The Men Who Stare at Goats is dividing viewers and critics. Some thought it was funny and some didn't -- that's just a matter of taste. But it seems the main point of contention is the difference between what people thought the movie would be -- a dark, sometimes surreal examination of the US military's foray into psychic warfare in keeping with Jon Ronson's non-fiction book of the same title -- and what the film is -- a comedy with some nuggets of alleged truth. I had no expectations when I saw the film, and it's been a while since I laughed that much in a theater.
See my ReThink Review of the Men Who Stare at Goats below.
But what was really interesting was the research I did after the movie. In the film, Lt. Colonel Bill Django (played by Jeff Bridges) writes a field manual for a military unit of warrior monks who would have paranormal super powers, boundless love for the earth and their fellow man, and could win wars without warfare. Django's character is largely based on Lt. Col. (ret.) Jim Channon, who studied the New Age movement that was flowering in California in the late 70s and used his findings to write the First Earth Battalion field manual, which explains how to turn soldiers into real-life Jedis.
I was able to find and download the First Earth Battalion field manual from the website of Arcturus Research & Design, where Channon is a founding member. The group describes itself as "Strategic designers, social architects, outfitters to cyberspace since 1978, and a global troupe of players to anchor the planet's most visionary ideas."
Reading the manual, which is mostly handwritten with drawings made by Channon himself, it's easy to see why Channon's findings would elicit snickers and eye-rolls from some military brass. At the same time, you can equally imagine why his findings might generate excitement and enthusiasm from officers who had experienced the horrors of war, were still smarting from a costly and humiliating defeat in Vietnam, and only saw things getting worse with the possibility of all-out nuclear war with Russia.
Contrary to assumption, the First Earth Battalion field manual isn't about soldiers using psychic powers to be better killers -- it's about encouraging the military to focus inwards (both personally and as an organization) and realize that they shouldn't be fighting wars at all. For instance, here is a job description of a First Earth warrior:
Services rendered by the warriors of the First Earth Battalion are specifically designed to generate workable solutions to defuse the nuclear time bomb, promote international relations, spread wise energy use, enforce the ecological balance, assist wise technological expansion, and above all, stress human development.
Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? Channon believed that the military, with its organizational and technological advantages, should be used to fight what he saw as potentially the biggest threat to the planet aside from nuclear war: environmental destruction (a sentiment shared by the Pentagon). Here's how Channon imagined the FEB's role:
I can see their action expanding to include evolutionary work like planting vast new forests, completing large canal projects, helping in the towns, helping to clean up the innter cities, and working with the troubled inner city youth in young commando groups, and working harmoniously with other nations to see that the plentiful resources of our mother earth are equally shared by all peoples.
But perhaps Channon's most prescient observation was the role that the modern media and world opinion plays in deciding who wins wars, making conventional warfare obsolete in most respects.
Since the advent of worldwide television coverage, the judgments for success in battle have changed. Victory will now accrue to the force that executes an action most consistent with evolving world values. Destroying your opponent and his property will in the long run equal defeat. -snip-
The day most of the world watched war on television they all helped decide who won...and from that point on conflicts were decided based on who had the most RIGHT not the most MIGHT.
When you throw in some of Channon's other recommendations, like using meditation, yoga, visualization and eastern medicine -- many of which are currently being used by soldiers both for general health and to fight the effects of post traumatic stress disorder -- and you've got the makings of an army that even a pacifist wouldn't mind joining.
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