The True Story behind "The Men Who Stare at Goats"

Josh Clark

If you haven't seen The Men Who Stare at Goats, I can't hate you for it. It was largely panned by word of mouth and critics, and its producers opted (I think wisely) not to give anything away in the trailers, so their case wasn't made. It was a good movie, though, and I wish so badly that you'd go see it. Please, just go see it. Why won't you go see it?

So, the premise of the movie (and the book it's based on) is a military battalion assembled and trained to engage in deadly combat using telekinesis, spy using remote viewing and other types of generally scientifically unfounded techniques of the mind as soldiers. The goats in the title are test subjects used to demonstrate the mental power of the soldiers to kill another being just by concentrating on it. What's awesome is that not only is it based largely on fact, one of the main characters has come out to correct the author. There was indeed, at least one goat.

In an essay by retired Army Col. John B. Alexander, a central figure in the book, the goat was not killed using mental acuity, but something not too terribly less mundane. There was a guy named Nick Rowe, a Special Forces operator who spent 62 months imprisoned in a Vietnamese POW camp. While there, Rowe developed some pretty clear firsthand observations about living as a military prisoner. One of these was that, due to starvation and other types of deprivation, a POW generally wouldn't have enough energy to launch any kind of physical attack on his captors. This kind of leaves escape out of the question.

Rowe left the Army for a decade after he was rescued in 1968 and returned to the states. He was called back to service, however, in 1981. His time spent alive as a POW was too valuable and he was asked to run the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program. He had a lot of resources at his disposal, and he used them to pursue ways to satisfy that puzzlement he'd developed as a POW, how to attack a captor using minimal force. Enter dim mak, the "death touch," the Far Eastern martial art of killing a person with merely a soft blow.

Rowe recruited a civilian named Guy Savelli, a martial artist who had mastered the dim mak. Savelli trained an officer of Rowe's in the art and back at SERE headquarters at Ft. Bragg, the officer demonstrated the death touch -- on a goat. After just a slight blow delivered by the officer, the goat died several hours later.

Army doctors performed a necropsy on the goat and found that the tissue and organs inside its chest showed a massive cavitation wound, very much like a bullet would make, Col. Alexander describes it. The problem was, there was no entrance or exit wound.

Really. A guy taught Army officers how to kill a being several hours following a moderate blow. At Ft. Bragg.

Col. Alexander describes the basis for dim mak as the same as acupuncture -- it's the chi, man. Under Asian philosophy and traditional medicine, chi is the energy that permeates all living things and systems, like a person or the universe. On a human being (or, more to the point, a goat), chi flows through predictable points. These points are called acupoints in acupuncture (or pressure points here in the West). The dim mak move manipulates certain points, interrupting the flow of chi.With the chi interrupted in the fatal sequence using the dim mak, the result is fatal (apparently enough to cause a cavitation wound in an animal). You may also recognize a similar move called the "five-finger death punch" "five point palm exploding heart technique" (thanks, Tracy) from Kill Bill Vol. 2.

While you may or may not put faith in the idea that a man created a massive internal wound in an animal with a moderate blow, we can glean two facts from this story. One, a man punched a goat in front of other people in the early 1980s at Ft. Bragg. Two, there is a retired Army Colonel who believes the goat died several hours later due to a massive wound inflicted by this punch, which he believes shouldn't have been nearly strong enough to create the chaos within the animal's tissue. This, in and of itself, is cool enough to warrant a post on.

But it's also backed up by the U.S. Army's extensive history of investigating paranormal methods of combat. More on that soon.

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