Guns? Tanks? Fighter planes? Submarines? There must be a better way to fight a war, at least that's what some high-ranking officials in the U.S.tates military thought. Unwilling to rule out any weapon in the cause of global democracy, respectable military men like Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III made a serious call for the Army to research the potential of telepathy in defeating the enemy. Stubblebine believed that, with a little more study, he and others could learn to walk through walls.

Using Stubblebine's unlikely plea as a starting point, Jon Ronson weaves a true tale, one that often sounds like fiction, about largely unpublished military dabblings in the paranormal. Ronson's title, The Men Who Stare at Goats, comes from a covert operation in which soldiers were assigned to stop the hearts of goats without using any physical force. By staring at them, hard, in other words. Bizarre as it sounds, one goat actually fell over dead during this experiment, and people within that covert group sincerely believe that a soldier named Guy Savelli made it die with the power of his mind. When Ronson finally runs him to earth, Savelli is also convinced that, more recently, he's killed his kid's hamster.

Savelli's story is interlaced with that of retired Lt. Jim Channon, who brought the New Age phenomenon into the military with his proposal for a "First Earth Battalion." This new battalion would take over enemy territory without the use of conventional weapons. Channon proposed soldiers go into combat clinging not to assault rifles, but to lambs (or other "symbolic animals") and dazzle the enemy into cooperation with a combination of gentle music and effective eye contact.

Ronson's exposŽ of the military's infatuation with New Age spirituality and the paranormal is hugely funny and entertaining without ever turning ugly. While gently lampooning the military at large, Ronson somehow steers clear of any political agenda. As a consequence, The Men Who Stare at Goats will be a must-read for people who want to learn about the quirkier side of the military.

comments powered by Disqus