GOATS & MILITARY INTELLIGENCE
Ancient pagans looked to the supernatural for answers. Today the Russian, Chinese and American militaries rely on “remote viewing” as well as psychics. A KGB defector from the 1950s confided that Russia was then experimenting with the occult. Washington not only feared a “missile gap”; they also feared a “spoon-bender” gap – which merely adds another dimension to the decades-old “credibility gap.”
In Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder’s book, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, we find that Moscow’s interest in clairvoyance and precognition received no check from the rigidities of dialectical materialism. Meanwhile, American spymasters hired the Israeli psychic Uri Geller. Despite the Age of Reason, despite scientific rationalism, people believe in magic. They believe in prophecies, witches and hidden powers. Modern France exists because a woman named Joan heard voices telling her to put on armor and lead armies. (France’s enemies said she was a witch.) Of course, soldiers have always been superstitious. In fact, those who face death in an environment back-loaded with perverse mischance are inclined to believe in hidden powers.
In reference to the ancient Romans, Machiavelli wrote: “Never would they set forth on an expedition until they had convinced the troops that the gods had promised them victory.” How was the favor of the god’s revealed? The Roman officials responsible for securing divine approval were called “poultry men.” As Machiavelli further noted, “whenever they had to fix the day for an engagement with the enemy, they requested the poultry men to take the auspices. If the poultry pecked, the augury was good and they fought; if they didn’t peck, they abstained from battle.”
During the First Punic War the Roman general Appius Pulcher wanted to engage the Carthaginian army when the poultry wouldn’t peck. “Then let them drink!” Pulcher exclaimed, throwing the chickens into the sea. Impatient with superstitious nonsense Pulcher launched his attack and lost. The Roman Senate found his impiety blameworthy. Losing a battle was one thing. Drowning the sacred chickens was another.
Today we consider ourselves enlightened and laugh at “men who stare at chickens.” But modern Americans are much the same as ancient Romans. In an appeal to U.S. Special Forces over twenty years ago, Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine urged elite troops to study the art of psychically bursting the hearts of animals. According to testimony gathered by British writer and filmmaker Jon Ronson, Fort Bragg secretly amassed a herd of de-bleated goats for experimental purposes, including heart busting (along the lines of spoon-bending). Instead of “the men who stare at chickens” the Pentagon gives us The Men Who Stare At Goats. According to Ronson, when Maj. Gen. Stubblebine was chief of U.S. Army intelligence (1981-1984) he vainly attempted to levitate and walk through walls. “I failed totally,” Stubblebine admitted to Ronson. “But I still think they were great ideas.”
Maj. Gen. Stubblebine’s most famous protégé, so far, is Major Ed Dames. (At one time a frequent guest on Art Bell’s Coast-to-Coast radio show.) Deluded to the core, Dames left the military and began teaching U.S. Army psychic techniques in Beverly Hills. Remote viewing of the future was one of Dames’s specialties, though his failed predictions are legion (and hilarious). In 1995 he predicted that millions of American babies would develop AIDS by drinking infected milk. He warned that 300-mph winds would devastate the United States. He said the comet Hale-Bopp carried a plant pathogen that would destroy all the world’s plant life (forcing humanity to live off earthworms). He claimed that pregnant Martians would emerge from below ground to steal fertilizer and more significantly, that President Clinton would be struck by lightning and killed while playing golf.
The moral of this story is simple and basic. Human beings will believe anything. “Crazy people are not always found on the outside [of elite institutions],” Ronson explains. “Sometimes crazy people are deeply imbedded on the inside.” According to Ronson, psychics trained by Ed Dames regularly contact the FBI with detailed visions. According to Ronson, the FBI seriously studies these revelations. U.S. intelligence “used to rely on hard intelligence, but things are changing,” said one of his sources. In reading Ronson’s book I am reminded of an old saying: “Those who believe in nothing will fall for anything.” The emptiness of New Age belief is apparent – but not to everyone.
When the CIA learned that the Soviets were developing “mind weapons” in the 1950s, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles told his colleagues that the CIA had to catch up. Dulles failed to realize that totalitarian regimes are – typically – run by crackpots. In political dementia they lead the way. Must we then follow? It has been alleged that Hitler made use of the occult. Stalin’s successors jumped into parapsychology with both feet. Communist China is no different. The strange beliefs of Mao Zedong are well documented. In 1997 Paul Dong and Thomas E. Raffill wrote a book titled China’s Super Psychics. Those who write such books generally assume that psychic powers are real, reliable and subject to regularized human control. Many years ago, while attending the University of California at Irvine, I befriended a parapsychologist. He said that strange phenomena have been documented, but he offered no explanation and admitted no mastery. Those who’ve looked into the paranormal know it is a swamp of intellectual quicksand. In this shadowy arena, human credulity and chicanery cannot resist the temptations of self-aggrandizement, ego inflation, self-delusion and exaggeration.
Erasmus once wrote, in his Praise of Folly, that “man’s mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth. If anyone wants an immediate clear example of this he has only to go to church at sermon time, where everyone is asleep or yawning or feeling queasy whenever some serious argument is expounded, but if the preacher starts to rant … on some old wives’ tale as they often do, his audience sits up and takes notice, open-mouthed.”
Did Rome’s chickens know better than Appius Pulcher? Can U.S. Special Forces kill a goat by staring at it? Has Ed Dames ever made an accurate prediction? Think carefully. Don’t let yourself fall for a set of delusional beliefs. Bear up under the tediousness of reality. Our wishes and dreams mirror our passions, and passion has no I.Q. Men are nuts, through and through. After a famous journalist explained his belief that American astronauts never landed on the moon, I offered the following formula: “Everyone believes in something that somebody else thinks is crazy.”
Every person, regardless of intelligence or education, at one time or another, has believed in something silly. We should hope, however, that our mistakes should not be so palpably hilarious as those of America’s intelligence professionals.
© 2005 Jeffrey R. Nyquist
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