A few months ago I listened to an interview with the author Jon Ronson about his new documentary book The Men Who Stare at Goats. The interview was very lighthearted and so I thought the book would be a fun read. As I read one chapter after another what started out as a lighthearted view of some of the silly stuff that our tax dollars have paid for soon turned into a very disturbing expose’ of the insanity that goes on under the moniker of Special Ops.
The book is a story about Ronson’s investigation of the US military’s experiments on all sorts of pseudoscientific projects. Soon after Vietnam the military began to reconsider much of its fighting strategy. Nothing was taken off of the table. With the assistance of a few men with some downright crazy ideas they began to serious talk about the formation of a special ops battalion that had Jedi powers. They even referred to themselves as warrior monks and honestly believed that they could psychically influence their enemies to surrender just by using their mind, comforting colors and subliminal sounds. The most advanced of these “warrior monks” believed they could literally walk through walls and psychically stop the heart of an enemy just by concentrating hard enough, hence the title of the book. Ronson spent two years trying to track down the one guy who he was told had actually killed a goat by starring at it only to find out that the best he could do was to make a hamster behave oddly.
These chapters were funny and a little bit amusing. The later chapters took a far more serious tone. Rosnon shows that many of the very same people who thought they could star a goat to death were also behind a group that thought they could remote view, or psychically project their vision and get advance intelligence. One of these “viewers” left the military and started predicting all sorts of prophecies on am radio shows. Eventually one of his failed predictions led to the mass suicides of the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult.
Some of the more perverse of these psychic techniques were adapted by the more mainstream military and intelligence departments. Ronson interviews a British citizen who was captured by the US military and subjected to all sorts of torture and abuse for two years while he was held captive at Guantanamo Bay. Ronson was able to show a pretty convincing link between these activities and some of the original proposals set forth when they tried to for the battalion of “warrior monks”.
In the process of doing some background research and fact checking the book I noticed that this book is being made into a movie staring Ewan McGregor and George Clooney. The movie is billed as a comedy. It’d have to be a very dark comedy. Also none of the names of characters match the real people named in the book. I can only assume that the names were changed for the movie or that the movie will be only loosely based on the book.
My biggest criticism of the book was its lack of footnotes and sources. I have a big bias towards heavily footnoted books.
I have a big problem with people and organizations that don’t base their actions and opinions on facts and reason. This book is a bright light on those in the US Military who wish to wage war based on illogic, superstition and magical thinking.
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