The New Yorker unravels the military’s secret program to develop the ultimate “humane” weapon for the wars of the future — mass-delirium-inducing gas:
Colonel James S. Ketchum dreamed of war without killing. He joined the Army in 1956 and left it in 1976, and in that time became the military’s leading expert in a secret Cold War experiment: to fight enemies with clouds of psychochemicals that temporarily incapacitate the mind-—causing, in the words of one ranking officer, a “selective malfunctioning of the human machine.”
Today, the facility, Edgewood Arsenal, is a crumbling assemblage of buildings on the Chesapeake Bay. But for some of the surviving test subjects, and for the doctors who tested them, what happened at Edgewood remains deeply unresolved.
I spoke to a former Edgewood test subject who was given the nerve agent VX. The effect was rapid. There was a radio on in the room, but the words made little sense. When he was given food, he didn’t know what to do with his utensils. “I was not in control,” he told me. “It was incredible. This tiny drop had rendered me helpless.” As the test continued, he was seized by an agonizing wave of tension, as if each nerve ending were being crushed in a vise.
The drugs under review ranged from tear gas and LSD to highly lethal nerve agents, like VX, a substance developed at Edgewood and, later, sought by Saddam Hussein. Ketchum’s specialty was a family of molecules that block a key neurotransmitter, causing delirium. The drugs were known mainly by Army codes, with their true formulas classified. The soldiers were never told what they were given, or what the specific effects might be.
Ketchum often hears from aging test subjects looking for information about what the Army did to them. “I need to know everything that happened to me because it could give me some peace and fewer nightmares,” one veteran wrote to him.
Read the rest at the New Yorker