The Men Who Stare At Goats – Jon Ronson

Interesting book.

Ronson’s story, a tale told in a very straightforward manner with the authors opinions of whats going being limited within the text, is one of those extraordinary things that we can’t help but believe simply because it is so bizarre.

It is the story of a number of individuals within the United States military who, in the words of the author, “start to believe in very strange things” in the aftermath of Vietnam. In 16 loosely connected chapters, Ronson explores how it is exactly that the most powerful nation on Earth has come to spend so much time and money researching projects related to invisibility, the ability to walk through walls, psychic attacks and the titular method of killing animals with a stare.

It would be easy for this to be turned into a farcical, tell-all tale, but Ronson deliberately steers clear of that, specifically targeting for criticism, those members of the world media who would attempt to cover such stories in a humorous light. Most notably (and effectively) is the well-known case of Iraqi detainees being blasted with the theme song from “Barney the Dinosaur” for days on end, a story that was usually reported with the prefix “In lighter news…”. Ronson, through his own words and the words of those he interviews, does well in portraying this sort of activity as a very serious and possibly illegal activity, the point of which has never been specifically revealed.

Goats is, at heart, an examination of the naive dreams and aims of Jim Channon, a Vietnam vet who set the ball rolling on many of the odder projects, and how the US Armed forces (and others) have taken those ideas and manipulated them for more sinister ends, the “Dark” and “Light” sides of non-lethal combat techniques. The aim is to establish the link between the PsyOps of the modern military, an area with proven results and the more supernatural elements that have been become interlinked. Also of great interest is his examination of the connection between these activities and suicide cults, as well as the really bizarre acceptance many ordinary people have of such acts, even if they result in injury or death.

It’s a good narrative and it zips along nicely, though the looseness of the chapters (Ronson jumps from New Age flower power, to Waco, to ML-KULTRA very quickly) makes it all seem a little haphazard. There is no real ending point or main theme, other than that people are weird. And, more seriously, much of what Ronson writes is unverifiable, based solely on his own interactions with the people involved. Many times in the text, Ronson must admit that what he is writing is based on rumor and conjuncture.

All that aside, it’s a fascinating read, and a short one. Pick it up if you can.

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