Monday, November 28, 2005

Ramsey Clark rides again

It isn't often that a dream comes true, especially at the ripe old age of 77. But that's what's happening right now for Ramsey Clark: he's going to be on Saddam's defense team.

Here's Clark himself, stating why he wants to defend Saddam. And it's no surprise, given Clark's history, delineated quite nicely here by Varifrank, who has saved me the trouble of going into all the "interesting" things Clark has done in recent years.

One can argue that even dictators need defense attorneys, and that is most certainly true. It's a nasty job, but somebody has to do it. And yet someone is already doing it; Clark's lamentably eager services are hardly needed.

Yes, Clark never met a dictator he didn't like, and this has been the case for decades. And yes, Clark is probably the most extreme leftist alive today who actually held a position of power in a Presidency--in his case, that of Lyndon Johnson, under whom he served as Attorney General.

Why am I interested in all this? It's what so often grabs me, intrapersonal political change. So my question about Clark is: how did what originally seems to have been a relatively mainstream guy end up esposing views that put him in the running with Noam Chomsky? Did something happen to change him? Or was he always like that, despite having served in the Johnson administration?

After doing a bit of research, I've got some ideas about it, and my answer is "yes" and "yes." Yes, he was always more or less like that; and yes, he became even more so as a result of his experiences during the Vietnam era.

Clark was born and raised in Texas. He enlisted in the Marines shortly after the close of WWII, at the age of seventeen. It seems to have been an extremely formative experience, in which the very young Clark felt overwhelmed by viewing the suffering the war had wreaked.

This Spectator article from March of 2005 quotes Clark on the subject:

In China in 1948, I saw people dying where they could not bury their own. They had to drag bodies out to the edge of the road where carts would come and pick them up. In Western Europe in 1949, people were still emerging from the destruction. All this informed me in a way I could never escape: the enormity of human misery on the planet; the enormity of poverty and suffering; the contrast between raw power and the vaster poverty of the impotent.

His course was set--to alleviate that suffering. Afterwards, Clark attended the University of Chicago and its law school, and found his real calling as a champion of civil rights, describing himself as "extremely aggressive...intensely involved and focused" in that cause.

Lyndon Johnson's great dream as President was also civil rights. As it turned out, the appointment of Ramsey Clark as his Attorney General promised to kill (or rather, feed) two civil rights birds with one stone.

Clark's father, Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, was a Truman appointee who had written the unanimous opinion upholding the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But his son was appointed Attorney General as part of a scheme by Johnson to nominate the first black Supreme Court Justice:

[Tom] Clark's retirement from the Court was engineered by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow Texan. Johnson was determined to appoint the first black person to the Court, but he needed to create an opening on the Court. Johnson appointed Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach undersecretary of state, which made Tom Clark's son Ramsey the acting Attorney General. He then nominated Ramsey Clark to be Attorney General, assuming correctly that Tom Clark would retire from the Court to avoid any conflict of interest. Clark did so on June 12, 1967, and Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to the Court.

So Ramsey Clark's appointment paved the way for Marshall's elevation, as planned, and gave Johnson an Attorney General deeply committed to the civil rights agenda. Ramsey Clark was a prime mover of that cause during the 60s, and it was undoubtedly his finest hour.

Clark turned against the Vietnam War--if in fact he'd ever supported it, and the evidence of his statements about his Marine service indicates a strong possibility that he had not--towards the end of his term, which lasted as long as Johnson was President. In fact, according to the Spectator piece, Johnson had earlier removed him from the national security council because of his opposition to the war. When Johnson's administration was over, Clark immediately became a prominant peace activist, even traveling to Hanoi in 1970. Since then he's never wavered from the most extreme leftist positions.

So it seems that Clark was always pretty far to the left, and just went further in that direction after finding success and a home in the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era. It's probable that this tendency was compounded by feelings of guilt over his participation in the administration that escalated the war, and the need to expiate that guilt in his own mind (according to the Spectator, Clark "is clearly pained by the fact that he was in the government during the Vietnam war").

A curious incident in Clark's life was his prosecution of the so-called "Boston Five," despite his antiwar sympathies. Here's a possible explanation of what was going on with Clark when he prosecuted the Five:

...for “conspiracy to aid and abet draft resistance.” Four of the five were convicted, including fellow winner of the Gandhi Peace Award pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock and Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. (who would later officiate at the wedding of Clark's son). Clark believed since Coffin and Dr. Spock were respected, if controversial, public figures who could afford legal counsel to fight back for them, their cases would take a long time and would “focus attention on the problems of the draft.” Clark says that he hoped to show Johnson that opposition to the war wasn’t limited to "draft-dodging longhairs" but included the most admired pediatrician in America, a prominent and revered patrician minister, and a respected former Kennedy Administration official (Marcus Raskin, who had been a special staff member on the National Security Council).

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article in which this astounding information appeared fails to give any source for this story, and I couldn't find any independent information confirming it. If true, however, his own role in their conviction might be the source of even more guilt for Ramsey to try to undo--although how defending Saddam would atone for that guilt I can't quite wrap my mind around.

Clark seems to have sympathy for any suffering he personally witnesses. He didn't see Saddam's victims, so perhaps they are not real to him. But he sees poor old Saddam now, and it just about breaks his heart:

The United States, and the Bush administration in particular, engineered the demonization of Hussein...Hussein has been held illegally for more than a year without once meeting a family member, friend or lawyer of his choice. Though the world has seen him time and again on television — disheveled, apparently disoriented with someone prying deep into his mouth and later alone before some unseen judge — he has been cut off from all communications with the outside world and surrounded by the same U.S. military that mistreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo...The United States has already destroyed any hope of legitimacy, fairness or even decency by its treatment and isolation of the former president and its creation of the Iraqi Special Tribunal to try him.

Clark's sympathies are activated by the suffering of old Nazis, as well, according to the Spectator interview:

He has defended Lithuanian and Ukrainian exiles accused of Nazi war crimes, and he felt strongly for them. "It is terrible to see the fear which such indictments strike into men’s hearts, and the shame they feel before their families," he tells me. "I have seen defendants being spat at in the face during trials." Perhaps he just believed that his own clients were innocent, but his pity extends even to the Nazi leaders themselves: he thinks it ‘terrible’ that eight of them were executed at Nuremberg, and that Rudolf Hess was sentenced to solitary life imprisonment in Spandau.

This goes far beyond the amount of sympathy one would need to have in order to do a decent job defending someone. In some strange and dreadful alchemy, it seems that those suffering peasants of postwar China, those blacks who were disenfranchised (and worse) in the American South, and those who died in Vietnam, have morphed over the years in Clark's mind into the dictators and war criminals who arouse his sympathies now. It's quite a journey.

[NOTE: There's something wrong with my site timer, and I can't seem to change it at the moment. This is actually being published at 1:30 PM on November 29).

21 Comments:

At 3:16 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger who, me? said...

The extreme empathy for victims seen, and the lack of imagination about their victims -- seems to characterize the Left, and I find myself saying "but what about, but what about..." at the same time I am being excoriated for hard-heartedness toward the anecdote at hand.

I think it's a neurological perceptual divergence of massive proportions. Any way to find out more?

 
At 3:18 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger who, me? said...

sorry, "the extreme empathy for suffering individuals that can be seen, and the lack of imagination about their victims..."

 
At 4:16 PM, November 29, 2005, Anonymous erasmus said...

I think this post is related to the one about left-wing writers. Here, it seems to me, is how:
1. Clark is "fascinated" by criminals, but not by their crime. He is appalled that a concentration camp guard was "shamed" in front of his family and spat on, but what the guard might have done (say, take a baby from a Jewish prisoner, toss it in the air and catch it on his bayonet), that is not interesting. (Hey, he might say, we all do wild and crazy things in our youth.)
3. Similarly, Truman Capote was "fascinated" by the two killers of the Clutter family, but not by the crime itself, and certainly not by the victims. They become objects, as the Jews were reduced to ashes.
4. Now, in the hands of a great writer, Dostoevsky for example, fascination with the criminal or outlaw mind illuminates some of the darkest corners of the human soul. In the hands of a Capote, it was reduced to gawking. Smith, one of the killers, had a very lousy childhood. That is, in itself, not all that unusual or illuminating of anything.
5. When historian Arendt fell for Eichmann's assumed persona at his trial, she then depicted him as an example of the banality of evil. Not quite right. Evil is not banal, the evil doer may be. But artistically, that will not do. The killers must never be allowed to be as banal as their victims, as common, as dull, as uninteresting, as lacking an inner life. So writers seek out or invent the fascination, the inner life, the compulsion for the crime. They don't do it for the victims, because then the contrast--fascinating outlaw/criminals as human beings v. nameless, faceless vitims as objects--could not be maintained.
6. Mailer was, for years, fascinated by criminals and helped free one from jail because he wrote well. He soon murdered a waiter in the Village. What drove Mailer was this interest in the most "existentialist" act, murder. This is moral and philosophical garbage, an adolescent's intellectual wet dream. But talent is no gurantee of thoughtfulness or maturity.
7. Clark is a political version of this symptom, one usually afflicting writers and intellectuals living very comfortable upper middle class lives in NYC and the Cape in the summer. Ah, the thrill of identifying with a murderer or tyrant, even if in fantasy or fiction. But then, it's back to those lovely dinner parties with well-dressed and well-heeled admirers. Prosit!

 
At 4:35 PM, November 29, 2005, Anonymous mizpants said...

Another fascinating post, Neoneo. This Ramsey Clark phenomenon is a syndrome, isn't it? Like BDS? I'd love to hear you speculate about its psychological origins.

 
At 4:38 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger h said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 4:51 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger h said...

OK, in case you're wondering why somebody woud delete a comment: boy, is my face read. I did't finish the post before I commented. I told the the LBJ - Tom Clark story. Then, I went back and finished the post,and well,..
Anyway, sorry. Great blog, though.

 
At 7:05 PM, November 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"boy, is my face read"

Actually, it was so red I couldn't read it.

 
At 7:45 PM, November 29, 2005, Blogger h said...

Typos are good! They prove you're human. And I'm about as human as it gets!

 
At 9:57 PM, November 29, 2005, Anonymous Megan said...

I do NOT understand the so called peace activists who claim to want love and peace throughout the world, but who fail to acknowledge the horror brought upon humans by the same dictators they seem to support. What is it? Just a natural desire to hate ones self and country?

I recall thinking about what I was being taught in school...that morality is all dependent on perspective. But I could not rationalize that with my knowledge of Nazi Germany. How can the wrong of murdering millions of innocents be equally as wrong as the allies dropping bombs on a German city. They were two completely different things in my view and I could not reconcile the "two wrongs don't make a right" meme that my mother drilled into me.

How can the so called "peace" protestors intellectually believe what they are chanting? War never solved anything??? Okay...except for slavery...nazism...communism (okay, this one still lingers). What is the deal with wearing Che shirts?

I guess I'm one of those stooopid conservatives. Though I was a liberal until 9/11...I even voted for Clinton and for Gore. *shudder* Maybe someone with more brain power than I can explain it to me. And then perhaps explain it to my little brother and mother who still suffer from BDS and can't hold a logical conversation with me w/o starting to scream and rant.

*sigh* Those darn family gatherings.

 
At 10:50 PM, November 29, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

IMO, the extreme lefties don't actually believe what they're saying.
They want something different but realize it won't sell. So they lie.

One thing that drives the over-educated nuts is that nobody, most especially Joe Sixpack, is interested in their opinions. But what is this education for, if not to know better? Something Must Be Done.
Hence, IMO, the fascination with the dictator. The dictator can will anything, and the lefties think they'll be the power behind the guys in their tailored cammies and revolutionary designer shades.

The exercise of power is addicting, and the vics can be ratonalized away. That's why the Vietnamese boat people were all bourgeois oppressors. That's a hell of a ratio of oppressor to oppressee. Something like one to ten, which speaks of a damn' efficient economy if ten peasants
can be squeezed to support one of the idle and rapacious rich. But, anyway, the boat people couldn't be real vics. That would mean somebody screwed up.

Maybe Clark is a sociopath whose jumpstart compassion for the worst among us is just a tweak in the emptiness.

 
At 4:17 AM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

The Vietnam choice was this:
War or N. Commie victory (& genocide).

The shame of supporting a war, where imperfect Americans actually make inevitable mistakes seems much greater than the shame of blaming America for not "doing enough" in some other way, and having other killers be the rulers.

I think Clark is ashamed that America is not perfect, HIS America; so much so that he participates in self-loathing / anti-Americanism.

Like too many Leftists.

Unable to accept that America is imperfect -- unwilling to judge it as better than those civilizations even worse.

 
At 5:15 AM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

Clark is one of those people who rides around on a white horse trying to do the right thing,but,in this case,he is doing the wrong thing by his defense of Saddam Hussein - who is a murderer and a tyrant !

 
At 8:13 AM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Tatterdemalian said...

I don't have a problem with him representing Saddam. Even dictators are entitled to representation in a court of law.

Clark, however, has gone on record expressing his personal admiration for anyone who attacks his home country. His willingness to defend the worst is admirable; his willingness to attack the best is not.

 
At 9:50 AM, November 30, 2005, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

It's hard to reconcile Clark's support of civil rights in America with his current support of mass murderers, but it does reflect on the course that the rest of the 'radical' left has taken. Although civil rights activism was an unquestionably positive thing, it seems to have produced some bad side-effects.

From civil rights activism, the Left learned that the government can force the people to change their behavior. Since then, whenever the Left wanted to force the American people to change their ways, they didn't try to positively influence the general population - they directly lobbied the government to change the laws.

Since the Left sees the general population as a herd that can be pushed in one direction or another by the state and its laws, they lost all interest in gaining the support of "Joe Sixpack". In fact, they felt free to hate his guts and to laugh at him at every opportunity. The opinion of the average 'redneck' American means as much to the Left as the opinion of a cow.

The Left lost the love of the American public, so, when the Left lost the house, the senate and the presidency, they lost everything.

Totalitarianism appeals to people who believe that they have no ability to win power by any other means. The ideology of the radical left, like the ideology of the radical right doesn't appeal to the majority of voters. David Duke and his ilk have known that for years. People like Ramsay Clark are just finding it out.

The American people have flushed leftist ideology down the toilet. The formerly powerful, like Ramsay Clark, are finding themselves in the same septic tank that David Duke and Pat Buchanan have been in sitting in for years and they can't stand it.

Clark and Duke are doing their best to push their ideology in any way they can. They both say that they're doing it for the love: Duke says he's moved by his compassion for the white race, Clark says he's moved by his compassion for the humanity of dictators and murderers. Both are stasists who believe that the state should force others to live according to their personal beliefs, and both are probably doing it all for the money and whatever power they can grab.

(As far as the whodunnit question, about who was bumping off Saddam's defense attorneys - if you ask cui bono, it has to be Clark :-)

 
At 11:10 AM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

All this informed me in a way I could never escape: the enormity of human misery on the planet; the enormity of poverty and suffering; the contrast between raw power and the vaster poverty of the impotent.

Some Marines might see that, and come to believe in the warrior philosophy, of peace through superior firepower. Others, it seems, becomes parochial, broken, and forever shorn of clarity.

One might argue that being in the United States, one does not have all that accurate a picture of the injustices the rest of the world suffers. And one might also argue that the power of the United States should be used to help the powerless, in the primordial power gap between the weak and the strong.

How helping a dictator like Saddam, who took full advantage of his superior power compared to others, is going to alleviate the "suffering" and the "misery" of humanity is unclear to me.

Perhaps alleviating the problems of humanity isn't on Clark's plate, perhaps he simply seeks to help himself forget the past by atoning in the present for superficial guilts. Maybe he has even shifted his guilt onto the United States, and sees anyone that is a enemy of the United States as an enemy of his guilt.

If that is so, then Clark is an enemy of the ones who truly are helping to end humanity's suffering on this Earth.

I wonder if he knows that the oath he swore so long ago, to defend the Constitution against domestic and foreign enemies, now applies to him.

 
At 6:58 PM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Arnold Harris said...

1) Not eight but 10 convicted German war criminals were hanged on the night of October 16, 1946, as the conclusion of the international war crimes tribunal at Nurnberg, Germany:

Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Julius Streicher and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Hermann Goering had been sentenced to death but cheated the hangman with a secreted poison capsule about an hour before his date on the gallows. An eleventh nazi member of Hitler's inner circle, Martin Bormann, sentenced to death in absentia, was never found and was presumed killed in Berlin in the last days of fighting in 1945.

2) Personalities such as David Duke seem less focused on supporting the white race than on promoting Jew hatred. Which seems sardonic, in that most of the Jews of Europe and the western hemisphere are as white as Duke and the rest of the 'aryans'. But logic was never a strong point with the true believers not only of racism but of other movements characterized mainly by mass escape from reason.

Arnold Harris
Mount Horeb WI

 
At 7:00 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Eric said...

Neo,

Interesting theory about 'snapshot' personal observations in Clark's formative years as a young post-war Marine becoming the core of his present-day activism. It implies that Clark's beliefs are actually anti-intellectual and based on a strong emotional reaction.

I can identify with that, but from the other end of the spectrum. I spent my formative years as a young soldier in Korea in the late 90s and early 2000s. I was even tasked out for the 50th Korean War anniversary in May 2000 as the driver-escort for COL Lew Millett. I entered the Army with a more-negative opinion of the US military and foreign policy (yes, I'm a liberal NYer), but my 1st hand experience serving as a US soldier in modern Korea, combined with learning about the Korean War, changed my mind. If Clark's views were deeply affected by the post-war suffering he witnessed 50 years ago, my views were affected by Korea's hard-earned prosperity and freedom 50 years into USMC PVT Clark's future, earned with our enduring help.

Serving on the 50th Korean War anniversary detail, and hanging around Korean War veterans (GI Joe has nothing on them as "real American heroes") really brought home to me the great cost of our freedoms and way of life, but also that there is reason to believe in the process.

 
At 7:03 PM, December 01, 2005, Blogger knoxgirl said...

If you work for the ACLU or something, I can see such a pattern developing. But for this guy to seek out defending the most disgusting characters, again and again... it's pathological. (sorry, n-ncon, I'm probably not using that word correctly!)

 
At 3:02 AM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The funny thing was the "Aryans" were actually originally, or partially, from Persia. Which is Iran... which means David Duke supporting Islamic fundamentalist's hatred of Jews makes a lot of sense.

 
At 9:17 PM, December 17, 2005, Blogger dick said...

I guess I am seeing something else with the Ramsey Clarks of this world. I see it also with so many of the LLL academics. They seem to feel that in the more perfect world to come they will, because of their superior knowledge, become the leaders of this socialist utopia by acclamation. They feel that the proles will accept them as the natural leaders and when the eggs must be broken by eliminating those who are against the revolution, it will be the other eggs that are broken, not them. They just cannot conceive that theproles will hate them for their superiority complex and that they will be the first to face the firing squad.

I think that we see this in the Stalin show trials and in the way that Hitler treated his initial supporters and in the various Mao purges. For some reason our LLL cannot conceive that this will happen to them if they ever get in this situation. They just blithely go on their merry way thinking that their behavior is the best of all possible worlds and that we as the proles just do not understand them and their superior knowledge. The total disconnect with the reality of the lives of other people just does not seem to break through the thick skin of their beliefs.

 
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