The Men Who Stare At Goats
British journalist Jon Ronson re-emerges from the triumph of his first book, 2002's Them: Adventures With Extremists, a witty and frightening exploration of people sworn to destroy America, with The Men Who Stare at Goats, an equally witty--and equally frightening--chronicle of the people sworn to protect us. Goats traces a 30-year history of paranormal research within the U.S. military, bouncing through a bizarre cast of gravely serious "visionaries" and unwitting victims who reluctantly reveal the far edges of your tax dollars at work.
In his travels, Ronson (who comes across as a more well-behaved, less acerbic Michael Moore) explores the top-secret Goat Lab at Fort Bragg (where the soldiers mentioned in the title concentrate on animals in another room and try to explode their hearts with mere thought), the use of music as a means to break Iraqi prisoners (including the "I Love You, You Love Me" song from Barney), and psychics who are instructed to FedEx their premonitions of al-Qaida activity to the FBI (prompting Ronson to wonder, only semifacetiously, whether those premonitions can be traced to any nonspecific "orange alerts"). Too polite to jeer at his subjects, Ronson instead lets them reveal their own lunacy, such as the retired general who justifies his personal experiments in levitation thusly: "You cannot afford to get stale in the intelligence world."
The first half of the book lulls you with the light, wacky stuff (Oh, those military buffoons! Running at top speed into walls trying to merge their atoms into the other room! Can you believe it?), but Ronson deftly segues his tone darker over the book's duration to expose more tragic and frightening abuses. He documents monstrosities at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Waco, soberly pointing out their perversity's genesis in earlier experiments in unconventional warfare, as well as investigating the murder of a scientist involved in MK-ULTRA (the top secret LSD-dosing CIA program of the 1950s), all without slipping into conspiracy theorizing. The Men Who Stare at Goats is required reading not only for the gravity and cogency of its accusations but also for its ability to entertain. Its dispatches from the intersection of New Age hooey and military psychosis are laugh-out-loud terrifying.