Jon Ronson’s must-have book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, which we wrote about here in November, is a thorough and witty investigation into the US military’s wacky, hippie-dippie ’70s approach to besting the enemy, which back then included walking through walls, stopping a goat’s heartbeat by looking at it, and employing psychics. All unofficially. We wrote about that, too, when it was part of the WOW UK television series Crazy Rulers of the World. Janet Maslin in the NY Times today, calls the book “light and nightmarish,” which, frankly, is how we like our…well, everything.
Mr. Ronson sets his book up beautifully. It moves with wry, precise agility from crackpot to crackpot in its search for the essence of this early New Age creativity. Much of it can be traced to the 1977 fact-finding mission of Lt. Col. Jim Channon, now also retired but given credit for an influential legacy. . . . While Colonel Channon was asserting that the military should be “unafraid to appear harebrained and half-baked in their pursuit of a new kind of weapon,” a parallel and less theoretical set of experiments was unfolding. And Mr. Ronson addresses the more sinister aspect of out-of-the-box military thinking.
. . .Mr. Ronson, a filmmaker and journalist whose earlier book, “Them: Adventures With Extremists,” was also outstandingly artful and chilling, eventually follows his trail of bread crumbs to the realms that really matter. He finds a prologue in MK-ULTRA, the real C.I.A. “Manchurian Candidate” research of the 1950’s, which involved the disastrous use of LSD as a potential truth serum. He follows this line of thinking through and beyond the fruitcake innovations of the 1970’s, concluding that Colonel Channon’s theories “could be used to shatter people rather than heal them.”