Tuesday, 13 April 2010
The Men Who Stare At Goats
The subject of this book is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre, disturbing and interesting chapters in American military history. In the 70s an influential Army General, who would later go on to be in charge of US Military Intelligence, became interested in the supernatural and occult. He soon came to the somewhat eccentric conclusion that these strange phenomenons could be incorporated into modern warfare. He wanted to develop an army of psychic soldiers who could be trained to (among other things) read minds, levitate, become invisible, walk through walls, predict the future and kill by just looking at someone. I’m not sure what’s more frightening; the idea itself or the general’s seemingly sincere belief this was actually an achievable goal.
Several ‘psychic’ units were formed to carry out different kinds of military operations. My personal favourites were the ‘First Earth Battalion’ whose job it was to play soothing music to the enemy whilst walking towards them thinking positive thoughts, carrying flowers and baby animals (as opposed to rifles and grenades)
As I turned the pages and read about the exploits of these ‘psychic’ soldiers I was equal parts amused and horrified. Before very long I decided that almost everyone Ronson interviews for the book is one of four things;
A) Very naive
B) Very stupid
C) Crazy as a box of frogs
D) All of the above
The ‘psychics’ Ronson interviewed (and there were quite a few) all seem utterly convinced they possess psychic powers despite a few of them openly expressing doubt about their own abilities. More than a few fabled stories of psychic events are exposed as being untrue. One example being the ‘psychic spy’ who was credited with using his psychic ability to open a locked door; He later admitted that he just picked the lock. Another psychic referred to himself as a “Jedi Warrior” and seemed absolutely convinced he could make himself invisible yet seemed strangely (and let’s face it; conveniently) reluctant to demonstrate this amazing feat in front of Ronson...How Ronson managed to keep a straight face when speaking to these people is beyond me.
Then there is the famous goat-staring which DID take place in real life...I won’t spoil it for you though.
Unfortunately the book did have its downsides. It is not written in an easy-to-read style. It often lacks coherent structure and the jumps about all over the place going backwards and forwards in time, leaping from one location to another. Ronson interviews numerous individuals who appear then disappear only to reappear again later in the book by which point you’ve forgotten who they are and what they had said or done. There is also a good deal of padding in the book with content which I would argue has nothing to do with psychics and more with psychology. I suspect this is yet another book which could have been half as thick as it is.
I did enjoy this book overall, sometimes it made me laugh, other times it took on a more sinister note but for the most part it was entertaining. I recommend it if you find military history or the occult interesting or if you just fancy a laugh at the expense of nutty people.