The Men Who Stare at Goats (audio)

A U.S. army general attempts to walk through a wall, only to bang his nose on it. A lieutenant colonel writes a manual explaining how soldiers can become “warrior monks” (or Jedi warriors) who can manipulate objects with their minds. A group of psychic spies have to buy their own coffee and can’t get their office door repaired because, according to the military budget office, they don’t exist. And an Iraqi prisoner is placed in a shipping container and forced to listen to Metallica and the Barney theme song. And then there’s Abu Ghraib. All of these events are part of the investigative landscape of Jon Ronson’s 2004 book, The Men Who Stare at Goats. The title, incidentally, refers to military experiments in using the power of the mind to kill goats.

In this book, which I first heard about via Citizen Reader, Ronson examines the U.S. military’s forays into psychological, psychic, and paranormal warfare. Ronson talks with members of the military, scientists, and even a Guantanamo Bay detainee. Some of the interviews are hilariously absurd, as when he talks to Guy Savelli, a purported “goat dropper” who claims to have video evidence that he has killed a hamster with his mind. Much of the book reads like an investigative account by a modern-day figure from Deborah Blum’s marvelous Ghost Hunters. Ronson interviews true believers with an open mind and what appears to be an utterly nonjudgmental attitude.

But then the book turns chilling. A faked UFO photo is shown to lead to the Heaven’s Gate suicides. And the psychological techniques suggested by Lt Col Jim Channon in his First Earth Battalion manual are used not to win hearts and minds, as Channon had hoped, but to torment and control.

I can’t exactly say I enjoyed this book, but I did find it interesting. Some of the stories of goat dropping and the like weren’t quite credible, but Ronson lets people tell their stories, leaving the reader to decide on their veracity. The trouble is that the stories I did believe were the ones I wish weren’t true.

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7 Responses to The Men Who Stare at Goats (audio)

  1. softdrink says:

    I didn’t realize there was a book…I thought there was only the movie.

    • Teresa says:

      softdrink, I became aware of the book not long before the movie came out. Based on the previews, I think the movie dwells more on the outlandish and less on the tragic (but it’s hard to tell from the previews).

  2. JIM CHANNON says:

    Thanks for noticing my work. No one actually took my ideas and perverted them. The perverts were in the woodwork all along. They follow the general route of intimidation. Thats why they opened the iraq war with shock and awe …they imagined all the other rogue nations would just throw up their arms and surrender. Bad choice.

    It’ s important for you to know that what I believe might be an international military task force may take on a new Marshall plan.

    I have personally trained 130 officers from eleven nations in the recovery of the biosphere. Please see and for these and many more ideas that are alive and well in the present military thinking for the future.
    You readership deserves the truth. And for some real exciting reading they can get an earth battalion field manual if they so choose.

    They should see what the army decided to look at.

    GOplanet!

    Jim Channon

  3. novelinsights says:

    It sounds quite complicated to me. Not the kind of story I would normally go for but it sounds interesting…

  4. Wow, a comment from Jim Channon. That’s interesting.

    After all my excitement about the movie I didn’t even end up seeing it. It seemed too much like it was making fun of this disturbing subject which really shouldn’t be portrayed as cute. I too found the torture techniques (constant sound, for instance) to be the most interesting part of the book. I’ll be interested to see what Jon Ronson does next.

    • Teresa says:

      Citizen Reader: Yeah, after reading the book, the trailers to the movie are a real turn-off. Some of the psychic walking through walls stuff could I think be portrayed in a comic way without offending me, but to leave out the connection to torture wouldn’t be true to the book and to make it comic feels wrong. Apparently there was a documentary related to the book in the UK, and I’d be more interested in that.

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