General Wesley Clark is a Senior Fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center and a Co-Chairman at Growth Energy, an ethanol lobbying group. He also leads a Democratic political action committee known as "WesPAC," which he formed after dropping out of the 2004 race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Though now retired, Clark served in the U.S. army for 38 years, commanding at the battalion, brigade and division level, and serving in a number of significant staff positions. As the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, Clark commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War, saving the lives of roughly 1.5 million Albanians from the threat of ethnic cleansing. After graduating as valedictorian of his class at West Point, Clark was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he obtained a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He later graduated from the Command and General Staff College with a master's degree in military science.
Question: Is America’s obesity problem affecting the military?
Wesley Clark: There's height and weight standards in the Armed forces for the last 25 years. And we’re very strict about them and every year people are... some people are forced out because they don’t make it and some people can’t enlist because they don’t make it. I think America has an obesity problem. And it’s reflected many ways. There’s too much indoor activity. People are afraid to let the kids out on the street. Schools don’t have physical education every day. We all had it as kids, every single day in junior high school. And before that you had multiple recesses in elementary school where you were pushed out of the classroom and forced to go down and basically either get in fights, play on the jungle gym, or play football or basketball or softball in the appropriate season. That’s the way Americans in my generation grew up. Today, it’s not happening. And so, it’s not the Armed Forces, it’s the society and the Armed Forces are just the beneficiary of what we, as Americans are.
Question: Is the military ready to accept gays into its ranks?
Wesley Clark: Well, in my personal experience, yes. The people I’ve talked to: "Yes." But if you throw out a hot potato issue and you say, “Hey, can you take both sides of this issue?” Some people line up on one side, some people line up on the other and then if you ask the military to volunteer to do this; no they’re not going to volunteer to do this.
The military was racially integrated by President Harry Truman. He did not have a one-year-long process to go through and then poll people and say, “Would you like to serve with people of another color in your unit?” He didn’t do that. He just did it. And what’s happened here is we’ve sort of raised back concerns and fears and issues that I think in American society has been put to rest. So I’m very disappointed in the Senate vote the other day and I hope that we’ll get that changed.
Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont