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The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson
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The Men Who Stare at Goats (original 2004; edition 2006)

by Jon Ronson

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Member:AndrewThomas
Title:The Men Who Stare at Goats
Authors:Jon Ronson
Info:Simon & Schuster (2006), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 272 pages
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The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson (2004)

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The book provides a brief introduction into the rather dark world of ‘Psychological Operations’ (PsyOp). Ronson focuses upon the covert psychological techniques which have been used for interrogation purposes by the CIA and US Army. He introduces us to projects from as early as the 1950′s up to the modern day 2000′s and the ‘War on Terror’. Warning! For those not yet aware of this world it is pretty twisted and frightening. Ronson touches upon areas including Project MKUltra (commenced in the 1950s by the CIA and including the use of drugs, sensory deprivation, hypnosis and various forms of torture in order to influence), the torture and human rights violations which took place at Abu Ghraib prison (2003-2004) and the link between the US military and the mass suicide by the Heaven’s Gate Cult in San Diego in 1997.

One of the poignant stories Ronson recalls is that of Frank Olson. Olson was a leading US biochemist working with the US government in the 40′s and early 50′s. In 1953 he ‘jumped’ to his death in what was an apparent suicide.

Circumstances around his death have been suspicious, especially given that Olson was becoming more and more concerned about the work he was doing. At the time, he was rumoured to have been resigning from his post and ready to speak out against the CIA. Ronson spends some time with Eric Olson, Frank’s son, who has tireless searched for the truth about the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. It gives a fascinating and frightening insight and certainly provides enough interest for me to read more on the subject.

It has been said that the book is one of two halves and I would tend to agree with this opinion. At the beginning of the book you could be forgiven for thinking this is a rather humorous piece of fiction. There are some incredibly amusing stories (which Ronson hints are purposely put out there in order to detract). The tale relating to a Major General Albert Stubblebine III may even raise a chuckle. Stubblebine was active in the early 80′s and particularly interested in psychic warfare. He was also convinced given the right training people can walk through walls. Was this guy really a General?

"General Stubblebine bangs his nose hard on the wall of his office. Damn, he thinks. General Stubblebine is confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall….There is no doubt in his mind that the ability to pass through objects will one day be a common tool in the intelligence-gathering arsenal….These powers are attainable, so the only question is by whom?……Special Forces! (p.3)."

However, the more we move through the book, the darker it becomes. We are reminded that fact is often stranger than fiction and that this story involves real people, families and victims. Ronson provides an insightful and thoughtful introduction to what is, essentially, a complex story of conspiracy, psyops and the ultimate power of psychological warfare and mind control which goes far deeper than we can ever know. ( )
1 vote lilywren | Mar 23, 2014 |
excellent collection of essays. good for folks who enjoyed New Kings of Nonfiction collected by Ira Glass. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Did the US military have a program that tried to teach soldiers how to stare animals to death? This and related questions are explored in Ronson's book about supernatural methods and the military. It is funny but does raise real questions about knowledge, on part of both the protagonists and the reader. ( )
  ohernaes | Dec 18, 2013 |
Interesting, quirky, alternately entertaining and disturbing. Ronson seems to play the role of an anthropologist investigating conspiracy theorist subculture. ( )
  Heduanna | Aug 17, 2013 |
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For John Sergeant and also for General Stubblebine
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This is a true story.
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History seems to show that whenever there is a great American crisis—the War on Terror, the trauma of Vietnam and its aftermath, the Cold War—its military intelligence is drawn to the idea of thought control. They come up with all manner of harebrained schemes to try out, and they all sound funny until the schemes are actually implemented. (chapter 13, "Some Illustrations", p.204)
It seemed that one of two scenarios was unfolding: Guy was either in the middle of a sensational sting operation, or a hapless young martial arts enthusiast who only wanted to join Guy's federation was about to be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay.  (Chapter 6, "Homeland Security", last paragraph - p.88)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743270606, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:08 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice -- and indeed, the laws of physics -- they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. Entrusted with defending America from all known adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back and fighting the War on Terror. With firsthand access to the leading players in the story, Ronson traces the evolution of these bizarre activities over the past three decades and shows how they are alive today within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and in postwar Iraq. Why are they blasting Iraqi prisoners of war with the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Why have 100 debleated goats been secretly placed inside the Special Forces Command Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina? How was the U.S. military associated with the mysterious mass suicide of a strange cult from San Diego? The Men Who Stare at Goats answers these and many more questions."--Publisher description.… (more)

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