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The Men Who Stare at Goats Hardcover – April 5, 2005
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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Just when you thought every possible conspiracy theory had been exhausted by The X-Files or The Da Vinci Code, along comes The Men Who Stare at Goats. The first line of the book is, "This is a true story." True or not, it is quite astonishing. Author Jon Ronson writes a column about family life for London's Guardian newspaper and has made several acclaimed documentaries. The Men Who Stare at Goats is his bizarre quest into "the most whacked-out corners of George W. Bush's War on Terror," as he puts it. Ronson is inspired when a man who claims to be a former U.S. military psychic spy tells the journalist he has been reactivated following the 9-11 attack. Ronson decides to investigate. His research leads him to the U.S. Army's strange forays into extra-sensory perception and telepathy, which apparently included efforts to kill barnyard animals with nothing more than thought. Ronson meets one ex-Army employee who claims to have killed a goat and his pet hamster by staring at them for prolonged periods of time. Like Ronson's original source, this man also says he has been reactivated for deployment to the Middle East.
Ronson's finely written book strikes a perfect balance between curiosity, incredulity, and humor. His characters are each more bizarre than the last, and Ronson does a wonderful job of depicting the colorful quirks they reveal in their often-comical meetings. Through a charming guile, he manages to elicit many strange and amazing revelations. Ronson meets a general who is frustrated in his frequent attempts to walk through walls. One source says the U.S. military has deployed psychic assassins to the Middle East to hunt down Al Qaeda suspects. Entertaining and disturbing. --Alex Roslin
From Publishers Weekly
This exploration of the U.S. military's flirtation with the supernatural is at once funny and tragic. It reads like fiction, with plenty of dialogue and descriptive detail, but as Ronson's investigation into the government's peculiar past doings creeps into the present-and into Iraq-it will raise goose bumps. As Ronson reveals, a secret wing of the U.S. military called First Earth Battalion was created in 1979 with the purpose of creating "Warrior Monks," soldiers capable of walking through walls, becoming invisible, reading minds and even killing a goat simply by staring at it. Some of the characters involved seem well-meaning enough, such as the hapless General Stubblebine, who is "confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall." But Ronson (Them: Adventures with Extremists) soon learns that the Battalion's bizarre ideas inspired some alarming torture techniques being used in the present-day War on Terror. One technique involves subjecting prisoners to 24 hours of Barney the Purple Dinosaur's song, "I Love You," and another makes use of the Predator, a small, toy-like object designed by military martial arts master Pete Brusso that can inflict a large amount of pain in many different ways ("You can take eyeballs right out... with this bit," Brusso tells Ronson). Ronson approaches the material with an open mind and a delightfully dry sense of humor, which makes this an entertaining, if unsettling, read. Indeed, as the events recounted here grow ever more curious-and the individuals Ronson meets more disturbing-it's necessary to remind oneself of Ronson's opening words: "This is a true story."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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That said, the book also has a sad edge as it can be seen as a commentary on military officers who came back from the war in Vietnam damaged and grasping at straws as to how to prevent history from repeating itself. It’s as if what these men experienced made some eager to believe because they so wanted to believe they could win with the mind and avoid the carnage of war.
While the book’s sixteen chapters are not divided by the author, they can be roughly divided into three parts. The first is the pursuit of ESP starting in the late 1970’s. This includes remote viewing and the titular psychokinesis (i.e. starring goats to death.)
The middle section is the resurgence of these esoteric approaches in the late 90’s and, especially, after 9-11 (also speaking to how dire blows to the psyche lead to wild approaches.) Much of this section is about mind control rather than ESP. One may remember the news story of the “I Love You, You Love Me” song from Barney [i.e. the purple dinosaur] being played over and over again to break terror suspects. The question remaining unanswered is whether there was anything else going on besides torture by Barney song (i.e. subliminal messages or sonic / ultrasonic frequencies [as used in non-lethal weapon technology.])
The latter section deals with the famous case of a scientist who jumped from a hotel room window to his death. It was later admitted that the scientist had been the unwitting victim of hallucinogen experimentation as part of the famed MKUltra project, and his death was written off as a trip gone bad. Ronson presents the story of the scientist’s son, a man who firmly believes that the story copped to was neither the full story nor the true story.
This book is interesting and entertaining, despite the fact that many of the questions that Ronson sets out to answer remain unanswered and probably always will. While the author got several key people to talk to him, the projects discussed are highly classified and the possibility of disinformation is ever-present.
Ronson manages to walk a fine line throughout the book. He presents all this quirky and bizarre activity in a way that neither comes across as mocking nor even particularly skeptical. (His punchy delivery does hint at this intention on occasion.) He lets the reader do the mocking and be the skeptic. At times he comes across as a believer. That is, while many of the happenings of the book reflect bat-shit crazy behavior / decisions, he suggests that all but the most hardened skeptics would believe that some of the people involved had inexplicable gifts.
I’d recommend this book. If you’re interested in government sponsored esoteric activities like psi and mind control and related scandals / conspiracies, you’ll find it fascinating. On the other hand, even if you’re not, it’s still an entertaining read that provides a sort of commentary on the effects of war on the psyche.
In a nutshell, this book is about some of the insane things that our government and military have sponsored and paid for over the years. At times it is a riot, and at other times it manages to be profoundly sad. The real atrocities that take place are juxtaposed with the ridiculous, and it puts everything into a different perspective. This book skips around between different themes and timelines, but here is run down of what to expect:
The story of the FBI and CIA flying in a Russian psychic to subliminally influence David Koresh in Waco.
The story of the military sponsored document that outlines New Earth Battalion procedures, such as carrying lambs into combat and speakers that play soothing music worn on soldier's necks. You can also find this on Amazon now - First Earth Battalion Operations Manual: Reprint of Original Manual from the 70's.
The story of a army psychic spy who stopped the heart of a goat by staring at it.
The government recruitment of a dance instructor from Florida who now practices staring at hampsters.
The sad backstory behind the Hale-Bopp comet cult, and how a former government agent who taught remote viewing classes was connected to it.
And much more. Many of the stories are insane and ridiculous, but also ring true. Whether they really happened or not is hard to say, but there are certainly people high up in the military and government who believe they happened. This is a better read than most fiction books, and if it was not backed up by real sources and documents would be classified as science fiction. Read it for entertainment purposes and to see how a great journalist and author can turn facts into political satire, humor, and a great read. Highly Recommended.
Also - book is much better than the movie, which fictionalizes way too much of this story. What makes the book so great is that its true, and that's lost in the movie.