Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thoughts on The Men Who Stare at Goats (the book)

I recently finished reading The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson.

This book wasn't quite what I expected it to be like, mostly because (1) I initially thought it was fiction (2) and I mostly thought it took place in the Middle East.

While it does involve American soldiers fighting in the Middle East, the book is a non-fiction investigative reporting story, and primarily happens at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The story is interesting, because it essentially revolves around a military program, The First Earth Battalion, which was started in 1979 in the heart of the cold war and covert military action. America was interested in using new methods of gathering intelligence, fighting over seas battles, and exercising American military control.

These methods, as outlined by Ronson through interviews and contact with a variety of people formerly involved with the First Earth Battalion, and Army Intelligence, were often tinged with new age ideology, far-reach psychological ideals, and mystical sci-fi-minded goals. Not to mention Psychic spies.

One of the central "stories" of the book was about Goat Lab at Fort Bragg, and Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon.

Channon is not only is credited with creating the Army slogan ("Be All That You Can Be,") he also created the First Earth Battalion manual, which was to help Army men learn how to be Jedi Warriors who could not only walk through walls, but also stop a goat's heart from beating simply with the power of the mind.

For Jim Channon, being all you could be, was a huge goal, bigger than anyone could have imagined on the surface! And the book even outlines how he secretly met with Bush administration officials following September 11th.

And it is this story of First Earth Battalion that sets the stage for a modern history of military intelligence, and even further connections into later events, including how this culture would go on to breed unique interrogation methods like playing Barney songs ("I love you, you love me") to prisoners, the Heaven's Gate mass murder, and the severe and bizarre range of methods used after 9/11 at Abu Gharib prison.

The cast of characters (and while they're all real people, are certainly "characters") is wide reaching and certainly unique, probably warranting another post, particularly since these characters names are not the same names of characters in the upcoming film version staring George Clooney & Ewan McGregor.

This is certainly an interesting read, especially in a time when the Obama administration wants more transparency and changes in the way military and intelligence gathering operations are handled.


jim channon said...

Not a bad analysis ...given tht Ronsons extrapolations are not accurate. None of the original Erath Battalion Ideals were in any way logically threaded to actions like Barney. But since you have the interest for another shot ....pls go to and first earth ... becuase the Erath Battalion is still doing what has always done for the army ....think way out of the boc and investigate the advanced human performance skills for the army of tomorrow.
The george Clooney film that releases in Sep get more at the real mentality of the effort. the real story is more interestng than the ronson report.
Nice that google eath alerted me to your blog.


Jim Channon

Use the photo's as you like

RC said...

@ jim, glad that you're checking your google alert and took the time to comment.

As a person who read the book as a result of the film (not as a result of a pre-fascination with the topic) I'm glad you popped in here to share you perspective.

I'm very interested in how Ronson's book adapts to this film...sounds like you've had a chance to see it -- I am interested in if there was a 2nd round of fact checking or new research into this film, and I'm assuming Barney was left out of it.

It certainly was exciting to see your comment - thanks.

jennybee said...

I haven't read the book, but I started reading the screenplay a while back and was really into it for a while before I saw something shiny and got distracted. I never got back to it, but it had a lot of promise. There hasn't been much buzz about the film, yet I suspect it could be a sleeper.

Now I just have to decide if I want to read the book, finish the screenplay, both or neither before the film comes out.

Google alerts are the niftiest thing ever.

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