13 January 2006

The Men Who Stare at Goats

A little while ago, I read The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson, who is apparently pretty famous in the UK for doing odd little documentaries for the BBC. The book is a recounting of what he learned talking to some folks who report some very odd things going on in the US military's intelligence services.

“The man behind the slogan ‘Be All You Can Be.’ Torture using Barney the Purple Dinosaur. A US Army general trying to levitate and walk through walls.”

And yeah, staring at goats. I have a long quote from the book about that.

“We had a master sergeant who could stop the heart of a goat.”

There was a silence. Glenn raised an eyebrow.

“Just by ...” I said.

“Just by wanting the goat's heart to stop,” said Glenn.

“That's quite a leap,” I said.

“Right,” said Glenn.

“And did he make the goat's heart stop?” I asked.

“He did it at least once,” said Glenn.

“Huh,” I said. I really didn't know how to respond to this.

“But it's not really an area you want to ...”

“Go to,” I said.

“That's right,” said Glenn. “Not an area you want to go to, because as it turned out in the evaluation he actually did some damage to himself as well.”

“Huh,” I said again.

“Sympathetic injury,” said Glenn.

“So it's not as if the goat was psychically fighting back?” I asked.

“Goat didn't have a chance,” said Glenn.


Goat Lab, which exists to this day, is secret. Most of the soldiers who live and work within Fort Bragg don't even know of its existence. Those military personnel not in the loop, said Glenn, assume that the rickety clapboard hoptal buildings dating from the Second World War, situated down an unpavd track in an overgrown wooded area, are derelict. In fact, they are filled with one hundred de-bleated goats.


[Glenn doesn't know if goat staring is happening today.] “They would neither confirm nor deny. The very existence of the goats is hush-hush. They won't even admit to having goats.”

This, I later learned, was the reason for the de-bleating. It was done not because the Special Forces soldiers were required to learn how to cauterize the vocal cords of the enemy, but because Special Forces were concerned that a hudred bleating goats on base could come to the attention of the local ASPCA.

Glenn was looking a little panicked. “This is Black Op stuff,” he said.

“Where can I go from here?” I asked.

“Nowhere,” said Glenn. “Forget it.”

“I can't forget it,” I said. “It is an image I am unable to get out of my head.”

I think Mr. Ronson has an excellent way about him, when talking to people who tell him very strange things.

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