Written By Jake Garner
“Most goat-related military activity is still highly classified.”
Unconventional, humorous and in some select places nauseous, The Men Who Stare At Goats is a perfect example of modern day journalism that unleashes upon the reader a description of undiscovered military programmes, carried out by the U.S.A. The pages of such illustrate an era of paranoia, open minded thinking and non-lethal weaponry. Welcome to the ‘First Earth Battalion’, a name that was assigned to a regiment of slightly irregular and eccentric individuals who believed in a vision fabricated by Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon. After a multitude of revulsions and devastations were bestowed upon Channon during his tour of the Vietnamese jungle, he adopted an alternative perspective in regards to warfare. He believed in an army that could fight wars using methods such as ‘sparkly eyes’. He believed that a Warrior Monk, a name given to those select few super soldiers of the First Earth Battalion, could burst a cloud using nothing but the energy of their mind.
All in all, Channon had a vision and during the 1970’s travelled California on a personal mission of self-discovery. Such discoveries included events such as naked hot tub parties. It is after his endeavours of military innovation that he crafted the official First Earth Battalion Manuel, a complete compendium of techniques and practices of the so called Warrior Monk. It might sound ridiculous and fanatical, but these guys really did exist as part of a ‘psychic spy unit’, stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland during the late 1970’s. But the crankiness doesn’t stop there folks. Ronson fully emerges himself into the story, much in the same fashion as his other journalistic books such as Them: Adventures With Extremists and The Psychopath Test, to engage the audience wholeheartedly upon an expedition of peculiar findings. He goes the extra mile to unearth the darkest corners of the story, which in this case are the goats. As suggested by the title of the book, there are indeed men who stare at goats. Yes really.
The U.S Military had come up with the incomprehensible idea of ‘Goat Lab’. This was indeed a building which housed an assembly of de-bleated goats. Their purpose was to be intensely stared at by members of Channon’s unit, the intention being to put a stop to the goat’s beating heart. Hmm, ok. There of course is mass speculation around this, but that is expected from any form of journalism. At the risk of animal rights activists sending BookLineSinker hate mail, the goat scene comes across as both inappropriate and comical. All I can say is that this is a journalistic report of recent years unparalleled by any other. Open your mind to alternatives, then read. You might just find yourself enjoying the queer delights of The Men Who Stare At Goats. Despite this though, the jesting starts to dwindle, and the dark side of the ‘secret psychic’ unit is revealed.
Ronson’s book is formulated using real substance, through conversing with those exceptional soldiers and military personnel that were involved. As the book progresses forward, the tone turns somewhat more sinister. We see George Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ play an important role as it turns itself to face the past, peering with beady eyes directly at the late 1970’s movement created by Channon. The ideologies and practices of the Warrior Monks are re-evaluated and experimented with in Iraq. Depictions and descriptions are given by both detainees and military folk that uncover the morbid side of purple dinosaurs. What would be the purpose of restraining a prisoner with cable ties and then playing the famous Barney the Dinosaur song on repeat? Well after reading The Men Who Stare At Goats I feel as if I now know happened to those unfortunate men, but remain unsure as to why. It seems that Jon Ronson’s great piece of journalism uncovers a movement that was perhaps started with good intentions, but was manipulated in later years to become something far more disturbing. The content of Ronson’s book is bursting with comedic vibrancy while obtaining a fine balance of earnestness where necessary. Having read all of Ronson’s books, I can personally say that this is my favourite, but only just as he always manages to keep the reader glued to the pages by using fantastic range of journalistic techniques. The question is, are you made of the same stuff as Warrior Monks?
“Not even the most imaginative conspiracy theorist has ever thought to invent a scenario in which a crack team of Special Forces soldiers and major generals secretly try to walk through their walls and stare goats to death.”