The principal problem of the sometimes entertaining The Men Who Stare at Goats was, I thought, that it couldn’t quite decide to be outright funny.1 In this sympathetic account, the movie had three goals:
1) Look at the creativity employed by the military and make fun of it. 2) Show the “shadow side” of how things can go wrong with the inappropriate application of military research. 3) Ask the viewer to think about our involvement in Iraq and how that might have been different had our leaders been more conscious.
And 2) and 3) just aren’t that funny, are they?
It’s hard not to feel similarly about this recently released Pentagon memorandum (pdf), described on Wired here, about the Department of Defense’s relation to CIA mind-control experiments, including MKULTRA and a host of lesser-known MK’s including MKDELTA, MKNAOMI, MKSEARCH, MKOFTEN, and MKCHICKWIT.
Which is to say it’s tempting to find some of it funny, such as the desire “to determine whether EA#3167 [a chemical compound] could be used effectively if applied to the skin through some type of adhesive tape.” (p. 5) Some of it is intriguing trivia; an effort to find “a nonaddictive substitute for codeine” yielded three results, “all are now common drugs: darvon which is used as a pain killer; dextromethorphan which is used in cough syrup; and lomotil which is used as an antidiarrhea drug.” (p. 8) And then of course there’s the creepy, as in the attempt to induce brain concussion without hitting someone on the head—the CIA appears to have relieved the Navy of involvement in the project when it became clear that “human experiments of a type not easily justifiable on medical-therapeutic grounds would be involved.” (p. 9)
And then of course there’s the obvious: when the Navy wanted marijuana and heroin “for use in experiments,” it went to the FBI. (p. 10) Of course you knew that if you wanted to score back in the day the man to hit up was J. Edgar Hoover.
1Well, the principal problem other than that Ewan McGregor couldn’t play up to the level of George Clooney and Jeff Bridges.