But as we encourage our allies to do more, and as we stand back and refuse to
take a leadership position, then if we put American troops in there, our
troops are going to confront these issues. We have confronted them to some
extent already in Kosovo, where there has been some limited notice of public
squabbling about whether American troops would operate out of sector or not
and help other countries with our national command authority saying, `No,
we're not going to share out troops' skills. We're not going to take any
risks out of the sectors unless there's an emergency,' whereas other nations
were more generous and were offering their troops to come into our sector and
help us.

So that has posed a dilemma, but it's not a dilemma that we're as familiar
with as other nations are. We're going to become more familiar, however, I
think in the future.

GROSS: You write in your book, `I was torn between the guidance and
perspective I gained from NATO, heavily influenced by the Department of State
and the White House and what I would hear in my US military chain reporting to
the Pentagon. From one side, I was continually exhorted to do the best I
could, to accomplish the task at hand. From the other, I was often implicitly
or explicitly contained in seeking resources and authority to act.'

Talk a little bit more about the different messages that you were getting from
the White House and State Department and from the Pentagon.

Gen. CLARK: I did operate in two chains of command. As a US military
commander, I was a regional commander in chief, commander of the US-European
command, and I reported, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to the
secretary of Defense. The US national military strategy considered that
operations in Europe were secondary to the importance of preparing for
operations in Korea or the Persian Gulf. It was what was known as the
national military strategy. This was begun as a resourcing strategy to
explain why--to the American people and Congress, we needed to explain why we
needed to keep the forces that we had, roughly 60 percent of what we had
during the Cold War.

And over time it transformed itself into becoming an operational strategy with
the Pentagon saying, `We're not interested in doing anything unless it's in
these two particular theaters. We don't want to impede readiness to go to war
by doing these other secondary tasks.' But the unfortunate truth was that
reality was intruding here. We had Americans on the ground--we had national
prestige and commitment--and we had our NATO alliance committed to operations
in the Balkans. And once an alliance commits to operations, then success is
absolutely essential.

So in the US chain, I was constantly aware of other priorities. `We're going
to put the aircraft carriers in the Pacific, or they're going into the Persian
Gulf. You can't have an aircraft carrier during this period.' `OK, I
understand that.' But in the NATO channels, there was constant exhortation and
urging to do better. It was imperative to prevent an outbreak of ethnic
cleansing in Kosovo. It was important to see that the Dayton agreement in
Bosnia was successfully implemented, and that took resources. And so there
was a certain amount of tension in Washington in the inner agency between the
State Department, which wanted to see the missions done and wanted to use
Defense Department resources to do them, and the Defense Department, which had
its own agenda. And that tension was played out through my command.

GROSS: Now when it came time to decide on targets, you had to have targets
approved by your country. So what were the differences between what the State
Department and what the Pentagon wanted in terms of targets?

Gen. CLARK: Well, in the target approval process, the State Department
really shouldn't have much say. This is a military matter, and it goes up
then through legal channels and military channels as high as is necessary, and
in this case, the targets were approved by the White House. I'm sure that the
representatives from the State Department probably saw the targets, and they
were certainly welcomed to make suggestions, but I don't know of any major
disagreements on those particular issues with respect to targeting. I think
the issue there was that the Americans and our European allies had differing
views about what to bomb and when and why.

For the American military, strategic bombing has always been a panacea. It's
been something we hoped would help us avoid a ground war. Strategic bombing
is the outgrowth of the terrible slaughter in the trenches of World War I.
But only the United States had the resources and the scientific know-how to
develop this fully, and, of course, during the Cold War, we relied on
strategic aircraft, the strategic air command and finally on intercontinental
ballistic missiles in an extension of strategic bombing to provide deterrents.

The European allies never developed the capabilities, nor the concepts, for
strategic bombing. For them strategic bombing was associated with their
personal experiences with destroyed, devastated cities and thousands of
casualties. And when we started looking at escalating the campaign, I
remember the German general, Klaus Naumann, came to me and he said, `Wes,' he
said, `you must be very careful.' He said, `Germany bombed Belgrade in
1941'--I think the date was the 6th of April--`17,000 thousand people were
killed in Belgrade. We must never do such a thing again.'

And, of course, these were the memories of Europe, but to the Americans,
strategic bombing was a great success during the Second World War, and it's
something that our independent Air Force has extoled as one of its great
capabilities. And so we started with a fundamental divergence on our approach
to the use of air power. The Europeans wanted to after the tactical targets,
take greater risks, fly lower, try to hit the Serb tanks and the artillery and
any other equipment that was deployed out in the field. The Americans wanted
to go strategic--hit downtown Belgrade's key communications facilities and
headquarters and so on. And it was this divergence, really, which was at the
center of many of the difficulties in escalating the campaign.

GROSS: So how did you negotiate those two different points of view?

Gen. CLARK: I tried to do both, and both sides were actually--they were
relatively tolerant. We were able to escalate both the strategic attacks and
the efforts tactically. But the American side quickly lost faith in the
ability to strike the Serb forces on the ground. I had asked for the Apache
helicopters to come and augment the United States' Air Force capabilities in
doing this, because I felt that by moving at night with the Apaches, with
their ability to fly low, to get under the weather, to use their infrared
acquisition, they'd be much more effective at picking up the enemy targets
than aircraft flying at 15 to 20,000 feet. And the Europeans certainly
supported this concept, but the Pentagon really didn't support the concept.

Nevertheless, we were able to increase the intensity of the strikes, attack a
broader array of targets, and ultimately I think we brought a significant
degree of punishment against Milosevic's infrastructure and his key means of
command and control. We had to be very careful in doing so, that we were
scrupulously in compliance with international law: no attacking civilian
targets, no use of civilians, no punishment of civilians intended to cause
them to rebel against the government; strictly military or militarily
connected targets.

GROSS: It's such an ambiguous line there between what's a military target and
what's punishing citizens, because, first of all, let's face it, if you're
bombing all night and citizens are lying awake terrified in their homes or in
bomb shelters, you take out the electricity and citizens don't have
electricity, that's punishing them. When they're not safe in their own city,
when the water isn't reliable anymore, when the bridges are bombed, I mean,
that's punishing citizens as well as Milosevic.

Gen. CLARK: There's always some ambiguity in this. We had lawyers--our
lawyers, our Department of Justice, our attorney general looked at this very
careful and made sure that we stayed within the bounds of international law.
But you're quite right. There's no avoiding the impact on the civilian
population of military activities. And certainly that impact was felt in this
case. It was something I worried about every night as I looked at the
targets, because not only do you impact on the civilians by taking out the
electricity and so forth, but there's always a chance that a bomb will go
astray or that the blast will affect people in their own homes at night. And
I worried about this every single day of the campaign. We did everything we
possibly could to reduce the chances of harming civilians, but still, it's
inevitable that in war there will be civilian casualties.

GROSS: Figuring out what the outcome of the bombing would be depends in part
on what you figure Milosevic's personality is and what he's likely to do in
react to the bombing. What kind of debates do you have within NATO about
Milosevic's personality?

Gen. CLARK: Well, it's interesting that Milosevic was a well-known figure to
many people in Europe. I probably knew him as well as anybody. Richard
Holbrooke, Ambassador Chris Hill, who was in Macedonia, and I had more
personal time with Milosevic probably than anybody else and certainly more
than anyone in the intelligence community did.

GROSS: Let me say that's because you participated in the Dayton accords...

Gen. CLARK: That's right. Right.

GROSS: ...the peace process that ended the war. Yeah.

Gen. CLARK: And afterwards, while I was Supreme Allied commander, before the
fighting began, I visited Milosevic on several occasions. I talked to him by
telephone other times. And so I continued to maintain currency with Milosevic
and his outlook. My last visit to him was a couple of months before the war
started, and I spent seven hours with him. General Klaus Naumann and I flew
down and tried to talk through where he was in January of 1999. So we were
relatively current on Milosevic and his thinking. Milosevic is a stubborn
man. He's a rational man. He's a calculating man, and he's a self-interested
man. And so even though he told us in January of 1999 that Kosovo was more
important than his head, I never believed that. I always believed that he
would much rather lose Kosovo than lose his head. And it was up to us to
place that choice directly in front of him, and ultimately that's what

And NATO nations, they were less certain than I was about this. Some believe
that Milosevic might actually crumble with the first wave of NATO aircraft.
And I couldn't say that was an impossibility. Anything's possible, but I
doubted that that would happen. Others believed that Milosevic would give in
after a few days, that he just needed a little bit of destruction in order
excuse this. I believed from the outset that this was going to be a stubborn,
difficult opponent, and we were going to have to demonstrate our mastery of
his armed forces and our ability to decisively defeat him before he would
surrender. And it was unpredictable how long that would take. As it turned
out, it took 78 days.

GROSS: During the NATO bombing of Serbia, the Chinese Embassy was
accidentally bombed. I asked General Clark what went wrong.

Gen. CLARK: I think there was a long chain of events that led to the Chinese
Embassy mistake. It began with the fact that it's much more difficult to
collect information on what to strike in an air campaign than one might
presuppose. There are always a few obvious targets. One would say, `Well, of
course, you'll strike these airfields.' `Sure, we'll strike airfields.'
`Will you strike enemy barracks?' `Well, you might strike headquarters and
logistics facilities.' `Do you know where they are?' `Well, we think that we
do.' And this may add up to a couple of 300 targets, but after you've gone
through those obvious targets, then the question is: What else is there?

And to get the answers to those questions, you can't look at photographs or
maps. You have to go to people who really understand the enemy. And you go
to all the people in your government who know something about them. In this
case there was a man at the Central Intelligence Agency who nominated a
particular target, and that target, he believed, was controlling the export of
Serbian technology and arms abroad and by implication was responsible also for
importing foreign military assistance into Serbia. And certainly in that case
it was a logical military target for us to strike.

He believed he know the address of it. He's never seen the building from the
air. He picked it out, he thought it was the right building by knowing other
buildings and other streets, and he passed it into the system and it passed
through several filters that should have caught the mistake.

GROSS: And they didn't.

Gen. CLARK: But they didn't. And ultimately a lot of it was he also
bypassed a couple of filters. But, you know, he'd been there on the ground
and he was from a responsible agency and people were working 24 hours a day
and it got fed into the system. And I remember carrying a sheet of paper up
to Hugh Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he took it to
Sandy Berger, the president's national security adviser. We all looked at the
picture. We all looked at the description. It all made sense, and we
approved the strike. And so it came out of--the approval was actually at the
White House, and we did execute the strike and obviously it was a tragic

GROSS: What needed to be fixed after that mistake?

Gen. CLARK: We went back in several different directions. First, we made
sure we tightened up the system so that it was impossible to bypass these
loops that would have double-checked and tripled-checked the identification of
buildings and so forth. Secondly, we went to each of our NATO allies again.
We'd already done this once. We went again and we said, `Now tell us again
exactly what targets cannot be struck.' We always maintained what's called a
no-strike list and this was the churches and the embassies and the schools and
the hospitals and the community facilities and all of the civilian facilities
that you don't want to hit. And so we went back and revalidated that. And
then we just really used the elbow grease. We checked every single target
that we had on our books again before we executed any more missions and we
were very, very careful.

GROSS: What do you go through emotionally when you find out that the Chinese
Embassy was accidently hit?

Gen. CLARK: Well, it was worrisome, but I have to be honest with you and
tell you I was a lot more worried and a lot more upset when we struck at an
alleged Serb police station at Korisa. I think the date was the 11th of May.
And inside it was not a police station. It was a holding area and 80
Albanians had been locked inside by the Serbs and threatened that they would
be shot if they left. We identified it as a Serb police station. We bombed
it that night. We killed 80 Albanians. These were the very people we were
trying to help. It was a horrible, tragic mistake and that was truly
something that had a significant emotional impact on the command and on those
of us who had pushed for the attack of targets like this.

In the case of the Chinese Embassy, we had a systems problem and it was
terrible. It was a problem that was dealt with at a very high level. It had
enormous implications for the United States government and for NATO. But
within the command, it had less of an impact than the deaths of so many
innocent Albanian civilians, the very people we were trying to help.

GROSS: So what do you tell yourself after 80 civilians were accidently

Gen. CLARK: You say that you've got to do everything you can to prevent
something like that from happening again. But you're still faced with the
responsibility of carrying forth the campaign. And it becomes a matter of
relative evils. We were opposing a man who was determined to carry out an
ethnic cleansing that was going to force a million and a half people out of
the country or out of their homes at the very least. We didn't know how many
people he'd killed. We're still saying about 10,000. We know bodies were
carried out in refrigerator vans and burned in furnaces and other things, but
we'll never know exactly how many people died there.

But this was a deliberate effort perpetrated by a government on its own
citizens. In contrast, when we tried to stop it, accidents occurred. It was
the best that we could do with modern technology, the full effort of all of
the intelligence communities and the best adherence to international law. It
just wasn't perfect. And it may not have been--it certainly wasn't everything
we wanted. It certainly wasn't good enough, but it was the best that we could
do at the time. It's a terrible dilemma that we place people in uniform in
and especially for the men and women who flew the aircraft and who had their
hands on the pickle and dropped the ordnance on those targets. You know, I
prayed for them every day and night because I knew the terrible pressures they
were under.

GROSS: You and the other commanders of NATO were not only very concerned
about civilian casualties in Kosovo, you were concerned about NATO casualties
and you gave an order to, you know, limit the loss of any aircraft, limit the
loss of casualties. It certainly seems like there's much more fear of
military casualties now and that there has been since the Gulf War than any
time before the Gulf War. And I'd like your analysis of why there is much
more concern about military casualties now.

Gen. CLARK: I think it's a carryover from Vietnam. Certainly in this case,
the reason that we put out instructions--we put out what I called measures of
merit. And we wanted to be able to assess ourselves each day how well we were
moving along the path to success in the campaign. And I established very
quickly four measures of merit and they were avoiding the loss of aircraft,
impacting the Serb forces on the ground, avoiding damages and harm to innocent
civilians and maintaining alliance cohesion. These were four mutually
inconsistent objectives. We had to trade off one from the other. You want to
do more against the Serb forces on the ground, then you take greater risk
with your aircraft. You want to be more careful in avoiding instance of
collateral damage, then you take more risk with your aircraft. If you want to
do more to help the alliance maintain cohesion, then you are more careful to
avoid instance of harming civilians on the ground.

And so these were--because they were inconsistent objectives fundamentally,
then we used them to trade off, so it wasn't an order to avoid these things.
We were trying to get the best balance. And we knew that we had to avoid
losing aircraft because we had to keep the momentum of success. We had to
have the public in Western nations and the Serb leadership believing that
NATO's success was inevitable. If we had begun the campaign by losing a half
dozen aircraft, then we would have begun to undercut our ability to achieve
that momentum of success.

GROSS: What were some of the things you would have liked to do about ethnic
cleansing on the ground as you were waging an air war against Serbia?

Gen. CLARK: Well, obviously we wanted to be able to strike the forces that
were conducting the ethnic cleansing. You can't do that from aircraft.
That's why I asked for the Apaches to come in. I thought that with the
Apaches, the ability to go in at night close, we'd be able to attack and
harass these forces, break them up and stop the ethnic cleansing.

GROSS: What were you able to do?

Gen. CLARK: We were able to strike eventually at some of the assembly areas
and at some of the Serb forces and inflict some punishment through the use of
B-52 strikes and precision bombing by aircraft at high altitude. But we had
to be very careful because of the problem of civilian casualties, and so it
did restrict the operations. We impacted the forces to some degree but not
to the extent that I had sought.

GROSS: In your estimation, what really ended the war?

Gen. CLARK: I think the fact that Milosevic realized he had no way out and it
came down to the choice of Kosovo or his head. And he gave up Kosovo rather
than losing his head. He would have lost his army. He would have lost Kosovo
and he had no chance for success and the loss of his army would have doomed

GROSS: You write in your book that although NATO had succeeded in its first
armed conflict, it didn't feel like a victory. In what way didn't it feel
like a victory?

Gen. CLARK: Well, one reason it didn't feel like a victory was because we
were never satisfied with our ability to have stopped the ethnic cleansing
cold. We didn't. We had to deal with hundreds of thousands of people who'd
been forced out of Kosovo and these people went through tremendous hardship.
We knew that 10,000 more had been killed inside Kosovo, so we couldn't
celebrate a triumph in the face of losses like that. But it also was only a
prelude to the operation to put ground troops into Kosovo and we all
recognized there'd be a great deal of difficulty in doing this.

But I think a final reason was that NATO had never actually fought before, and
when statesmen and military leaders in NATO were engaged in the action and
they realized what was at stake, they realized how difficult the situation
was, the terrible choices they were faced with, the awful dilemma of bombing
and causing civilian casualties or not bombing and causing the destruction of
NATO, they made the right choices but they were very painful choices and it
wasn't a pain that they would willingly accept or even want to relive. There
was no spirit of joy at the end of this operation.

GROSS: One thing about this war was that it wasn't officially called a war.
What did you think of that? Do you think that we should have just said, `This
is a war against Milosevic'? Or do you think it was right to not use the war
even though we were bombing the heck out of Serbia?

Gen. CLARK: Well, we always called it a war inside the military. We just
didn't say it publicly. For the pilots flying over and being shot at by
missiles and so forth, there was no doubt that this was a war. And I'm sure
for the Albanians who were being forced out of their homes at gunpoint and
shot and raped and so forth, it was certainly a war. The question was: What
does the label mean? As one of the European statesmen said to me after the
war, he said, `Before this,' he said, `in Italy you could not use the word
war.' War meant devastation, destruction, death, defeat, occupation. It was
not possible to say the word war. He said, `Now we have won one.' How we
label it is much less important than how we do it.

GROSS: What are some of your criticisms of the Pentagon during the bombing of
Kosovo while you were Supreme Allied commander of NATO?

Gen. CLARK: Well, I think that--this is very hard to answer. I'm not being
critical of the Pentagon simply during the bombing. What I'm suggesting is
that there's a whole array of lessons that need to be learned and taken out of
this. The Pentagon has its own institutional interests. The Pentagon's not
the right place to originate US foreign policy. When it prepares war plans,
those plans are illustrative. They may be demanding in terms of resources but
they shouldn't be restrictive in terms of limiting where military power can be
used. It has to be used where the president, the commander in chief, wants it
to be used for the purposes that he directs.

During the campaign, it's appropriate to support the field commander and there
will always be a give and take with the Pentagon or with higher headquarters.
And the field commander should be expected to push hard. He should be
expected to push hard and he should be expected to ask for more than he
expects to get. And that's the way I said it. There are frictions in any big
operation, just like there are frictions in business or publishing or any
other activity. But one expects that the frictions will be--they'll be
subordinate to the teamwork and the spirit of cooperation and ultimately
submerged in the success of the endeavor. In this case they weren't.

GROSS: What are the institutional interests of the Pentagon that may be in
conflict with the decision-making required to wage war?

Gen. CLARK: Well, in this case the institutional interests were a desire to
not become engaged in the Balkans in conflict because there was an effort to
increase the size of the procurement budget, so more money could be spent
building up the armed forces rather than using them. It's like putting all
your money into buying a large boat and not having enough money to run it.

GROSS: Right. OK.

Gen. CLARK: In this case, we couldn't afford the diversion of resources to
engage in the campaign because it would have detracted from the amount of
money we were going to put into the procurement account.

GROSS: Oh, I see. So instead of spending the money to wage war, they wanted
to spend the money to buy more equipment...

Gen. CLARK: Right.

GROSS: wage war in the future.

Gen. CLARK: Right. Right.


Gen. CLARK: It was a conflict of the present vs. the future.

GROSS: The US is not exactly highly regarded in many areas of the UN right
now. Do you have any concerns about the future of the United States in the
United Nations?

Gen. CLARK: Well, I hope the United States is going to recognize that it's
the greatest beneficiary of the world set of institutions and structures that
we ourselves established at the end of the Second World War. We've got to be
participants, active participants, in these institutions. We've got to be
engaged in the world. Communism's dead. It's time to go out and help our
friends and those who share our values and that means active participation and
leadership in the United Nations. We very much need to do this, and when we
recognize this, then I'm sure that we'll be more highly regarded in
institutions such as the United Nations.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Gen. CLARK: Thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure.

GROSS: General Wesley Clark is the former Supreme Allied commander of NATO.
His new memoir is called "Waging Modern War."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Use of the word gay

Several of our listeners took issue with something that our linguist Geoff
Nunberg recently said. Here's his response.


In a FRESH AIR commentary I did a couple of weeks ago on linguistic
anachronisms in movies, I mentioned that the word gay wasn't yet a neutral
mainstream word for homosexuals back in 1973. After the piece ran, I heard
from a number of people who pointed out that gay had been in the language for
a long time before that. Several of them mentioned the use of the word in
Howard Hawks' 1938 screwball classic "Bringing Up Baby." It comes in a scene
where Cary Grant has lost his clothes and puts on a frilly woman's robe to
answer the door to May Robson, who plays Katharine Hepburn's Aunt Elizabeth.

(Soundbite of "Bringing Up Baby")

Ms. MAY ROBSON ("Aunt Elizabeth"): Who are you?

Mr. CARY GRANT: Who are you?

Ms. ROBSON: Well, who are you?

Mr. GRANT: What do you want?

Ms. ROBSON: Well, who are you?

Mr. GRANT: I don't know. I'm not quite myself today.

Ms. ROBSON: Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes.

Mr. GRANT: These aren't my clothes.

Ms. ROBSON: Well, where are your clothes?

Mr. GRANT: I've lost my clothes.

Ms. ROBSON: Well, why are you wearing these clothes?

Mr. GRANT: Because I just went gay all of a sudden.

NUNBERG: A modern audience registered that exchange with a knowing wink. But
it isn't clear how the line would have been taken back then. It's true the
word gay was being used to refer to homosexuals as early as the '30s, but it
was a label known only to initiates. One lexicographer said in 1941 that it
was an adjective used almost exclusively by homosexuals. And many years later
Edmund White recalled that gay had served for years as a shibboleth to exclude
outsiders. That's the sense you get from Gore Vidal's 1948 novel "The City
and the Pillar," about a young man's arrival in the homosexual world of New
York. `Jim discovered their language, their expressions. The words "fairy"
and "pansy" were considered to be in bad taste. It was considered fashionable
to say that a person was "gay."'

So it isn't likely that straight audiences who went to see "Bringing Up Baby"
in 1938 would have interpreted Grant's line as a reference to homosexuality.
It could have been a Hollywood in joke, of course, though that would have been
a risky thing for Grant to do. Probably he was just using gay in another
common sense at the time to mean simply frisky or wild.

Gay didn't start to come out of the closet until 30 years after "Bringing Up
Baby" was released. In 1966, Time magazine ran a story called The Gay
Subculture, though it was careful to put gay in quotation marks, the
orthographic equivalent of holding it with tweezers. And the word still had a
fey, slangy connotation in June of 1969, when a group of lesbians and gay men
resisted a routine police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and
the cry of `Gay Power' was first heard. According to Edmund White, who was
present, that phrase evoked general laughter from the crowd. As he puts it,
`Most of us did not consider ourselves to be a legitimate minority.'

At the time, a lot of people said that homosexuals didn't have a right to the
word. Some complained that the new use ruined the festive sense of gay.
Arthur M. Schlesinger accused homosexuals of trying to kidnap the word.
And the critic Jacques Barzun said that it robbed the language of an
irreplaceable resource. And in what amounts to pretty much the same thing,
other people argued that the word was inappropriate because gay life was
actually very sad. But within a few years, gay was becoming a neutral
substitute for homosexual and the press was using the word without apologies.

The '70s was the period of the great renaming, as Americans decided that
groups have a right to be called by whatever term they choose to apply to
themselves. And in that sense, the acceptance of gay paralleled the
acceptance of words like black and Latino. What was unusual about gay was
that it brought another word along with it, as the press began to refer to
heterosexuals as straights, which had also originated in the gay community.
Straight has always been the ironic description that groups consider deviant
or marginal have applied to the conventional mainstream. Criminals have been
talking about going straight since the 19th century and later on the word was
used in much the same sense of opposition by the drug culture and the hippies.

But until the 1970s, straight was always a label that came from the margins,
not the way the dominant culture thought of itself. Tricia and Julie Nixon
didn't sit around in the White House referring to themselves as we straights.
There aren't many cases where a majority has taken on the description it's
assigned by a minority. The only other one that comes to mind is Gentile.
But then heterosexuals couldn't have come to terms with gay until they had a
colloquial way of referring to their own sexual orientation, which had never
required an ordinary name before then. Gay, straight, there's an easy
symmetry in the pairing, like identical twin beds. And some gays responded by
reclaiming the epithet queer, which reintroduces some of the disparities,
intentions that the acceptance of gay swept under the carpet.

Queer is suffused with an irony that straights will have a hard time
appropriating, at least until the derogatory use of the word can fade from
memory. And it implicitly subverts the notion of straight as well. I asked a
friend of mine who teaches cultural studies, `What's the antonym of queer? Is
it still straight?' `Oh, no,' she said. `To listen to the people around
here, the fundamental social distinction is between the queer and the boring.'

In the end, though, things have gotten too complicated for any simple
antithesis. Once the closet door was opened, the bedroom floor was bound to
get cluttered. One attempt to come to grips with this is the acronym GLBT,
for gay, lesbian, bi and trans. But it's hard to believe things will stop
there, with a mere five sexual identities. It will be a long time before the
vocabulary is straightened out, and in the meantime, we can all be reprising
the conversation that Cary Grant and May Robson initiated 60 years ago.

(Soundbite of "Bringing Up Baby")

Ms. ROBSON: Who are you?

Mr. GRANT: Who are you?

Ms. ROBSON: Well, who are you?

Mr. GRANT: What do you want?

Ms. ROBSON: Well, who are you?

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

Just a reminder, on Friday we'll pay tribute to jazz singer Susannah McCorkle.
She died last weekend. We'll close today's show with her 1995 recording of
Cole Porter's "Easy To Love."

(Soundbite of "Easy To Love")

Ms. SUSANNAH McCORKLE: (Singing) I know too well that I'm just wasting
precious time to think that such a thing could be, that you could ever care
for me. I'm sure you hate to hear that I adore you, dear. But grant me just
the same. I'm not entirely too blame. For you'd be so easy to love, so easy
to idolize, all others above, so sweet to waken with, so nice to sit down to
eggs and bacon with. We'd be so grand at the game, so carefree together that
it does seem a shame that you can't see your future with me, 'cause you'd be
be, oh, so easy to love. You'd be so easy, so easy to love, so easy to
idolize, all others above, so...


GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, a history of breast cancer diagnosis and
treatment in 20th century America. We talk with doctor and medical historian
Barron Lerner, author of the new book "The Breast Cancer Wars." I'm Terry
Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue