Psychic spies, special forces Jedi warriors, astral warfare with Noriega, and the threat of invasion by pregnant martians. That is just a sample of the kind of crazy detailed in The Men Who Stare at Goats, as story about the more far out elements in the US military.
The book follows British journo Jon Ronson on his quest to root out the mysterious Goat Lab, a secret facility on a US military base where SOF psychics trained to stop a goat’s heart simply with a stare. During his journey he runs into a number of strange characters. Ronson questions the level of respect the American public gives its military and intelligence organizations when such characters have gained impressive rank and influence. His point, if I may brutally paraphrase, is that crazy people are everywhere. No organization, no matter how high-caliber, is free of nutters. Thus, no organization should be above the scrutiny of the public.
Despite this message Ronson is able to approach his subjects without cynicism. Displaying an almost naïve acceptance, he gets deep within the non-mainstream communities inside the military. Where do these communities come from? One argument is that in the aftermath of Vietnam, during the psychedelic seventies, soldiers turned to “alternative” approaches of being a soldier, and details how this thinking influenced policy in later years (including interrogation techniques at Guantánamo).
I first heard about this book at milcol, so when I saw a copy of it a couple of weeks ago I snatched it up. Some of the characters described in the book remind me of a few US military personnel I met during my first trip to Japan more than a decade ago. Somebody introduced me to Masaaki Hatsumi, Japan’s most famous “ninja”. There was a gaggle of nutters surrounding him, all in uniform. Anyways, I am about halfway through the book, but there is too much crazy not to share it now.
The First Earth Battalion was a 1970s proposal for a New Age military unit which Ronson discusses in detail. As often as modern day military futurists are denigrated for being “too out there”, I don’t think they have ever gone this far (pp. 38-39):
In Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion, the new battlefield uniform would include pouches for ginseng regulators, divining tools, foodstuffs to enhance night-vision, and a loudspeaker that would automatically emit “indigenous music and words of peace.”
Soldiers would carry with them into hostile countries “symbolic animals” such as baby lambs. These would be cradled in the soldiers’ arms. The soldiers would learn to greet people with “sparkly eyes.” Then they would gently place the lambs on the ground and give the enemy an “automatic hug.”
Back on base, robes and hoold would be worn for the mandatory First Earth Battalion rituals. The misogynistic and aggressive old chants (“I don’t know what I’ve been told, Eskimo pussy is mighty cold…”) would be phased out and replaced by a new one: “Om.”
First Earth Battalion trainees would (pp. 40):
fall in love with everyone, sense plant auras, organize a tree plant with kids, attain the power to pass through objects such as walls, bend metal with their minds, walk on fire, calculate faster than a computer, stop their own hearts with no ill effects, live off nature for twenty days, be 90%+ a vegetarian, have the ability to massage and cleanse the colon, stop using mindless clichés, stay out alone at night, and be able to hear and see other people’s thoughts.