Retired Army General Greeted With Noise

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For someone so directly involved in the bombings of the former Yugoslavia last year, the former supreme allied commander of Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could count on trouble when he came to Berkeley.

Wesley Clark, a four-star army general who was retired after political disagreements with the government, spoke at the Berkeley Community Theatre Tuesday evening, and, sure enough, there were protesters.

People entering the theater were met by chants of approximately 25 protesters who alleged that Clark violated human rights through the bombing of Belgrade, where many civilians were killed.

As Clark began to speak in front of a packed audience of approximately 3,000 middle-aged residents, two protesters made their way into the theater, stood in the aisles with signs and chanted loudly "Wesley Clark, war criminal!"

Clark respectfully addressed the protesters' allegations and confirmed that he was a war criminal who had been indicted by former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic's court to 20 years in prison along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

He described himself as "proud" to be considered one of Milosevic's enemies, drawing a roaring applause from the crowd. The protesters continued to chant but were subsequently led out of the theater by ushers.

Clark proceeded to describe how contemporary foreign affairs began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which then lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and how ethnic nationalism rose in former Soviet-controlled independent states.

Classically, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's enemy had been the Soviets, but with their collapse, the alliance had begun what Clark described as a "remarkable transformation."

"NATO either had to step up and go out of (its traditional) area or it would be out of business," Clark said.

Clark's brief history lesson of the alliance ironically took a lighter tone when he began describing Milosevic. Following the Dayton Peace Agreement, which formally ended the Bosnian War in 1995, Clark relayed a conversation that he had with Milosevic.

"He said to me 'How soon will (North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops) be here?,'" Clark said. "'I know these Europeans, they will take many weeks (to send soldiers).'"

His impression of Milosevic speaking English with a humorous Serbian accent made the audience laugh.

"Milosevic speaks excellent English, just with a Serbian accent," he said.

Milosevic maintained that it would be a while before alliance troops arrived in Serbia, while Clark insisted that they would be there very soon. Milosevic bet Clark a bottle of scotch that the troops would not be there within a week, Clark said.

When the troops arrived within a few days, Clark said a few weeks later, he "received the smallest bottle of Johnny Walker you've ever seen!"

Beyond all of his joking, Clark encouraged awareness in the international community.

"The way to prevent war is to be engaged in the world," he said.

Many people in the audience said they were intrigued by Clark's unique perspective on international politics. Many also said they agreed with everything he said.

But when Clark said he thinks the military is "under-resourced" rather than "overstretched," he drew some criticism.

"When you look at the balance between defense and domestic spending it's difficult to justify extending increased spending," said Mark Henne, a Berkeley resident.


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