No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013/31: The Men Who Stare At Goats -- Jon Ronson

Most of Ed’s colleagues in the secret unit at Fort Meade spent their time psychically viewing extremely boring things, mostly map coordinates. Ed, meanwhile, was psychically concluding that the Loch Ness Monster was the ghost of a dinosaur. [loc. 1128]

Jon Ronson's investigation of the First Earth Battalion -- an American military unit, or agency, specialising in psychic warfare -- is somewhat uneven. The first half of the book, which deals with the weirder techniques explored by the US Army: remote viewing, stopping goats' hearts -- goats in particular, because apparently nobody forms an attachment to them -- and walking through walls, or at least into them. All very entertaining, if slightly alarming because people in power apparently believe(d) in this stuff.

The second half of the book, on the other hand, is an investigation of some of the methods used post-9/11: that's where The Men Who Stare at Goats stops being funny (mostly) and starts being truly unsettling. There are some graphic accounts of 'alternative' torture techniques, both psychological and physical, as well as discussions of various conspiracy theories.

Ronson's prose is humorous, and he doesn't spend much effort mocking the post-Vietnam military or their desire for alternative methods of warfare. He has a light touch with the nastiness, too: doesn't stray over the thin line between wit and tastelessness.

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