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The Men Who Stare at Goats
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The Men Who Stare at Goats

3.2 27
by Jon Ronson

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In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice — and indeed, the laws of physics — they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them.

Entrusted with defending


In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice — and indeed, the laws of physics — they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them.

Entrusted with defending America from all known adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back and fighting the War on Terror.

With firsthand access to the leading players in the story, Ronson traces the evolution of these bizarre activities over the past three decades and shows how they are alive today within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and in postwar Iraq. Why are they blasting Iraqi prisoners of war with the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Why have 100 debleated goats been secretly placed inside the Special Forces Command Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina? How was the U.S. military associated with the mysterious mass suicide of a strange cult from San Diego? The Men Who Stare at Goats answers these and many more questions.

Editorial Reviews

Iraqi prisoners subjected to the theme for Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Stopping goats’ hearts by just staring at them? Bizarre yet wholly true, these are just some of the beliefs and activities held by the First Earth Battalion, a group currently within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the subject of Jon Ronson’s entertaining book. Whatever your feelings about the "war on terror," this investigation into some strange military practices will leave you chuckling with bewilderment.
Janet Maslin
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 … Mr. Ronson, who lives in London and exclaims the occasional "bloody hell" at these discoveries, remains terrifically adept at capturing the horror of these developments without losing track of their lunacy.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
Passing through walls. Killing goats with a cool gaze. Just some of the paranormal activities the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion reputedly tried to accomplish. From the author of the equally weird but scary Them. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British journalist (Them, 2001) and documentary filmmaker Ronson digs into the various psychic operations of the U.S. armed forces, from their origins in Vietnam to their uses today. In 1979, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon created the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual, expressing the visionary position that soldiers of the future would, among other things, "fall in love with everyone, . . . bend metal with their minds, walk on fire, [and] calculate faster than a computer." The Army, eager for a new kind of fighter, bought into it, and Ronson now traces the circuitous routes of men who have since attempted to bring the super-soldier into being. The writer's sources are a mix of ranking military men and fringe characters attracted by the idea of psychic doings. Former U.S. Army Chief of Intelligence, Major General Albert Stubblebine III, who held his post in the early '80s, recalls his frustrated efforts to get the Special Forces to adopt Channon's strategies; Special Forces reps failed to disclose that they already had their own psychic division up and running. Stubblebine's protege in things psychic, Major Ed Dames, has long been a public face of PSYOPS (psychic operations), principally through his appearances on the same syndicated radio program whose reporting on the Hale-Bopp comet prompted the Heaven's Gate cult members to kill themselves in the hopes of catching a ride. In his quest into the realms of the weird, Ronson has turned up any number of eerily credible tales: just for starters, there's murder by the CIA; current torture schemes in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay (some involve playing Fleetwood Mac in prisoners' cells), and a man who claims to be able to stop a hamster's heartby staring at it. Very funny, and packed with oddities. If Ronson doesn't manage to expose this official hall of mirrors entirely, he still makes an admirable effort, entertaining and alarming in equal parts.
From the Publisher
"A hilarious and unsettling book.... Ronson comes off as an unusual cross between Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh."
The Boston Globe

"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.... "
— Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Edition description:
Media Tie-In
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Men Who Stare at Goats

  • This is a true story. It is the summer of 1983. Major General Albert Stubblebine III is sitting behind his desk in Arlington, Virginia, and he is staring at his wall, upon which hang his numerous military awards. They detail a long and distinguished career. He is the United States Army’s chief of intelligence, with sixteen thousand soldiers under his command. He controls the army’s signals intelligence, their photographic and technical intelligence, their numerous covert counterintelligence units, and their secret military spying units, which are scattered throughout the world. He would be in charge of the prisoner-of-war interrogations too, except this is 1983, and the war is cold, not hot.

    He looks past his awards to the wall itself. There is something he feels he needs to do even though the thought of it frightens him. He thinks about the choice he has to make. He can stay in his office or he can go into the next office. That is his choice. And he has made it.

    He is going into the next office.

    General Stubblebine looks a lot like Lee Marvin. In fact, it is widely rumored throughout military intelligence that he is Lee Marvin’s identical twin. His face is craggy and unusually still, like an aerial photograph of some mountainous terrain taken from one of his spy planes. His eyes, forever darting around and full of kindness, seem to do the work for his whole face.

    In fact he is not related to Lee Marvin at all. He likes the rumor because mystique can be beneficial to a career in intelligence. His job is to assess the intelligence gathered by his soldiers and pass his evaluations on to the deputy director of the CIA and the chief of staff for the army, who in turn pass it up to the White House. He commands soldiers in Panama, Japan, Hawaii, and across Europe. His responsibilities being what they are, he knows he ought to have his own man at his side in case anything goes wrong during his journey into the next office.

    Even so, he doesn’t call for his assistant, Command Sergeant George Howell. This is something he feels he must do alone.

    Am I ready? he thinks. Yes, I am ready.

    He stands up, moves out from behind his desk, and begins to walk.

    I mean, he thinks, what is the atom mostly made up of anyway? Space!

    He quickens his pace.

    What am I mostly made up of? he thinks. Atoms!

    He is almost at a jog now.

    What is the wall mostly made up of? he thinks. Atoms! All I have to do is merge the spaces. The wall is an illusion. What is destiny? Am I destined to stay in this room? Ha, no!

    Then General Stubblebine bangs his nose hard on the wall of his office.

    Damn, he thinks.

    General Stubblebine is confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall. What’s wrong with him that he can’t do it? Maybe there is simply too much in his in-tray for him to give it the requisite level of concentration. There is no doubt in his mind that the ability to pass through objects will one day be a common tool in the intelligence-gathering arsenal. And when that happens, well, is it too naive to believe it would herald the dawning of a world without war? Who would want to screw around with an army that could do that? General Stubblebine, like many of his contemporaries, is still extremely bruised by his memories of Vietnam.

    These powers are attainable, so the only question is, by whom? Who in the military is already geared toward this kind of thing? Which section of the army is trained to operate at the peak of their physical and mental capabilities?

    And then the answer comes to him.

    Special Forces!

    This is why, in the late summer of 1983, General Stub-blebine flies down to Fort Bragg, in North Carolina.

    Fort Bragg is vast—a town guarded by armed soldiers, with a mall, a cinema, restaurants, golf courses, hotels, swimming pools, riding stables, and accommodations for forty-five thousand soldiers and their families. The general drives past these places on his way to the Special Forces Command Center. This is not the kind of thing you take into the mess hall. This is for Special Forces and nobody else. Still, he’s afraid. What is he about to unleash?

    In the Special Forces Command Center, the general decides to start soft. “I’m coming down here with an idea,” he begins.

    The Special Forces commanders nod.

    “If you have a unit operating outside the protection of mainline units, what happens if somebody gets hurt?” he says. “What happens if somebody gets wounded? How do you deal with that?”

    He surveys the blank faces around the room.

    “Psychic healing!” he says.

    There is a silence.

    “This is what we’re talking about,” says the general, pointing to his head. “If you use your mind to heal, you can probably come out with your whole team alive and intact. You won’t have to leave anyone behind.” He pauses, then adds, “Protect the unit structure by hands-off and hands-on healing!”

    The Special Forces commanders don’t look particularly interested in psychic healing.

    “Okay,” says General Stubblebine. The reception he’s getting is really quite chilly. “Wouldn’t it be a neat idea if you could teach somebody to do this?

    General Stubblebine rifles through his bag and produces, with a flourish, bent cutlery.

    “What if you could do this?” says General Stubblebine. “Would you be interested?”

    There is a silence.

    General Stubblebine finds himself beginning to stammer a little. They’re looking at me as if I’m nuts, he thinks. I am not presenting this correctly.

    He glances anxiously at the clock.

    “Let’s talk about time!” he says. “What would happen if time is not an instant? What if time has an X-axis, a Y-axis, and a Z-axis? What if time is not a point but a space? At any particular time we can be anywhere in that space! Is the space confined to the ceiling of this room, or is the space twenty million miles?” The general laughs. “Physicists go nuts when I say this!”

    Silence. He tries again.

    “Animals!” says General Stubblebine.

    The Special Forces commanders glance at one another.

    “Stopping the hearts of animals,” he continues. “Bursting the hearts of animals. This is the idea I’m coming in with. You have access to animals, right?”

    “Uh,” say Special Forces. “Not really …”

    General Stubblebine’s trip to Fort Bragg was a disaster. It still makes him blush to recall it. He ended up taking early retirement in 1984. Now, the official history of army intelligence, as outlined in their press pack, basically skips the Stub-blebine years, 1981–84, almost as if they didn’t exist.

    In fact, everything you have read so far has for the past two decades been a military intelligence secret. General Stub-blebine’s doomed attempt to walk through his wall and his seemingly futile journey to Fort Bragg remained undisclosed right up until the moment that he told me about them in room 403 of the Tarrytown Hilton, just north of New York City, on a cold winter’s day two years into the War on Terror.

    “To tell you the truth, Jon,” he said, “I’ve pretty much blocked the rest of the conversation I had with Special Forces out of my head. Whoa, yeah. I’ve scrubbed it from my mind! I walked away. I left with my tail between my legs.”

    He paused, and looked at the wall.

    “You know,” he said, “I really thought they were great ideas. I still do. I just haven’t figured out how my space can fit through that space. I simply kept bumping my nose. I couldn’t … No. Couldn’t is the wrong word. I never got myself to the right state of mind.” He sighed. “If you really want to know, it’s a disappointment. Same with the levitation.”

    Some nights, in Arlington, Virginia, after the general’s first wife, Geraldine, had gone to bed, he would lie down on his living-room carpet and try to levitate.

    “And I failed totally. I could not get my fat ass off the ground, excuse my language. But I still think they were great ideas. And do you know why?”

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Because you cannot afford to get stale in the intelligence world,” he said. “You cannot afford to miss something. You don’t believe that? Take a look at terrorists who went to flying schools to learn how to take off but not how to land. And where did that information get lost? You cannot afford to miss something when you’re talking about the intelligence world.”

    There was something about the general’s trip to Fort Bragg that neither of us knew the day we met. It was a piece of information that would soon lead me into what must be among the most whacked-out corners of George W. Bush’s War on Terror.

    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.

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    Meet the Author

    Jon Ronson is a documentary filmmaker and the author of Them: Adventures with Extremists. He lives in London.

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    The Men Who Stare at Goats 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
    Eric_J_Guignard More than 1 year ago
    I unfortunately just did not like this book. I heard great things about it and was excited to delve into it, but I just found the style of writing too hoaky. It is an interesting topic and I wanted to understand the facts and history of it, but the author's forced jokes into every paragraph became a distraction. My personal taste toward journalistic pieces is along the writing style of Mark Bowden (Blackhawk Down and Finders Keepers). I congratulate the success of the book and the subject matter, but it just was not a style of reading I appreciate.
    B-2 More than 1 year ago
    The book could be called "History of Weird and Weirdos in Modern US Military". "Weird" in this case means everything from the attempts to teach soldiers telepathy, passing through walls and psychic killing to the ideas of disarming enemy armies with songs and flowers or using music to interrogate prisoners ( silly and wild, but at least physically possible). The author's style is more the one of a reporter than a writer. The book is a collection of mostly anecdotal stories, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes scary. Most of them based on oral interviews, so it's difficult to know how much of it is truth and the whole truth. Don't expect anything like a hugely shocking revelation in Area 51 style. Perhaps ( if true) it is a welcome sign: means that the nuts and nutty ideas in US army are rather endemic than epidemic, in the middle rather than top command, and waste millions rather than billions of our tax money. ------ I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is RLR
    jmepitt More than 1 year ago
    I have not yet seen the related film, but I am sure it won't be quite as good as the book. I did not enjoy this book so much for its writing style or literary merits but, rather, the reporting of rather incredible events in the history of our nation's intelligence departments. This book reads like an expose' column in a newspaper with slightly more time dedicated to character development. All-in-all, it was a very entertaining read and I immediately gifted it to a family member with a taste for the quirky.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This was a pretty good read. Although I firmly believe our government has been involved or at least made attempts to be involved with the paranormal. The thing that is sadly lacking in this book is references to the facts he is presenting. ie: notes to his 'facts' in the back of the book. In my opinion this is just another conspiracy book, like those on UFO's or Atlantis. However with out notations to back up what one is saying, it can not be proven. Whether I believe he is right (I do) or wrong with out data to back up what he is writing about, it is just another story to ponder.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The 'strange but true' efforts of our military ops started long ago (during the Cold War - if not before) and I'm happy that someone wrote a book engrossing enough for the minions to read. My Fellow Americans: Our Military and the Government behind them DO belong in 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not!'. *Reference to this publication for an excerpt of a non-fictional account of one mans Military career in the paranormal
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I started reading this book with an open mind. After reading it I decided that it was too over-the-top and it did not convince me as being a non-fiction piece of literature. I think, by the way the dialogue flowed, that the category of fiction seemed more fitting. But thats just my opinion, read it for yourself and decide.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    If you have ever thought that our government must do some really weird stuff, this will confirm your thoughts. I found this book to be extremely disturbing and fascinating at the same time. Could not put it down.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I'm a huge Jon Ronson fan, it was no surprise to me that this book was just as entertaining and fascinating as his other titles. I love his randomness of topics and the lengths that he goes to explore what's behind him. Men Who Stare at Goats totally delivered for me.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Is this book fiction or non fiction?
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    JahaRa More than 1 year ago
    I think Jon Ronson is sincere, and some of the people he intreviewed as well, though extremely misguided and egotistical. I have experience that leads me to beleive almost all of these people, with the exception of Ed Dames, really think what they were doing was real and the only program in existence.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I was quite excited about this book after hearing Ronson on NPR but found it to be a fairly dull disjointed read. While I felt that perhaps I was meant to feel some sort of interest or fascination with the people featured in the book, that simply did not happen. Also it wasn't nearly as funny as I had hoped it would be. It was vaguely disheartening but jumped around too much for me to really give a damn.
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