Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jon Ronson: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Yesterday I both finished Jon Ronson's "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and watched a fascinating National Geographic documentary on North Korea. (Clicking that link will take you to the documentary on YouTube, but it's also available for streaming on Netflix.) Although the Goat book is not about North Korea at all (it's not *really about goats either), as usual, I couldn't separate the two. (See my tumblr for more things that you probably don't think are connected, but that I see all the time.) Ronson's book is about some strange stuff that went on starting after WWII, picked up again after Vietnam, and then was used again after Afghanistan and Iraq began. The book was published in 2004, and one can only assume that the strange techniques continue. I guess the book is now a bad movie, but I haven't and won't see it. That's how themacinator rolls.

The title line comes from one of the Jedi techniques that was originally attmempted, and possibly acheived: killing goats through mind power alone, with eyes. Staring. Matilda-like stuff. Only evil, not good. (In my mind, at least, staring a goat to death is evil.) So here's one of the ways that the North Korea doc fits in: The way that the outsiders get into the country is with the "Miracle Doctor" who gives blind people their sight back. The camera crew and filmmaker gets in saying that they are part of the medical team, and manage to get footage throughout the 10 day trip. When the 1000 patients open their eyes after their operations every single person thanks the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, for their sight. The Dear Leader has the Jedi Power to do what no one else (except the doctor who actually has done it) could do. Is it belief or medicine that cured the blind? How does the Dear Leader maintain such power? According to the filmmaker, the answer is fear. Without the belief, they couldn't live, as terror pervades every second of their lives.

Ronson, I believe, describes some of the US government's responses to fear of a world out of control, as well. If the "First Earth Battalion," the hypothetical group of super soldiers who can pretty much do anything because of their psycological powers, can be trained to be invisible and kill people with a simple touch, the world becomes controllable. Fear is unnecessary. Ronson digs as deep as he can into places like Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, and older incidents like MK-ULTRA- the LSD trials. At one point, after delving into a complicated death of a governmetn employee somehow involved in MK-ULTRA, Ronson describes how then-President Ford was able to smooth the whole thing over. He invited the devestated family to the White House and promised to look into the incident, "seductively" wooing (most) of the potentially dangerous family into submission. Similarly, the Great Leader allows a few humanitarians in to his country, along with media, to increase his psycological control over his people.

This is the book for conspiracy theorists. It's both credible and incredible, though I think Ronson would say that he felt the same way while researching and writing the book. Many times he would research soemthing and everyone would say the same thing, or point to the same person. Their statements would be fantastic, but congruous. What is really going on in the world of Army Intelligence or the CIA? Does Abu Gharib or Guantanimo back up Ronson's speculations? Will we ever know? I sound convinced, but I remain on the fence. And I certainly don't mean to compare our government to North Korea, but reading "The Men Who Stare at Goats" certainly gave me insight into how North Korea works and how the US treats its enemies.

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