Nov. 21st, 2009

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This book would be hilariously entertaining, if it weren't so sinister.

On the back of the defeat tactical withdrawal from Vietnam, the US Army was seriously low on morale, and Military Intelligence embarked on some pretty Free Thinking™ in a bid to regain the edge, and once again demonstrate that the US was the world's supreme military power.

And so they actually took seriously such things as psychic spies, attempted to train men to walk through walls (atoms, after all, are mostly space: if the wall's made of mostly space, and the person's made of mostly space, too, shouldn't it be possible for the latter to percolate through the former), acquire the über-ninja skill of daylight invisibility, and... yes, kill goats just by staring at them.

All this had the potential to be a mildly diverting late 70s episode in military intelligence, but what makes Ronson's narrative slightly chilling is how he demonstrates that the thinking that emerged in Jim Channon's blueprint for a First Earth Battalion eventually led to the treatment meted out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

There is a glorious moment in the book where Ronson's interviewing a guy who can kill... er, hamsters, just by looking at them. To demonstrate this, he shows Ronson a videotape of the hamster, which, to Ronson's eyes seems to be behaving perfectly normally. His host explains that they taped the hamster un-stared, as it were, to prove how it acted un-afflicted, before he turned on his Stare of Death. What's amusing about this is that the second that Ronson's walked through the door, he himself is being filmed by his hosts...

It's a very good book, but one with a slightly sinister undercurrent that runs through it.

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