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The Single Most Unique Book on the History of the U.S. Army

You are missing out if you haven’t read ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’

The Single Most Unique Book on the History of the U.S. Army

This book made me laugh and cry at the same time.

The uniqueness of the book, ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ lies in its humor, storytelling, and investigative journalism. The writer seamlessly takes us from light-hearted stuff to the grim and grotesque, making us think along the way.

Reading this book, you’ll feel that you are accompanying Ron Johnson, the writer, as he interviews his subjects. Many of them are US Army officials (both ex and serving) who served during the 70s and 80s.

Johnson wrote this book in the aftermath of the US attack on Iraq. It was published in 2004. He uncovers secrets, makes connections, and brings us all that he found.

Following is my attempt at bringing you all I can from this unique book.

‘This is a true story’

What unfolds in the book is mysterious and unbelievable.

To put the reader’s skepticism at rest, Jon opens the book with this sentence. Every time you want to doubt it, you are reminded of these 5 words.

“This is a true story.”

Do you know President Reagen used to consult with an astrologer before finalizing his decisions?

This was revealed in a book by Donald Regan who served as the chief of staff during Reagen’s time.

“For everyday agnostics, it is not easy to accept the idea that our leaders, and the leaders of our enemies, sometimes seem to believe that the business of managing world affairs should be carried out within both standard and supernatural dimensions.”

Perhaps, every human is inclined to believe in the supernatural, from the US president to the pizza delivery guy.

This book is not your typical conspiracy theory book.

Johnson has spent an incredible amount of time hunting down leads and coaxing key players to reveal something.

Killing through the power of mind

Can you kill a goat by staring at it?

On the surface, it sounds outrageous.

The author’s search takes him to an ex “Special Forces psychic spy — Glenn Wheaton” who reveals the existence of a Goat Lab in Fort Bragg.

He says there were efforts to teach soldiers techniques like hyper-observation, invisibility, and assassination through mind control.

He divulges that one sergeant killed a goat by staring at it.

“Goat Lab, which exists to this day, is secret.”

Throughout the book, Johnson tries to uncover who did that.

Similarly, there is Major General Albert Stubblebine who tried albeit unsuccessfully, to walk through walls. He still thinks he can burst a cloud by focusing on it.

General Stubblebine led the secret Psychic Spying unit from 1981 to 1984.

The Psychic Spying Unit of the US Army was in commission from the 70s to the 90s. In reality, it was less glamorous than it sounds.

“It was basically half a dozen soldiers sitting inside a heavily guarded, condemned clapboard building in Fort Meade, Maryland, trying to be psychic.”

The writer tells us that in the wake of America’s War on Werror, many of the psychic soldiers were contacted by the armed forces once again.

The book’s flow is such that it takes us from the 70s and 80s to 2003–2004 when it is being written, and then it takes us back to the 50s.

Where did it all start?

Someone brought the out-of-box ideas to the military.


In the post-Vietnam era, many of the soldiers were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. One particular lieutenant colonel was affected deeply by what he saw and endured in the war.

His name was Jim Channon.

“…Jim said. ‘It is not a natural thing to shoot people.’”

After returning from war, he proposed the idea of using New Age spiritual philosophies for the army. He traveled and got in touch with many different people. He researched the use of music and frequencies as well.

…Channon wanted to do good. To replace mindless killing with peace and love.

After his research he wrote a special report, ‘First Earth Battalion Operations Manual’.

His work inspired many across the military who used his ideas.

You see, Channon wanted to do good. To replace mindless killing with peace and love.

Something like follows:

“Soldiers would carry with them into hostile countries ‘symbolic animals’ such as baby lambs. These would be cradled in the soldiers’ arms. The soldiers would learn to greet people with ‘sparkly eyes’. Then they would gently place the lambs on the ground and give the enemy ‘an automatic hug’.”

As we can see through history and the content of this book, Channon’s efforts were not implemented for what he intended.

At times his approach morphed into something else entirely.

Barney Song Chronicles

Can a children’s song serve as torture?

Adam Piore, a journalist, uncovered a story in Iraq.

The detainees were being blasted with a multitude of songs including ‘I love you’ from Barney. This happened while a soldier turned a strong light on and off which was pointed at the prisoners.

This turned into a funny news story. Light-hearted news from the midst of the War on Terror.

The author met and asked many about the purpose of such actions. He observes something important from his interaction with Kenneth Roth, the Director of Human Rights Watch.

“He seemed to be implying that the Barney story had been deliberately disseminated just so all the human rights violations being committed in post-war Iraq could be reduced to this one joke.”

Sit with this!

Could it be that the army let this story slip so they could cover up whatever they were doing?

Sid Heal is from the LA Sheriff’s Department. He is a proponent of non-lethal tactics. Heal has a theory about the Barney song saga.

He told the writer that a certain combination of sound and light can disorient the brain. That is called the Bucha Effect.

“My guess is that this is the Bucha Effect. My guess is that they’re going for the amygdala.’

But the Barney song is just the tip of the iceberg.

The turn to the sinister

Somewhere around the middle, the book turns to the dark realities of current tactics employed by the PsyOps department.

The reality is not so funny.

“‘You know what you’ve stumbled into here?’ said Sid. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘The dark side,’ he said.”

This transition is one of the reasons why this book is unique. It makes you laugh but then it throws you into a deep ditch where you sit with grim realities.

This part of the book dwells on serious subject matters.

I was a kid when the stomach-churning photos detailing the torture of detainees in Abu Ghraib jail were leaked. This point in time is instrumental in the chronology of events as presented in this book.

One female officer named Lynndie England was prominent in these photos.

The officials blamed a few individuals for these actions. The reality was not so simple.

Lynndie, in one of her interviews, said:

“I was instructed by persons in higher rank to ‘stand there, hold this leash and look at the camera’. And they took a picture for PsyOps and that’s all I know…”

In his quest to see how the techniques from Jim Channon are employed today, the author meets a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and an ex-night shift worker at Abu Ghraib jail.

This part of the book dwells on serious subject matters. From American politics to the superfluous military budget in the War on Terror time, many themes are introduced.

An uncanny parallel is drawn by the author between the abuse at Abu Ghraib jail and the Waco Siege. In the Waco siege, officials used a multitude of sounds on loudspeakers to draw out the followers of David Koresh.

The author says:

“My guess is that, just like at Abu Ghraib, there was a ‘casserole of intelligence’ present, each with their own idea about how to direct the siege.”

The author considers the 2004 photos an embarrassment for the US Army.

With this, he takes us back to the 1950s when another embarrassment was in the works but it was not yet known.

MK ULTRA and Artichoke

The last chapters of the book deal with the mysterious death of Frank Olson.

In 1953, his family was told that he had committed suicide.

“On the night of 28 November 1953, Eric went to bed, as normal, a happy nine-year-old child.”

In 1975, the CIA put his death down to their program MK ULTRA which worked on mind control. They said he committed suicide after being slipped LSD because they wanted to see how mind control works on a scientist.

A voice says to the other, ‘Well, he’s gone.’

As the subsequent research of his son revealed, Frank himself was a part of the CIA. He was working in a secret CIA program called Artichoke.

This program included the administration of drugs like LSD for interrogation purposes.

“Recently declassified documents reveal that Artichoke was all about inventing insane, brutal, violent, frequently fatal new ways of interrogating people.”

Eric Olson, his eldest son has come to believe that he was killed by the CIA because he wanted to blow the whistle on what was going on.

The most haunting thing from Frank’s death is the phone call that was made from his hotel room just after he plunged (or was plunged) to his death.

A voice says to the other, ‘Well, he’s gone.’

The full circle

The coming together of two tactics.

The author touches on the capture and subsequent torture of an Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The techniques used in his interrogations come from a combination of Jim Channon’s and Frank Olson’s work, the author concludes.

“See how in this scenario a slice of Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion (‘harsh light and noise’) and a slice of Frank Olson’s Artichoke (‘a whole new category of longing’) come together like two pieces of a jigsaw.”

In a way what started as an attempt to create ‘warrior monks’ and use of non-lethal techniques has come full circle.

They ended up causing the abuse, they were meant to quell. This is precisely the dilemma this book explores.

“But then, over the decades that followed, the army, being what it is, recovered its strength and saw that some of the ideas contained within Jim’s manual could be used to shatter people rather than heal them. Those are the ideas that live on in the War on Terror.”

Why did I like the Book?

Part of the book is humorous. It will make you laugh and chuckle.

The author has an uncanny ability to write about his interactions and describe the settings in which they take place.

Here is an example.

“Colonel Summe’s words, delivered like machine-gun fire, swam around my head. I smiled and nodded blankly at him.”

But that’s not the only thing the book does.

It also gives you a lot to think about in terms of morality, politics, war, and world affairs.

Why did America attack Iraq if there were no weapons of mass destruction? Does the CIA lie to us? What is the line between reality and conspiracy?

As Eric’s brother Nils says:

“America fundamentally wants to think of itself as being good, and that we’re fundamentally right in what we’re doing, and we have a very compelling responsibility for the free world. And looking at some of these issues is troubling, because if America does have a darker side it threatens your hold on your view of America…”

I think this goes for any country in the world who thinks they are better than the rest.

When confronted with what is going on in the hidden military sites, it is easy to ignore them or think that such people must have done something to deserve this treatment.

In reality, we all need to stand up for truth and humanity. Our authorities should be answerable for any inhuman tortures that take place.

Some parts of the book might be speculative, like the connection between the 2004 torture techniques with Channon’s and Olson’s work.

But does that really matter?


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