Military thinking WAY outside the box

The Men Who Stare at Goats

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.

If you want to learn more, or even read the manual, check out the official(!) FEB website. Also, The Men Who Stare at Goats movie is in production to be released December 2009.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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6 Responses to Military thinking WAY outside the box

  1. Curzon says:

    “Also, The Men Who Stare at Goats movie is in production to be released December 2009.”

    Starring George Clooney! And Ewan McGregor! And Kevin Spacey! Damn, looks to be a blockbuster.

  2. Younghusband says:

    I hope they can withstand that many people staring at them!

  3. Well, do we want people thinking outside of the box or not?

    If psychic powers did exist, and could be used, DARPA or some equivalent bloody well better figure that out — before the Warsaw Pact, or Al Qaeda, figures it out.

    Cops sometimes use psychics to look for missing people. If you are truly out of clues, one guess can’t be any worse than any other guess.

    I have not read the book. But I think it is likely that you are bound to have some very odd people around when you are pursuing remote prospects. Some of the people who promote ideas that end up being successful start out as wild-eyed radicals. It is a feature, not a bug. You do not want to pre-sort too hard at the outset.

  4. Chief Wiggum says:

    Was this book written by Tim Leary under a pseudonym? He did attend West Point. There was a lot of this LSD-influenced sop floating around in the ’70s.

  5. UNRR says:

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily at The Unreligious Right

  6. Marauder Doc says:

    I’d just like to point out that the author managed to fail right out of the starting gate. The Goat Lab, while classified due to being part of Special Operations training (the details of which are generally classified out of hand), has nothing to do with psychics. It has to do with live-tissue medical training. Numerous other medical “labs” are run throughout the military in order to improve first aid training.

    Training is overseen by a veterinarian, and the animals are doped up to the point of being comatose and then euthanized after training is completed.

    This guy got taken for a ride. Special Operations personnel are notorious pranksters, I scanned the book at a Barnes and Noble and spotted a dozen or so military inside jokes off hand.