Thomas Dunne
(St. Martin's Press)
ISBN: 0-312-20955-X
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 
     Never has that old axiom been better illustrated than in W. Adam Mandelbaum’s The Psychic Battlefield. And almost never have we, the readers, been subjected to such a blatant—and awkward—attempt by an author to gratify his own ego. 
     Mr. Mandelbaum has the benefit of detailing a fascinating subject with a cult-like following, semi-reputable members (the CIA, for one), and plenty of glamour and intrigue. The Psychic Battlefield, as a chronicle of “the military-occult complex,” is of interest to those curious about tradecraft and tactics, or to those who have faith in or a need to understand what compels humans to dabble in the darker sciences. 
     Mr. Mandelbaum’s answer to that problem is simple: If it can be done, it will. The occult is a science, he predicates. It is not a myth, a hoax, or a game. And, like any science, a willing individual can be trained to take advantage of his or her natural ability. Just as some excel at chemistry and others physics, members of this exclusive, though growing, club have a special capacity for “remote viewing”. A simple operation in itself, RV is a method of infiltrating an enemy’s facilities and taking mental pictures of words and objects from, as the name declares, a remote location. 
     Mr. Mandelbaum, a former intelligence officer, advises that savvy countries, including the USA and now-defunct USSR, embraced the concept of psychic spying. He stipulates, however, that the practice is not a new one. Common knowledge has it that both British and German World War II-era commanders used the occult to attempt to peer into the future and foresee the fate of their causes. Indeed, antiquity’s “scientists” spent a good deal of time researching the power of sex in relation to strengthened mental perception. And, as The Psychic Battlefield opines, the conclusion that a cross in the sky is somehow more credible than a sign in the cards is due in great measure to cultural indoctrination. 
     In 1977, U.S. involvement in RV and psychic research took a compelling turn with the completion of the Kress report, a product of CIA sponsored research at Stanford Research Institute. The recently declassified material affirmed the actuality of psychic phenomena and the necessity for preparing a new breed of soldier to engage in and perhaps countermand RV and other forms of psychic spying. In the 1980s, The Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia, in conjunction with SRI, became the backdrop for the expedient training of combatants for this new type of warfare. 
     Information concerning U.S. involvement in psychical research began leaking in the early 1990s from both legitimate and questionable sources. According to a declassified CIA report, the worth of psychic research is negligible. But Mr. Mandelbaum points out that the logic behind this easily (he presupposes too easily) attained report is flawed. “The backbone of intelligence is cross-collateralization of data—the confirmation of intelligence information from multiple sources. And remote viewing was never designed to be a stand-alone collection source upon which to base analysis and operations.” The conclusion Mr. Mandelbaum reaches is that this widely attributed report is questionable at best and criminal at worst in its attempt to unjustly sway public opinion and, thereby, lessen anxiety and questioning. For if the U.S. can obtain information about her enemies—and when there is no security against such infiltration—then what safety is found in notions of traditional warfare? 
     Which is all well and good. The concepts of remote viewing, out of body experiences, and ESP are pleasing to the human mind. What a great disappointment the brain would be were it only capable of comprehending the subtleties of quantum physics, the critical difference between their and there, and the ever-perplexing smile of Mona Lisa. We feel proud to think that we might also be able to tune into a second “world wide web”, as Mr. Mandelbaum terms it, which connects the minds of humans through space and time. And how might those who have developed their powers to an extreme degree feel? 
     If W. Adam Mandelbaum is any indication, justifiably proud does not begin enumerate the arrogance which pervades the profession. The author makes the assumption, first, that his audience is a group of believers. There is no room on his Psychic Battlefield for those who doubt, question, and demand more proof than the hints, evasions, and subterfuges which characterize the text. Then he states categorically that the book is meant only for those with extreme intelligence. Flattering your reader is, of course, clever marketing. But he ruins the effect in subsequent pages. ESP is not required to divine that Mr. Mandelbaum openly regards those who dissent as individuals with deficiencies in thought and logical reasoning. As a scientist, Mr. Mandelbaum makes that very mistake by forgetting that he changes what he touches. The situations and events are plausible, but what may turn otherwise credulous readers aside is the author’s snobbery. 
     A capable technical writer, Mr. Mandelbaum nevertheless detracts from the substance of his argument with what one suspects to be the result of an incomplete plan of action. Events are not covered in their entirety or are promised to be discussed in greater detail later in the book—a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of writing more suited to a thriller novel than a serious nonfiction experience. Also on perilous territory is the author’s constant interjections, as though to say, “Me, me! Look, I’m special!” Mr. Mandelbaum wants to assure the reader that he is the real thing and does so, usually, under the auspices of making sure everyone recognizes that “Your author has honored and still honors his [security agreements], and has not divulged any information of a sensitive nature obtained during his period of service.” One disclaimer is in good taste. Two, three, and more are simple and reprehensible forays into self-aggrandizement. Perhaps Mr. Mandelbaum’s publisher would not permit him to write instead, “Your author is James Bond.” Perhaps he is. But one questions whether James Bond needs a big, shiny book to get into parties. 
     Notwithstanding the stylistic and narrative concerns delineated above, The Psychic Battlefield is an engaging and enthusiastic read that will answer some of the questions military historians have about government involvement in psychic research. But this is a subject which demands an author capable of separating himself from the material and of telling the story in a non-biased, credible fashion. Maybe Mr. Mandelbaum would like to try again? His readers are waiting.