Very funny, and packed with oddities. If Ronson doesn’t manage to expose this official hall of mirrors entirely, he still...

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THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

British journalist (Them, 2001) and documentary filmmaker Ronson digs into the various psychic operations of the U.S. armed forces, from their origins in Vietnam to their uses today.

In 1979, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon created the First Earth Battalion Operations Manual, expressing the visionary position that soldiers of the future would, among other things, “fall in love with everyone, . . . bend metal with their minds, walk on fire, [and] calculate faster than a computer.” The Army, eager for a new kind of fighter, bought into it, and Ronson now traces the circuitous routes of men who have since attempted to bring the super-soldier into being. The writer’s sources are a mix of ranking military men and fringe characters attracted by the idea of psychic doings. Former U.S. Army Chief of Intelligence, Major General Albert Stubblebine III, who held his post in the early ’80s, recalls his frustrated efforts to get the Special Forces to adopt Channon’s strategies; Special Forces reps failed to disclose that they already had their own psychic division up and running. Stubblebine’s protégé in things psychic, Major Ed Dames, has long been a public face of PSYOPS (psychic operations), principally through his appearances on the same syndicated radio program whose reporting on the Hale-Bopp comet prompted the Heaven’s Gate cult members to kill themselves in the hopes of catching a ride. In his quest into the realms of the weird, Ronson has turned up any number of eerily credible tales: just for starters, there’s murder by the CIA; current torture schemes in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay (some involve playing Fleetwood Mac in prisoners’ cells), and a man who claims to be able to stop a hamster’s heart by staring at it.

Very funny, and packed with oddities. If Ronson doesn’t manage to expose this official hall of mirrors entirely, he still makes an admirable effort, entertaining and alarming in equal parts.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-4192-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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