Advice From a Four-Star General
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: Was your intelligence ever a source of other people’s resentment?
Wesley Clark: You know what Benjamin Franklin said? He said, “Most people think mostly about themselves.” And so when you get into any competitive situation, most people are mostly thinking about themselves. And the military is a hierarchical structured organization. It’s got an up-route policy, it’s no different from most businesses, except that when you’re out of it, you can’t get back in it and you can’t come in through lateral entry.
So maybe the internal dynamics are a little bit different. But everybody has to be aware of how they affect other people. You have to build friendships, you have to build relationships, you have to have partnerships and you have to have people that believe in you and support you. They could be your superiors, they can be your teammates, they can be the people that work for you. But you must have these relationships. You can’t go through life as a loner and be effective.
Question: What are your “three goals” in civilian life?
Wesley Clark: Let’s see, I was gonna make a certain amount of money, I was gonna teach, and I was gonna become a golf pro.
You have to have goals. Now you may change those goals as you go along, but it’s important to have... the reason I end up like that is when I first got out of the military a very nice former military officer who retired a little bit before me said—he brought together a lawyer and a minister and himself and he says, “We’re your transition committee, we’re gonna help you get out of the military the right way.” I said, “Oh, that’s great.” I said so, he said, “What do you thinking about how much money do you need?” And I said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” He said, “Well, do you own a home?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Is it paid for?” I said, “Mostly.” He said, “Do you have kids in college?” “No, they’re already graduated.” “So, what are your needs?” I said, “I don’t know, but what am I worth? What can I do?” And they said, “Well, we don’t know.” I said, “Okay. I don’t’ know what I need, you don’t know what I can do or what I’m worth. I mean, why are we having this conversation? How can you help me?”
And I began to formulate these questions in my own mind and I started to think through, "Okay, let’s try to set up to be financially independent so you can have resources to help other people," because I had seen what George Soros has done. Obviously, you know, it took him his whole life to learn the skills and he’s a unique person. I don’t think I could ever do what George has done, but I tremendously admire the impact that he’s made on society in so many ways and so positively, especially in freeing Eastern Europe from Soviet domination. He was the single most powerful force and at one point he was putting $500 million a year of his own earnings into the Open Society Institute and doing wonderful things.
So I saw in the late 1990s or early 2000s, what philanthropy could do. I thought, well I’d love to have enough money to really be able to give it away. And then I thought, I’ve always believed that you have to pass on your life experiences. Hopefully they mean something, not only to your family, but maybe you can offer some other help to people, so I like teaching. And then I think you have to be outdoors and be connected with life and to me, golf is one of those sports that, it’s like life. You get some hard knocks, the breaks don’t always go your way, sometimes the ball will hit a tree root and bounce in the wrong direction, sometimes it comes back onto the fairway. You don’t know, but you have to control yourself, you have to work with others, you have to have a good disposition, you have to learn from your mistakes. It’s a wonderful way of thinking about life and enjoying others.
And so those were my goals. I think they’re just... you know, they’re there, I still like having those goals and maybe I’ll get them.
Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
When you send people abroad to do difficult and dangerous things and risk losing their lives, you hope that there’s a strong connection with the population, says General Clark.
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