Staring At Goats

doug_thompsonby Doug Thompson

By sheer luck, I found out that “The Men Who Stare At Goats” has been made into a movie.

I haven’t read the book, but reviews say that there is no better, more conclusive evidence that truth is stranger than fiction.

The film stars George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. It’s scheduled for release Nov. 6. The trailer is at

The U.S. Army explored the possibilities of “psychic warriors” in the 1970s, according to the account by journalist Jon Ronson. The New York Times review of the book said of the Army’s psychic efforts: “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.

“It was Colonel Channon’s _125-page ‘First Earth Battalion Operations Manual’ that suggested a whole new approach to combat and a whole new type of military uniform. According to Colonel Channon’s plan, soldiers’ uniforms should include pouches for ginseng regulators, divining tools and loudspeakers that would emit ‘indigenous music and words of peace.’”

Harmless enough so far, that curiosity evolved — or devolved, rather — into psychic warriors trying to kill goats by staring at them. Even later, things got much, much worse.

I don’t know how well this movie will do at the box office, but I’ll bet it does well in Fayetteville.

Early reviews say the movie takes the nonfiction book loosely and makes a harmless comedy out of it. The magazine American Chronicle complains that both the book and the movie are “reportedly slanted toward ridicule.”

In the trailer, Clooney’s character describes himself as a Jedi. McGregor plays the journalist who tags along, in what may be the most inspired bits of casting in recent memory. From Obi-Wan as a young man to this.

The mission McGregor tags along with is in Iraq.

Apparently, much of the old team from the 1970s was re-activated after 9/11. According to the book, the Army was hitting the paranormal wall hard again in 1983.

Much of the research that went into using the mind as a weapon has a Dark Side. According to the Times’ review of the book: “‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ turns into a book that connects dots. It sees a common thread in the use of screamingly bad music to assault Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega in Panama and the use of similar tactics in the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. In these accounts, Mr. Ronson writes as much about schemes that were only contemplated as about the ones that actually made the cut.

“For instance, he describes the effort to deploy a Moscow scientist who had previously sent subliminal messages to Red Army troops (“Do not get drunk before battle”) in the Branch Davidian standoff. This scientist didn’t work out because he was unwilling to transmit words spoken by Charlton Heston as a bogus voice of God.”

This movie is the directorial debut for Grant Heslov, the screenwriter and producer of “Good Night and Good Luck.”

According to the first chapter of the book, the Army’s chief of intelligence tried to walk through his office wall in the summer of 1983. He made his pitch for trying to explore “psychic healing” and other ideas to U.S. Special Forces.

He thought he failed. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s first chapter:

“What the general didn’t know — what Special Forces kept secret from him — was that they actually considered his ideas to be excellent ones. Furthermore, as he proposed his clandestine animal-heart-bursting program and they told him that they didn’t have access to animals, they were concealing the fact that there were a hundred goats in a shed just a few yards down the road.

“The existence of these hundred goats was known only to a select few Special Forces insiders. The covert nature of the goats was helped by the fact that they had been de-bleated; they were just standing there, their mouths opening and closing, with no bleat coming out. Many of them also had their legs bandaged in plaster.

“This is the story of those goats.”


Categories: Features